Snowshoeing for Beginners
by Exodus Client Sue Weatherby
Anyone who goes skiing regularly may have come across people with strange equipment, which appears to enable them to walk on the snow. Well, they are using snowshoes and the modern snowshoe is a very different beast from the tennis racket-like contraptions that appear in those pictures of old fashioned mountaineers. While Ian, my husband, was skiing in Switzerland, one of his companions had a day on snowshoes (this lapse was the result of technical failure) and reported that they were now high-tech light plastic affairs and easy to use.
Right, I thought, that sounds like something worth trying. I did my research and found a few snowshoe trips on offer. I decided on the Exodus Pyrenees Snowshoe Expedition.
We were based near Luchon in the French Pyrenees. On the first day we set off, walked about 200 yards up a track and then got to permanent snow cover. The 'how to snow shoe' lesson took about 45 minutes. Half of that time was spent adjusting the shoes to fit our boots and establishing which is left and which right. That’s about it really. You put them on and off you go. The only remotely technical bit is the ascender. This is a metal bar, which lifts the heel when climbing up hill. Off we set. The first day's objective was a gentle hill above Luchon which gave us great views. On the way down we practised with our avalanche transceivers. These had to be worn while we were out in the mountains and there is no point in wearing them if you don't know how to find one when it is attached to a person buried in an avalanche. We all had a go at 'find the transceiver '. Most people managed this within 3 minutes. I should warn you that I am not a good person to be your rescuer if you ever get avalanched. I came in with the record slow time of five minutes.
Next day we climbed up to the French-Spanish border and reached the summit of Pic de Bacanares. This was a glorious day and made us realise how good the snowshoes are for travelling in the mountains in winter. Next came a day off. There were various alternatives on offer but I was surprised when someone with my voice said they would like to try tandem paragliding. However, the words were out and I was committed. It was wonderful, Once the shock of being airborne is over there is time to relax and enjoy circling silently above the ridges and valleys below- a real 'wow' experience. The day was completed by a trip to the thermal baths in Luchon; I always enjoy natural hot baths and there is something special about this when there is snow on the ground.
The baths left us all thoroughly relaxed and ready for our expedition. We drove into Spain and started our walk in the Val d' Aran. We drove the bus up a side valley as far as we could and then it was on to snowshoe. We worked our way up the valley, past the summer roadhead and on through the forest and up to the Cirque de Colomers and our first hut.
It is years since I have stayed in an Alpine or Pyrenean mountain hut because in summer they are all so crowded. When they are not crowded they are lovely. In the Refuge De Colomers our party of twelve and another 6 snowshoers had plenty of room. This was an old hut and the loo is legendary. It is outside and down a rather precarious set of narrow steps which were nicely glazed with a thin layer of ice. I made use of this facility before it got dark and realised that it would be a good idea not to have to go out in the middle of the night.
The next day we worked our way up into the Cirque de Colomers and finally reached the Port de Colomers. The view was wonderful, really grand mountain scenery and no people - just a few snowshoe tracks to be seen. The next valley was even more spectacular. We dropped down to our next hut, the Refuge de Ventosa. The final day took us over the Col de Caldes, and back to our waiting bus. This was the longest day but with the least climbing and on the final section through the forest there was much fun sliding down between the trees.
My first experience of snowshoeing was a huge success. I had fantastic week. The weather was wall to wall sunshine and there was masses of snow. We had several lovely days in the mountains, well away from all the ski lifts and crowds. Oh, and snowshoeing, though quite hard work, is good fun.
Fancy a snowshoeing adventure this winter? To view the trip click here.