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Hiking All Year Long

Hiking All Year by Andy Dappen

She surprised me. Susan Ballinger, normally a devout anti-gearhead, was singing the praises of the Kahtoola MicroSpikes. It’s almost as though she’d had a religious conversion. She had started using these traction devices for the feet on the Saddle Rock trails over a year ago, and she liked them. A lot.

Now a believer, she used the spikes regularly to walk in the hills when the paths were frozen and to avoid those times when the trails were partially thawed and muddy –times when walking actually damages the trails. She used them frequently in places around the Methow Valley on weekend getaways. She used them in March to descend into the Grand Canyon when the trails at the rim were frozen and treacherous. “They make all the difference in your willingness to walk in winter.”

Just the other day, she told me, friends had dropped by her home located near the Saddle Rock trails. The trails were frozen and slick, and the couple had gone but a short distance before abandoning their walk. Susan lent hem two pairs of MicroSpikes and sent them back out. “They were amazed how good the traction was and how secure they felt. I suspect there are two more MicroSpike owners now.”

For a few years now, the WenatcheeOutdoors website has been advocating two products that make all the difference for ‘hiking’ all year long. Susan had found half the formula and it felt right to push her toward total conversion. “I’ve been wondering why your women’s hiking group knocks off during winter. If everyone in the group owned a pair of MicroSpikes and, if you each had a good pair of snowshoes, you’d be ‘hiking’ all year long.” I mentioned that good snowshoes were just as versatile and easy to use for snow- covered ground as MicroSpikes were for frozen ground. “And snowshoes take about half an hour to get the hang of.”

She didn’t blow me off for what I was –a proselytizer selling my own brand of religion. Instead, knowing what MicroSpikes had done for her willingness to get out walking in the shoulder seasons, it made sense  that one more tool in the kit would accommodate year-around walking. “That’s a great idea.”

Of course good ideas are often slow to take root. Usually our ‘aha’ moments come through personal experience rather than through the adoption of what others preach. Still, as Susan was now encouraging others to use MicroSpikes, I encouraged her to think about snowshoes once the hills were whitewashed.

As for you, Dear Readers, you may not be a believer either until you learn through personal experience that, with the right footwear, winter walking is amazingly beautiful, illogically entertaining, and inanely easy. So borrow a pair of ‘spikes and ‘shoes and see if I’m not spewing truth. I even invite those who know me to borrow my gear so you can, without monetary outlay, see the light.

Once you get going on year-around hiking , anyone with either an aesthetic or adventurous streak is in danger of becoming a Susan-styled believer. You might even find yourself , banging on people’s e-mail box or sending them articles encouraging them to see the Jesus of ‘spikes and ‘shoes. At least that’s how t has panned out for me.

Below: The aesthetic rewards of snowshoeing --The Chiwaukum Range (front) and Mt. Stuart (behind).

Where to Go

There’s no shortage of nearby places to keep walking throughout the autumn and winter when you’ve got MicroSpikes and snowshoes in the quiver. Use whichever footwear is best suited for the day – MicroSpikes for frozen ground, snowshoes if there’s more than boot-top snow on the ground. Near Wenatchee, visit the trails around Saddle Rock and Dry Gulch, use the roads and trails on Twin Peaks, walk the Horse Lake Road, or use the Clara Lake Trail. Near Cashmere, walk along Butler Ridge. Near Leavenworth use the Icicle Ridge Trail, Freund Canyon roads, Ranger Road, Penstock Trail, or Snow Creek Trail. Near Chelan, walk the trails and roads of Chelan Butte. The WenatcheeOutdoors Hiking Guidebook and Snowshoeing Guidebook have over a hundred other regional walks to try.

Gear

Traction Devices. There are a variety of wintertime, no-slip devices for the feet. Some, like Yaktrax, are  like tire chains for the bottom of your boots; others , like MicroSpikes, are more akin to short-toothed crampons  Both traction devices can be used on either pavement or dirt but, if you primarily walk on paved sidewalks and paved roads, get a chain-styled device like the Yaktrax Pro( $25). If you spend more of your time walking off-pavement on trails or dirt roads, get the MicroSpikes ($60). See a review of MicroSpikes.

Snowshoes are a more complicated purchase because there are so many options and so many different price ranges. Here’s a review of some of the better choices available. If you want a lightweight snowshoe that’s one of the best gripping, go-anywhere , all-terrain shoes (good on both mellow and steep ground), it’s hard to do better than a model from the MSR Lightning series  ($200 to $270) that’s sized for your weight. I’m also a fan of the Northern Lite snowshoes (either the Elite or Backcountry models,$220 or $250 respectively) which aren’t quite as grippy on the steepest ground as the Lightnings, but still have excellent crampons and handle everything but the steepest slopes. The Northern Lites are extremely light -- light enough ,in fact, that you won’t hesitate packing them along whenever there’s a possibility of hitting snow.

Photo: Putting on the Northern Lite Elites

The snowshoes listed above aren’t cheap. If you want to sample snowshoeing for less coin, consider the Yukon Charlie’s snowshoes available at Sports Outlet, Hooked on Toys, and occasionally at Costco. Many models cost between $60 and $100. The models I’ve inspected have surprisingly good frames, materials, bindings, and crampons. I haven’t tested them, but they appear durable. They are heavier than the Northern Lites, and the Lightnings will provide better traction if you’re a mountaineer on steep ground. Still, the Yukon Charlie snowshoes will travel the terrain hikers want to explore.