Snowshoeing by Moonlight

The warm glow of mulled wine and spicy hot coco was a coveted memory when the doors to the car opened and an icy blast of wind blew through. A near full moon lit up the snow-covered world around us. The stars that could shine through the moonbeams, like those in Orion, sparkled above as we hunched over, backs to the wind, to strap on our snowshoes.

Once we got out of the exposed parking lot and onto the Brainerd Lake Trail in the trees, the wind was heard whistling in the upper branches and hardly felt. The gentle slope was just enough to warm the seven of us up from the initial shock of stepping out of our warm cars.

Mike, our trip organizer, had brought together this group of friends and coworkers simply for the enjoyment and unique experience of snowshoeing in the moonlight. Some were experienced outdoor adventurers, some with a hike or two under their belts and one had never even been hiking. A few of us rallied to bring her the boots, socks, snowshoes and warm clothes for her to make this first voyage onto the snowy trail a positive memory. Granted, the mulled wine was a great start when we stopped at a friend’s house in Nederland on the way up.

As we passed a frozen lake half a mile up the trail, the clouds formed above and obscured the moon and stars. The tingling pricks of cold on my cheeks and the occasional reflexive batting of my eyes was the only evidence of falling snow.

We crossed Brainard Lake Road, which is closed for the winter but has been groomed for skiers, and quickly moved back into the woods for the final push up to the lake. A gentle but steady climb in the protection of the woods kept conversation to a minimum and warm blood pumping. Picnic grills and tabletops poked mere inches above the snow and Mike used this surface as an impromptu bar, wielding his thermos of hot coco and cups to share with everybody.

We passed around cookies, biscuits and other snacks before we pushed on the last 30 yards to Brainard Lake itself. Back in the open, the wind found us again.

“If it was clear, the Indian Peaks range, part of the continental divide, would fill our view,” Mike howled over the wind and blowing snow, sweeping his arm across the obscured sky. We responded by cinching our hoods tighter around our heads. Quite a sight it must have been: snow-covered mountains with dark crags of exposed rock gently glowing in the silver moonlight..

After Mike’s attempt to paint this grandiose image on the fog before us, we turned our backs to the blowing snow, now starting to stick on our wool caps, and started the two miles back down. Back in the protection of the woods, I climbed a snow-covered brush pile. When the rest followed, I declared “King of the hill!” and started shoving others climbers off, tumbling them back down, spraying snow fluff every direction. Even our newest snowshoer, clearly enjoying herself, got into it and had some time on top of the pile. This was a good way to warm up again after the cold stop in the wind at the lake.

After brushing off the snow collected from tumbling down the snow pile we got going again. The trail attempted to elude us in the dark. Even with the help of headlamps, it took some stomping around in circles to recall and retrace our steps. Finally, a trail marker was discovered – facing the other way. The trail was not well marked going back down, almost to attempt to trap visitors at the lake.

At the road crossing, we opted to take the road, a slightly shorter distance than the trail we followed to get here. We walked three or four abreast, conversation flowing freely despite the wind blowing from behind. Snowshoes slapped the firm snow and as we approached the parking lot, the clouds cleared and revealed the stars once again.

— Written for Snowshoe Magazine

About the author

Adventure Correspondent Cameron L. Martindell is a freelance adventure travel and expedition writer, photographer and filmmaker who founded in 2000. He has contributed to Elevation Outdoors Magazine, The Gear Junkie, National Geographic, The Christian Science Monitor, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Outside, Backpacker, Wired, Australian Geographic, and others. He has been to all seven continents and lived on five of them, including a four-month stint at the South Pole. Cameron has more than 10 years of mountain search and rescue experience, is an Eagle Scout, has been an Australian bush firefighter, competes in sailing regattas, plans national and international youth programs, guides Oregon rafting trips and Australian bush backpacking trips.

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