Bellies full? Check.
Luke dressed and ready for action? Check and check.
Jack fed, dressed, and buckled into his carrier? Check, check, check.
Mom and Dad dressed? Check and check.
Snacks and water packed? Check, check.
Camera ready to go? Check.
Snowshoes and poles unpacked and waiting to be strapped on? Check and check and check.
We crossed the full parking lot to the trailhead and picked the least snow covered picnic table to strap on our snowshoes. After messing with various clips and buckles and straps, we were set. Let the snowshoeing begin!
Luke and Andy started down our trail, a beautiful, 3-ish mile loop we’d done a few times before, as I fiddled with my camera and listened to Jack laugh as his brother kicked up giant clouds of snow up ahead. At our first junction, we veered to the right and into the trees.
We greeted a number of others on the first leg of our hike. They stopped first to take a good look at Luke, the four year old snow tornado with colorful, blinking snowshoes strapped to his heavy boots, then at Jack, who only appeared after a second glance at the pack on my back.
The four of us stomped onward, following our winding trail through groves of naked aspen trees and snow covered evergreens. Luke scrambled up every boulder he could find, launching himself into the cold winter air and into the powdery snow below.
Another slow, steep descent through the glistening, snow covered trees, and it appeared: the granddaddy of steep hills we remembered so fondly from our previous hikes. In the past, we’d completed the loop clockwise, making this section a tricky downhill challenge. This time, however, we decided to hike our loop in the opposite direction, and that left us with only one way to go: UP.
I started the heavy slug up the massive hill one careful step at a time. Jack wiggled around in the pack on my back, trying in vain to turn around enough to look at his dad and older brother in the trees below us. Step, step, step, rest. Step, step, step, rest. My legs burned and my heart threatened to burst out of my chest. With each rest, the top only seemed farther and farther away.
At long last, and much to the relief of my aching body, I made it to the top. I stuck my poles in the snow and readied my camera to catch Luke and Andy’s ascent.
Step, step, step, rest. Step, step, step, rest. The two of them made their way up the steep hill, gasping for air as they held hands. By about halfway up, it was clear that Andy was doing most of the grunt work as he balanced himself and the four year old dangling on his side. Jack squealed with delight as they crested the hill and joined us at the top.
Luke, Jack, and I wandered a little way onto Raven Ridge Overlook to take in the sight while Andy snapped a few photos. We ooh-ed and ahh-ed for a few minutes, then pressed on, newly motivated by the sudden drop in temperature and the rapidly sinking sun.
I pushed on ahead to make it back to the truck as fast as I could, as Jack decided he’d had enough of this little winter jaunt over the hills and through the trees. With a mighty burst of what energy I had left, we broke out of the trees and climbed back up to our trailhead. I shed the pack and my snowshoes and camera, pulled Jack loose, and found a comfy pile of snow to sit on while I nursed and waited for Andy and Luke to appear. Before long, I heard a “There’s Momma!” and there they were.
It took a fraction of the time to take off all of our layers as it did to put them on. In no time flat, our gear was packed and our truck was warmed up, and we were on our way down the mountain.
Sore legs and happy hearts? Check and check.
Successful family snowshoeing adventure? Check!