By John Carter Rodgers | Contributed
On my first off-trail foray in the Sierra winter, way back in ought-seven, I saw what was surely a wolf just fifty yards away, standing there gazing at me. A magnificent creature, the big guy was well dressed in a dark multi-colored coat of plush fur.
I felt a dose of fear.
He scanned my aura for a short eternity before turning to vanish into the trees.
I did my research and discovered wolves are no longer present in our state. It was a coyote, though this one looked nothing like those scrawny, furtive creatures seen slinking around the orchards of the Valley, lacking the size, presence and valor of this specimen.
The holiday season is approaching and the high Sierra peaks to our east will soon be white.
I remember years back, my introduction to a pair of human tools devised long ago for travel over the frozen earth: the ski and the snowshoe. I was encouraged to try them out.
Confident of my abilities to self-propel effortlessly across a winter landscape, I was already congratulating myself as I hit the trail, striding across the land, snowshoes strapped to boots. Like a walk in the park, it was easy, and I felt deeply connected to the earth. My spirit soared imagining my many master moves as a ski-meister.
Unfortunately, attempts on cross-country skis were not a pretty sight – slipping, sliding, falling and sprawling in all directions: forward, backward and sideways. Clearly, I lacked the schussing enzyme. I bought two pairs of snowshoes and decided I would make myself available to instruct any companionable and willing soul.
dIt is mid-autumn now, potentially open season for outdoor winter activities, though the forest floor is not yet knee-deep in snow. Hopefully, that will change before Christmas.
Meanwhile, let’s say you’re willing to talk. Let’s say you might consider snowshoeing. Let’s say you have a vehicle and skills that can transport you safely in wintry high country conditions. I would say you are ready to rumble; the time is now.
General Grant Grove is a convoluted mile off the Generals Highway. Follow the sign at a turnoff several hundred yards downhill from Grant Grove Village. Just to the east of this magnificent congregation of Redwoods lies a loop trail almost two miles long, a fine workout for beginners. It circles counterclockwise from the top, a good gradient of downhill followed by a challenging uphill back to square one. Snowshoes can be rented daily at the store by the visitor center for $20.
For others who prefer to frolic on more gentle inclines, the closest and most accessible playground is Big Meadow, a vast arena with more than 100 miles of trails and roads.
Go down Generals Highway, eight or so miles south of Grant Grove Village. Big Meadow is on your left, up a paved and patched-up turnoff leading to a parking lot. Unlike the steep trail at Grant Grove, “Big” offers relatively flat terrain for a cross country lark.
In winter the crisscrossing paved roads lie many feet below the deep snow. Gals on skis have been seen here doing that easy shuffling slide, planting their poles over and over and pulling provisions behind them on sleds tied to ropes strapped to their waists.
For snowshoeing, endless off-trail options offer solitude and exploring opportunities, and using your electronic satellite homing device will put you way ahead of Hansel and Gretel. By law, snowmobiles are relegated to forest roads and ski trails, with no options to head out off the beaten path.
For those on snowshoes and seeking tranquility, wandering across the land is a good bet for activating the magic of random discoveries.
Go on, that winter world is calling you.