BRAD DOKKEN: Old snowshoes get a much-needed workoutThere was no set agenda last weekend when I headed east to rendezvous with some friends at a deer shack in the woods not far from the Big Fork River in northern Minnesota’s Koochiching County.
By: Brad Dokken, Grand Forks Herald
There was no set agenda last weekend when I headed east to rendezvous with some friends at a deer shack in the woods not far from the Big Fork River in northern Minnesota’s Koochiching County.
Maybe we’d wet a line in a nearby trout lake for a few hours. Maybe we’d break out the shotguns and tromp through the woods in pursuit of the snowshoe hares that seem to be everywhere in northern Minnesota this year.
For sure we’d eat well, catch up on old times and do our share of laughing. Beyond that, anything was possible.
Heavy snow had hit that part of the state the previous week. A perfect excuse, I thought, to break out the snowshoes that had been hanging in my garage unused for several years.
The last time I could recall using the snowshoes was the winter of 1997, when deep snow and a seemingly endless string of blizzards triggered the epic spring flood that forced residents of Grand Forks and East Grand Forks to evacuate.
I was out of my house for exactly a month.
The snowshoes had been propped up against a wall when more than a foot of floodwater flowed through my garage in April 1997. The mud line from the dirty water was still clearly visible on the frames last weekend.
That cosmetic flaw aside, the snowshoes and leather bindings were still in sound shape.
There are several high-tech varieties of snowshoes on the market these days, but I’ve always been a traditionalist. The snowshoes I broke out of storage last weekend were a birthday gift in the late ’70s when I was either a sophomore or junior in high school.
“Michigan”-style snowshoes, they’re called, with ash frames and coated leather webbing. With their teardrop shape, the Michigans are a good all-purpose snowshoe, made for handling moderate to deep snow.
We began our hike last Saturday afternoon by tromping through the deep snow of a road through the woods to Little American Falls, a popular recreation area along the Big Fork River and one of the prettiest spots northern Minnesota has to offer.
The hike through the woods to the falls was about a half-mile each way. That was enough to work up a good sweat, but not so far as to overdo things after so many years of not being on snowshoes.
Why I waited more than 15 years to use the snowshoes again I can’t say for sure.
There’s a technique to walking on snowshoes that requires swinging one’s legs out with every step. Fail to do that, and you’ll trip and find yourself face-down in the snow before you know it.
That happened once, but for the most part, getting back on the snowshoes again was like riding a bike.
The hike into the falls wasn’t bad, and we soon found ourselves standing high atop the Big Fork River. Snow being as scarce as it’s been the past two years, I stopped and took several photos of a picnic table buried under nearly 2 feet of white.
If you’re going to have winter, you might as well have snow.
It had been several years since I last visited Little American Falls, and the area was just as I remembered it. I had expected to see open water at the base of the falls, but the river was locked in white.
The sound of flowing water, though, suggested the ice wasn’t very thick.
We strapped on the snowshoes again later that afternoon by the shack, doing our best to follow a deer trail that hadn’t been used much since the previous week’s snow. It wasn’t a long walk — just enough to work up another sweat — but darkness was descending and a light snow was falling when we got back to the cabin.
In the way winter physical activity always is, the snowshoe hike was rewarding. And it won’t be 15 years, I vowed, before I strap the snowshoes on again.
I might even wash off the mud line.
Dokken reports on outdoors. Reach him at (701) 780-1148; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1148; or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.