Snowshoes on Dirty Harry

Today the intrepid trio scaled the mountain that defeated them earlier in the winter. The trailhead at 1,350 foot elevation was snow-free, so I stowed the gaiters, snowshoes, mittens, and trekking poles in my backpack.

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Snow cover started up soon and became consistent well before the cutoff to the balcony at 2,500 feet. From there up until 3,700 feet the trail alternated between stretches of deep but dense snow and a stream breaking through the snow.

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In some places the trail-stream cut through snow close to six-feet deep.

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At a boulder field covered by snow the dogs decided to take a side-trip off the trail through untouched snow.

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But they only did that once, as they quickly realized that moving around without snowshoes was problematic.

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Also a little dangerous. While breaking through the snow somewhere Cookie’s hind leg punched past a rock and scraped a cut that started bleeding. She decided to take a break until the bleeding stopped.

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But at last we made it to the tippy top at just under 4,700 feet. At Dirty Harry this a a ridge with an edge that drops off almost vertically 1,600 feet to Granite Lakes below.

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The problem with these kinds of summits in these kinds of conditions is that I worry about how cognizant dogs are about snow instability. They tend to enjoy views as much as we do, and they’re shorter, so they have to get closer to see over the edge, and the snow feels solid enough to them for that. But I had visions of a block of snow with one of them on it breaking off and accelerating down that 1,600 foot drop at the rate of approximately 32 feet per second per second. So it was hard to relax for all the worry about incautious dogs, and anyway the weather was not conducive to relaxation either, being very windy and cold with snow flurries starting up.  So we headed back down the tree-lined path along the center of the ridge.

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We, or at least I, wouldn’t have made it without the snowshoes. They worked great today because the snow was fairly dense. Even so, if I were buying snowshoes today, I would find a pair much like mine but with better bindings. Mine are the MSR Evo model.

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The problem is it’s a fair amount of work to put them on and take them off, and the more you do that, the more they tend to find ways to loosen their own straps and come off all by themselves. If I had a pair with better bindings I’d have been more inclined to put them on at 2,500 feet instead of 3,700 feet and take them off as needed, and I’d have covered those 1,200 feet much quicker both uphill and downhill.

I’ve already come to realize that they’re not just useful for deep snow.  Even in snow that’s just six inches or so deep and fairly firm in most places, you can go much faster in snowshoes because they even out the uneven surface that otherwise you have to be careful to avoid twisting your ankle on. I found that I was practically running downhill from 4,700 feet to 3,700 feet, then my downward speed took a major hit as soon as I took off the snowshoes.

Anyway, a good time was had by all and we’ll certainly be doing this again some time before the snow is all gone.

On the way back we had our traditional Burger King after-hike snack: veggie burger for me and burgers for the dogs.  I treated them each to a double cheeseburger.  They patiently (somewhat) wait with their snouts sticking forward from the backseat over the center console and I alternate between them, ripping a piece of bread and burger and handing it to each dog in turn. "A piece for Cookie … a piece for Buck … a piece for Cookie … a piece for Buck …" When they’re done I start in on mine, and it’s been a hard lesson for them to learn but they have come to realize that I’m not going to share mine with them, so they let me eat it in peace.

We’ve been back a couple of hours now and dogs are ready to do it all over again but I’m still recovering even after taking a nap.

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4 Responses to Snowshoes on Dirty Harry

  1. Brian Decker says:

    I really enjoyed reading about your trip up Dirty Harry Tom, and look forward to hiking with you in the future. Sorry I couldn’t hike out with you for this one, but my schedule got in the way. I did however hike out to the end of Dunginess Spit with the Seattle Backpackers meetup group on Thursday. That was a lot of fun with a motley crue of cool people.

    Either way, it looks like I will have to invest in Snowshoes. I am not sure I could have made it to the top with you if I HAD come without them. Any suggestions?

    Talk to you soon, Brian

    • tomdykstra says:

      You can rent snowshoes at REI, or if you want to go out some day when I’m not going out you’re welcome to borrow mine. If we go together some time we can switch off and see how it goes with one breaking trail for the other.

  2. Brian Decker says:

    Oh yeah, Do you really feed your dogs Cheeseburgers? Lol, I don’t know if I should get in the habit of feeding Rusty and Linda fast food after a hike. Is it too “Rich” for their systems to handle?

    Anyways, cool hike and thank-you for letting me know of your post. ~Brian

  3. Dusty says:

    Tom,
    Loved your dog blog! Gorgeous pictures, fun narrative. Your commentary on the dogs at cliff’s edge reminds me of our first Monadnock climb as kids when Dad tied a rope around all of us to make sure that if one fell off the edge of the cliff, we would all be pulled along for the ride.
    The memorialization of your post-hike meal with the dogs would make a fantastic Burger King ad.
    All the best,
    Dusty

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