Solo Backcountry Snowshoe Adventure With Dogs
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We had a LOT of snow this winter in the mountains of Arizona! My dogs love the snow (even the short-haired Pitmix,) so I decided to take them on a four day snowshoe adventure. Most dogs that do a lot of hiking, running, and playing in the mountains should be fine. Dogs that have tender feet or extremely short hair may need special attention. There are boots and vests designed to protect their feet and body temps.
I decided to snowshoe/backpack in to a remote Yurt at 9000 feet (I recommend the Morning Glory Yurt.) Glamping, really, except that you have to carry in all food, water, sleeping bags, etc. This particular yurt had a wood stove, stocked woodpile, a sleeping pad, and table and chair. No internet, electricity or phone service, so leave all that behind. I did bring a small fold out solar panel, as I needed to charge my camera batteries and Ipad (for reading and editing my photos.) There are sleds available for winter backcountry travel if you pack more than you can carry on your back. My goal, for this trip, was to capture some night shots of the milky way against the San Francisco Peaks. It snowed every night, so this didn’t happen. You can check out my gear list here.
I spent four peaceful days snowshoeing around the mountains, taking photographs, wrestling and sliding down steep embankments with the dogs, doing yoga, reading, sleeping, writing, and taking more photographs. We averaged about 10 miles a day. I didn’t see a single person for 48 hours. It was a great way to recharge, and to be honest, just to have an adventure that was pretty mellow. No incidents; no epics. Just snowshoeing through the wild woods with my loyal (and quiet) companions.
Here are some things to keep in mind:
Cookpot. This seems like a no brainer, but if you don’t want to carry a sh*t ton of water, you will need to melt your snow for the dogs. Melt for yourself too, but remember to purify!
Wool. I use almost exclusively wool undergarments. They are warm when wet, and dry pretty quickly next to the wood stove, campfire or in the dry air. For some of my favorites, see here.
Dry Bags. I store all my clothing, sleeping bag,and camera equipment in dry bags. Sometimes, I even double bag them. You don’t want to get several miles in to a winter adventure and find that your down sleeping bag is a wet, lumpy mess. There are “warm when wet” synthetic bags, but I still prefer down! You have to be very responsible when carrying down bags or clothing on any adventure. Invest in dry bags!
Outer wear. Invest in GOOD wet weather gear. Even if it is not snowing or raining, when you’re out in the snow, you will get wet. You will fall! I have been knocked into a creek by rambunctious dogs while jumping from rock to rock. In addition, weather can roll in at any moment here in the mountains. So be prepared. I like Outdoor Research gear. It is excellent quality, and they have XS-XL for women and their sizes are consistent. If you want to see what I wear, go here.
Dog Tracker. Here’s the deal on dog trackers: They are NOT cheap. I have tried every cheap one on the market, and they just don’t work in the backcountry for what I need. Some of you won’t need one; Your dogs are good puppers. Mine are not. They chase deer, elk, hares, and imaginary creatures, and although they always come back, I worry that some day they will go too far. So, we either train our dogs to be obedient and stay by our sides (no thank you), we train them to come when we call (if they can hear us), or we get a tracker AND train them. I’m still uncertain of the best thing to do here, because one of the reason I go to the backcountry, is so the dogs and I can be FREE to run and explore. So, here is what I recommend. I’m warning you; they are PRICEY!
Dog Vest. Ruffwear has good quality gear. There are many options; choose what works for your particular needs. It’s better to be prepared than have a hypothermic pup. My short-haired pit-mix loves to swim in any weather, and play in the snow for hours. She has no body fat, and her hair is very slick. She can’t shed water like the double-coated German Shepherd. I either carry a fleece blanket, or put a vest on her after.
Snowshoes. I use an old pair of Tubbs snowshoes. They are short (21” I think); easier for running in the snow if I choose. They are sturdy and ordinary, but have lasted for years. I like the kind that have a heel lift for steep terrain. These will be my next pair of snowshoes. Some adventurers carry trekking poles. I tried them once, but because I was occasionally needing to manage leashes and camera, I ended up strapping them to my backpack for the rest of the trip.
For my ongoing full gear list, go here.
If you have any questions regarding this (or any) adventure, I’d love to hear from you! Leave a comment, or contact me directly.
Stay wild; roam far!