I was born in Punta Arenas, Chile. It’s so far south, it’s considered part of the Antarctic District of Chile. Naturally, its winters are bitterly cold. I grew up in North Texas, however: the land of the fickle winter. We are accustomed to t-shirts on New Year’s Eve and parkas on New Year’s Day. One full inch of snow or a ¼ inch of ice on the roads sends society into an apocalyptic downward spiral. Now, living on California’s southern coast, I am in the land of the non-winter. But, I knew moving west meant weekends spent in the mountains chasing snow.
I’ve never been inclined to ski or snowboard. I went once in high school as part of our band spring trip (yes, I am a proud former band member/nerd), and I remember being more sore afterwards in more muscle groups I didn’t know existed than any at other occasion in my life. I haven’t the need for speed, nor have I developed it since sophomore year.
As an avid hiker and backpacker, I try to spend at least two nights on the trail and average about 60 miles of hiking per month. So, once I moved to California, I knew I needed to find a fourth-season mode of transportation. Naturally, snowshoeing seemed like the way to go. I didn’t, however, expect the haters.
I encountered some very strong feelings regarding snowshoeing:
“Snowshoeing is good for getting to a backcountry ski/boarding area or for mountaineering only.”
“You actually BOUGHT snowshoes and WANT to go on a trip to SNOWSHOE…?”
“Snowshoeing sucks. A lot.”
Had I made a mistake? Were the beautiful MSR snowshoes my partner bought me the year before doomed to collect dust in my gear closet? Would I be destined to spend the winter lusting after powder from afar?
Nah. Nothing that dramatic. I chose to ignore the peanut gallery, and see for myself. I planned a three day snowshoeing trip to Mammoth Lakes to explore the front country trails in one of the most beautiful portions of the Eastern Sierra.
I camped at the Mammoth Mountain RV Park on the east side of the small community (this place has hot showers, clean restrooms, and reliable WiFi; I highly recommend it for a more DIY lodging option). I had three days to myself to explore the area. Here are some of the highlights:
Day 1: the Inyo Craters off of the Mammoth Scenic Loop. The craters are located off of the snowmobile tracks that are established in the national forest. The tracks are open for hikers, cross-country skiers, and snowshoers. I was able to hoof it to the craters and return via the Blue Diamond trail. The signage is very old and unreadable in certain spots, so take a map, compass, and GPS if you plan on going off trail or along unmarked paths. The road was passable for the first ½ mile or so, but the snow got deep quickly and made turning around very difficult. Park off the paved road and walk in.
Day 2: I set out for the Lake Mary Loop. Tamarack Lodge and XC Ski Center sells passes, rents gear, and teaches lessons for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. If you have your own snowshoes, you can park at the gate to Lake Mary Road and snowshoe on the left side of the road for free! No passes required.
This was a great option for all-day exploration of the front country. I was one of only two snowshoers out that day. It was a Wednesday, but cross-country skiers were out in droves. It wasn’t crowded at all on the left side of the road.
The view of Mammoth’s craggy horizon from Panorama Dome. This is a super easy hike/snowshoe to the top of a rock dome. The view was phenomenal. This is the first of many destinations along the namesake Mammoth Lakes loop.
I stopped for lunch and a cup of hot tea on the frost shore of Lake George. I had this little spot to myself for almost an hour. It was a beautiful place to rest.
Look out for the “Hole in the Wall” above Lower Twin Lake – a popular backcountry ski spot for experts only.
I coerced a very nice family into taking my picture. I was proud of myself for snowshoeing 10 miles!
Day 3: I returned to the snowmobile area off of Mammoth Scenic Loop for another loop through the forest. Here is a view of Mammoth Mountain looming over the pines below. The trail was well groomed, but snowshoes definitely gave me better purchase on the icy stuff.
I ventured off trail a bit after having gained some much-needed confidence. As you can see from my tracks below, the snow was pretty deep in some places. It was fun bounding down slopes of powdery snow! (Sorry for the selfies. It’s hard to get good photos of yourself adventuring when you go out solo as often as I do).
The verdict: snowshoeing is awesome! It does not suck!
Snowshoeing is a great way to get yourself, your friends, and family out in the snow for exercise, animal watching, and fun. It’s easy to learn and can be inexpensive if you rent gear or buy second-hand shoes and poles.
It’s so exciting to have a new way to travel in winter. I feel like a whole world I never knew has been opened up to me. It sounds cheesy, and it is. But, for this boy from the plains of Texas, it’s gold.
I’ll see you on the snow!
Sebastian Cancino lives and plays in Ventura, California. If he’s not working the sales floor at Patagonia’s retail store in Ventura, he’s backpacking the local wilderness areas in Los Padres National Forest and beyond. He plans to hike the John Muir Trail summer 2016.
Follow his adventures on Instagram: @panchitowalker