The kids have gotten noticeably stronger this year in their hiking abilities. We’ve also made some new hiking friends who hike in all seasons, and they invited us to come snowshoeing with them this winter. A Secret Santa has been leaving presents on our doorstep (a 12 days of Christmas theme) and one of the gifts this weekend was 3 sets of snowshoes! There were one adult pair and two kid pairs. I feel so humbled to receive such generous gifts – we still don’t know who’s been leaving things for us, but they are so creative and obviously know us well. A true friend for sure!
I picked up a few more warm items for the kids to wear and a vacuum thermos to bring hot cocoa. I was lucky to find 2 merino wool sweaters that fit Gabe at Value Village, as well as a down vest for Annika. Snow pants were completely sold out in the thrift stores, but thankfully our local REI had one pair her size on clearance. With our new snowshoes we were set for a day in the mountains.
One of our friends was gracious enough to offer to drive us to the trailhead, since she had the Snow Park Pass, new snow tires, and plenty of room in her car. I was grateful, because honestly I do not know how to drive in the snow, and was nervous about taking the kids up there. Since it was New Year’s Day, the parking area at the freeway offramp was completely packed, with cars lined up all along the road. I never knew there was such a place to go play with such easy access. We drove farther down to the Gold Creek Trail parking area, and parked way down the road.
We had left the brilliant sun over on the west side, and the Pass area was socked in with clouds. The temperature at the Pass was 24 degrees. It was cold enough that my hydration tube froze solid before we even started hiking. It took us a bit to gear up, but thankfully I had packed pretty much everything the way it needed to be. The biggest thing was getting everyone into snow pants and getting our snowshoes on. Once we figured it out, they were pretty straightforward, though Gabe’s winter boots pretty much filled them up, and he might need bigger ones soon. The dogs were ready to go and straining at their leashes. We made one final stop at the trailhead porta-potties, and then we joined the masses and began trudging up the trail.
The Gold Creek Trail is wide and groomed up to the pond. It’s a great place to go for beginners like us, because we could get the hang of walking on giant plastic shoes.
The kids really enjoyed all the fresh, puffy snow, and I enjoyed the flocked trees and the novelty of being in the woods in winter.
It didn’t take us too long to get to the summer trailhead, where there is another outhouse you can use.
The trail gets narrower here, and more like a traditional trail. It’s a short walk up to the pond from here.
The snow was up to the tops of the picnic tables, but they still made convenient places to stop and eat. Ice covered this end of the pond; tracks led out onto the ice, but most of us didn’t think it was safe to venture out there.
We sat down and I pulled out my thermos of hot cocoa for the kids.
We had part of our lunch while the dogs begged for food from us. We really needed a break and some calories, and something warm to drink. There was just the slightest breeze, but it was still very cold. We knew we wouldn’t be able to stay very long; part of our group split off and went on ahead, because they were getting chilled and didn’t want to wait for us.
After we cleaned up and packed our gear back into our packs, we began to make the loop around the lake.
There are trails braiding around, but if you stick to the main ones near the shore, you’ll be fine.
There were 2 or 3 bridges over creeks. They were piled with snow, and I was glad there wasn’t more depth, because they can get precarious later in the winter.
Annika began having trouble with her pants. They were just a bit too big in the waist, and kept sliding down on her hips. I pulled out a spare strap with a buckle that I carry “just in case” and it fit her perfectly as a belt. She got her second wind when she started pretending that she had gotten special snowshoes for her imaginary horse, Spots, and he was galloping along the trail with her. I just love this kid’s imagination.
Tara, the shy dog that comes hiking with us, was very afraid of children when we first met her. But on this trip she came and sat down right next to Annika, and she was much happier letting Annika pet her.
We found some snowmen that someone had added paper features to. They made us laugh.
We saw some bunny tracks on the far side of the lake, and some ducks were swimming in the open water on that end. We saw several ravens and juncos, and even a heron flying over at one point. Back on the front of the pond we found some interesting wildlife posts with narrow black boxes affixed to the tops. I was thinking perhaps they are bat homes, but I’m really not sure.
We made pretty good time back to the trailhead, but we all felt that this sport is more difficult and tiring than plain hiking. All that lifting up of feet and shuffling around, plus the inevitable falling down and getting up burns more calories. The kids were pretty tired at the end. I am having trouble getting an official number for the distance of this loop, but I think it’s about 2-3 miles round trip. It’s just right for kids and beginning snowshoers. I did see many folks pulling younger children in sleds, as they got tuckered out with the walk. We wished we had brought a lightweight sled to slide down some of the gentle slopes along the path.
Both my kids enjoyed this new sport. Gabriel did comment on how everything is more work in the snow, and he’s right – but I think it’s still worth it to get out into the bracing cold air and experience the mountains in winter. I have a feeling we’ll be exploring more areas this winter now that we have new friends and new gear. It was definitely a great way to spend the first day of the year.
If You Go: You’ll need a snow park pass to park at the trailhead. Bring plenty of warm clothing that you can layer on and off. Check the weather forecast before you go. The trail around the pond is safe from avalanches, but if you continue up the valley on the trail, there are several places prone to slides. Watch the avalanche forecasts if you plan to hike farther up. For more information about snowshoeing and winter hiking in Washington, check out the WTA page for links and inspiration. ParentMap also has a good article about snowshoeing with children, including info about guided snowshoe hikes. [Edit, 1/3/13 - WTA just posted another article about SnoPark Passes to help you figure out which parking pass you need.]