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Originally published January 9, 2011 at 9:01 PM | Page modified January 9, 2011 at 9:04 PM

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Snowshoe walks at Snoqualmie Pass offer chance to see beauty of winter

To escape the lowland winter gloom, head to Snoqualmie Pass for free snowshoe walks offered every weekend throughout winter.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Snowshoe walks at Snoqualmie Pass

Forest Service interpretive snowshoe walks at Snoqualmie Pass are a chance to enjoy the beauty of winter and learn about snowshoeing and winter ecology. The walks are offered every weekend through March 28. Dress in layers and wear clothes that insulate even when wet. Sturdy waterproof boots are needed to wear with snowshoes.

Reservations are required. Call the Snoqualmie Pass Forest Service Visitor Information Center at 425-434-6111 Thursday — Sunday, 9 a.m.-3 p.m.

There are two options.

Option 1: A moderately paced interpretive walk that lasts 90 minutes and leaves from the Visitor Information Center every Saturday and Sunday at 10 a.m., 11:30 and 1 p.m. Group size is limited to 20.

Option 2: An extended outing to the Commonwealth Basin. This requires a higher level of fitness and winter preparedness. Group size is limited to 10 people. These walks last a half day and depart from the Visitor Information Center at 9:30 a.m. every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. They are not for children under 10.

Children's option: For younger children, the Forest Service offers a Kids in the Snow program, with less vigorous outings to introduce kids to winter outings and snow play. The program is every Saturday at 1 p.m. beginning Feb. 5. A limited number of children's snowshoes are provided.

Other options: To learn about Washington State Parks Sno-Park locations, trail grooming and maps, go to www.parks.wa.gov/winter

To check avalanche conditions, go to www.nwac.us or call 206-526-6677

To sign up for free mountain-safety, avalanche-awareness and companion-rescue classes, go to www.thedavidpettigrewmemorialfoundation.com/workshops.php

Source: U.S. Forest Service

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SNOQUALMIE PASS, PACIFIC CREST TRAIL —

It's the unfailing Rx, the perfect antidote for doldrums and drear: a winter's day in the mountains, shush-shushing on snowshoes.

Down below in Seattle, the fog was eating the tops of the skyscrapers, while the rain nagged rooftops and hissed on roads. But up here at Snoqualmie Pass, interpretive snow rangers were busy all day Sunday, opening up a magic kingdom of snow play.

This was the first day of their interpretive snowshoe walks, led for the public around the backcountry at the pass every Friday, Saturday and Sunday through March. The U.S. Forest Service offers the walks for free — a donation is requested — and even provides the snowshoes.

For the uninitiated, it couldn't be a safer, more inviting first outing, with two rangers along, and a group to keep you company on a guided walk.

Just ask the Webelos scouts of Pack 10 from Marysville, heading out Sunday to clock some outdoor recreation experience with their den leader, Daniel Samaniego of Marysville. The 10-year-olds were quickly figuring out that fluffing around in snowshoes is about as difficult as walking in bedroom slippers.

To prove it, the first thing Pat Ellis, one of the interpretive snow rangers leading the trip, had everyone do was a footrace in their snowshoes off trail. "I want you to see how free you can be in your movement," he said, and gave the starting "GO!"

Rooster tails of snow shooting out behind them, arms pumping, off they went pell-mell to where Ellis stood, laughing, as, yes, a few went tumbling into the pillow-soft snow. The prize was a Smoky the Bear pin awarded to the winners: Samaniego, of course, but also Adam Colbert, 10, of Marysville. "I just went like this!" Colbert said with amazement, pumping his legs to demonstrate.

The weather could not have provided a prettier welcome, with a soft, steady, silent snowfall easing through the trees, covering everything like a blessing. Some 5 to 7 inches fell on about a 6-foot base; it added another layer of cush to the quiet, white world up here, padded as a stack of mattresses. And yet there was so much going on: Ellis stopped the group in its 1-mile-loop hike to notice springtails scattered on the snow. Though like mere specks, close inspection revealed them to be tiny bugs with lobster-like tails. Snowflakes cater their meals, microorganisms the flakes collect as they spin to the ground.

The kids hurled themselves into the snow at each interpretive stop, the better to test the taste of the fresh snow with their tongue — and its packability for a good snowball.

As for the adults, what a great surprise to learn how easy it was to go up and downhill, with that nice big cleat on the bottom of the snowshoe biting firmly into the snow. And there was the dreamy thought of the subnivean world to contemplate: all that life busily carrying on under the snow. Trees buried deep beneath were still photosynthesizing in the opalescent light filtered through the snow, and animals were snug in their burrows, snoozing in warm piles, Ellis said. "They have great life under there."

He pointed out the trees up here have adapted to flex their branches under the weight of the snow; the chartreuse festoons of lichen on their branches and deep holes in their trunks drilled by pileated woodpeckers.

The setting itself was a rare treat only available in winter, Ellis noted. For while the walk begins at the north access point to the Pacific Crest Trail at the West Summit of the pass, it promptly heads off trail.

"You can't walk here in the summer. The brush will tear you up," Ellis said. "But we can go anyplace in the forest on snowshoes."

For Evelyn Zeller and Nels Magelssen of Bellevue, the walk was a discovery. "This is something I didn't realize we could do. Every time I ski, it's like, God, I hope I don't die, plus it's so expensive," Magelssen said. "This gets us out into the woods and expands our hiking season.

"Down below it is raining and miserable. This is what you do with a rainy day."

Taking off her snowshoes, Zeller agreed.

"We live in such a beautiful area," she said. "And the mountains are only an hour away."

Lynda V. Mapes: 206-464-2736 or lmapes@seattletimes.com

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