Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Snowshoe Backpacking at Canaan Mountain, Take 2

Since we had another long weekend, we decided to give snowshoe backpacking another try so we could apply the lessons we learned from the New Year's trip. We returned to Canaan Mountain, although we snowshoed different trails this time.  We met the fourth person in our group in the Blackwater Falls State Park lodge parking lot.  Since there were four of us this time, we had two sleds for gear.  The brutal cold wind  while we were packing up made us question our wisdom at this adventure, but we decided that it would be better once we were in the trees. 

By the time we packed both sleds and registered with the lodge, it was  2 p.m. when we set off on the Yellow Birch Trail.  In spite of the fact that the trailhead is across the road from the lodge, there were no tracks on the trail.  There was about 18 inches of snow and drifts over two feet in places.  We had little trouble following the trail since it is blazed and the sleds worked really well.  We quickly reached a challenge, though.  There is a spot on the Yellow Birch Trail that is a short scramble about 5 feet down some rocks.  We had to unhook the sleds and pass them over the rocks and down, and then carefully descend through it on the snowshoes. It took us about an hour to go the first mile, which really is not too bad on snowshoes.

At the end of that mile, we reached the Allegheny Trail, where we turned south.  The trail climbs slowly for nearly two miles towards the Plantation Trail.  There was one set of faint ski tracks on the Allegheny Trail.  Although it is not blazed as frequently, it is a wide trail, which was easy to follow.  It follows Engine Run for about half the distance to the Plantation Trail.  In spite of the cold, the creek was running where it wasn't entirely covered in snow.  There was one hill along the way that we probably wouldn't have noticed if we had been hiking on dry ground, but on snowshoes, towing the sled, it was a bit of a beast.  I was surprised at how out of breath that short, steep little hill left me.

We arrived at the shelter at the junction of the Allegheny and Plantation Trails about half an hour before dark.  SSW Spouse gathered firewood while the rest of started boiling water for hot drinks and dinner.  We were pretty happy to see that the small creek near the shelter wasn't frozen.  Boiling very cold water requires much, much less fuel than melting snow for water.  I had the chance to try out the new pants that night in camp.  It was very windy and in the low 20s before we went to bed, but SSW Spouse secured tarps across the front of the shelter to keep out the blowing wind and snow.  They kept me nice and warm.  The shelter is in such a nice place that, before going to bed, we decided to dayhike on Sunday and camp at the shelter again on Sunday night. 

Sunday morning was cold and about an inch of snow fell overnight.  I think the coldest parts of the trip for me were the mornings: making breakfast and packing up gear without a fire.  Although I was up moving around, it wasn't enough to get my heart rate going enough to really warm up.  Coffee and hot oatmeal helped, but could not keep my feet from going numb (not frostbitten) by the time we left camp. 

We were the first group to lay tracks on the Plantation Trail.  We snowshoed west to the #6 Fire Trail, where we took a break for lunch.  The small zipper pull thermometer of questionable accuracy on my backpack said that it was 20 degrees at lunch.  We crossed several small streams along the way, including one with an interesting little dam on it (picture below).  The trail was easy to follow, but occasionally required fighting through rhododendrons.  They normally would not impede the trail, but with all of the snow weighing them down, they sort of fell across the trail.  After lunch, we continued on the Plantation Trail to the junction of the Lindy Run Trail.  At that point, we had been snowshoeing for 2 1/2 hours, including our lunch break.  We decided it was time to head back so that we would have time to gather firewood again before dark.  On our way back, the sun actually came out for a while and we made better time since we weren't breaking trail.

Back at the shelter, we built another fire and began the camp chores associated with getting dinner together and heating water for tea.  Since it was clear, it got cold fast after the sun went down.  The moon was out for a while, making the snow sparkle in the moonlight.  It was 15 degrees around 8 pm and it definitely got colder than that as the night went on. 

We were nearly ready to call it a night when a group of five cross country skiers showed up.  I think they were as surprised to find us at the shelter as we were to see them roll in at 8:30 p.m.  We offered to make room, but after much debate, they decided to continue on to another shelter.  I pointed out some spots on their map where they could pitch tents if they got tired and they mentioned they had not brought any tents.  Seriously.  Hopefully, they made it to the next shelter without incident. In the morning, we packed up camp and returned to the lodge parking lot.  Our return was much faster than the hike in since we did not have to break trail and we were generally hiking downhill.

Overall, it was a fantastic trip and much easier than the last one.  We were able to use the lessons learned from the last one to make this one better.  The weather, although much colder, was actually better in the sense that it was easier to stay dry since none of the snow was melting.  I also got new boots, so my feet stayed dry.  We were also more realistic about our mileage, too, and planned our route in a way that let us be flexible about how much we wanted to do.

Pictures (click to enlarge):
Towing the sled across the bridge over Engine Run.

Snow on Engine Run.

The shelter.

Snowflakes on SSW Spouse's jacket.

Snowshoes and sled poles against the shelter.


Untracked snow on the Plantation Trail.

SSW Spouse breaking trail.

Rhododendrons block the trail.

The interesting little dam on one of the creeks on the Plantation Trail.

The Plantation Trail on our way back.  The sun had actually come out for a while.

A different kind of bootshot.


  1. Very, very jealous! Next time, count me in.

  2. You guys are SO dedicated. We love snow but camping in it ...not going to do that but love reading about your adventures! Could you recommend the best snow shoes to buy? We want ones for day hikes around our cabin and Parkway but not the kind you do :-))