By Michelle Dunlop Herald Writer
Maybe Mother Nature was making up for that snowstorm in January.
But the weather could not have been better for snowshoeing at Mount Baker.
On the first Saturday in February, the temperature was well above 40 degrees even at the ski area. The sky was clear and blue. And half of the town of Bellingham, it seemed, had come to the soak up some winter fun and sun on the mountain.
A friend and I drove up from Everett for my first snowshoeing trip — a guided hike offered through the Forest Service’s Mount Baker Ranger District. I hike, I run and I used to be an avid skier. Somehow, though, snowshoeing passed me by.
When I heard the guided trips at Mount Baker were for novices and experienced snowshoers alike, I jumped at the chance. The Forest Service limits the group size of these guided trips, so reservations are required.
The Forest Service provides snowshoes for the adventure, free of charge. A $10 per person donation for the trip is recommended.
We met our guide, ranger Magenta Widner, in the parking lot to pick up snowshoes (yes, she even explains how to put them on) and get a brief overview of our trip.
This is the first year the Forest Service has offered guided snowshoeing trips at Mount Baker, Widner said.
Besides providing people with the basic history and geography of the area, the Forest Service’s goal with these snowshoeing trips clearly is avalanche awareness. Widner encouraged snowshoers to seek out additional avalanche and wilderness survivor training after the trip.
We started at the Bagley Lakes trailhead. Widner offered tips for climbing and descending steep slopes. But it turns out that snowshoeing isn’t that difficult to learn. In our group of about 15 people, ages ranged from about 10 to early 60s.
Keep in mind, when traveling in a group, you’re only as fast as your slowest person. Speedsters, beware.
Along the route, Widner pointed out tips for telling whether a slope is susceptible to avalanche. She also identified mountains in the region, different types of trees and talked about the wildlife that are more easily spotted in spring or summer.
About 20 minutes into the trip, I was glad I had heeded warnings to dress in layers and quickly shed my outer shell and heavier gloves.
Halfway through, we stopped at the Heather Meadows Visitor Center for a break. The center was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps to be used as a warming hut by skiers. Today, it’s only open during the summer but the site is a protected historical building.
From the center, we had a great view of skiers and snowboarders — many were snowshoeing up slopes where there aren’t ski lifts and skiing or boarding back down.
We went a slightly different route on the way back, with snowshoers in our group having ample opportunity to ask our friendly guide questions along the way.
Our trip was slated for 90 minutes but went a little over two hours, which didn’t seem to trouble anyone in our group. It was the perfect length of a trip for this new snowshoer.
If you can’t get a spot in the remaining guided snowshoeing trips, which are offered on Saturdays through Feb. 25, try the ones offered at Stevens Pass or Snoqualamie Pass. Check the Mount Baker Ranger District website for dates and reservation information: http://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/mbs/news-events/?cid=STELPRDB5349819.