By Diana Condolo
I have been thinking about going snowshoeing for quite a long time. The thought of walking on top of a deep layer of snow while the forest around me sparkles in a white veil of snow has always enticed me. The recent snowfall beckoned me to go out and play in the fluffy, white wonderland. So, naturally, I jumped at the opportunity when invited by Toronto Adventures to try their City Moonlight Intro to Snowshoeing in High Park on February 6, 2014. Snowshoeing without having to leave the city – I’m in!
Snowshoes work by distributing the weight of the person over a larger area so that the person’s foot does not sink completely into the snow. You are in effect “floating” in the snow. They are used by forest rangers and other folk who need be able to get around when the snow is deep. Outdoor enthusiasts such as hikers use snowshoes to continue their activities outdoors in the winter. There are even special snowshoes for joggers. That would be a fun thing to do. Get out and embrace winter is my motto even though I am a summer person.
We met at the Tim Hortons one block east of the Keele subway station at 6:30 p.m. I went there by myself, but finding people to chat with was not an issue: other adventurers approached me, excited to talk about the new experience. So I quickly and easily made a few friends. After walking to the High Park entrance, our guides instructed us how to put on the snowshoes – three straps need to be fastened across the front and back of the boots. It was easy to do. For those who have poor night vision, it might prove to be a little difficult to secure the straps – but no worries – the guides have flash lights and are happy to provide assistance. Metal crampons on the underside of the shoe provide traction and stability. Once I learnt how to use them, I was able to walk down steep slopes without falling. Yay for that!
We formed a circle in the moonlight (Greek Circle Dance with snowshoes, anyone?) and limbered up with a few stretches. Before you knew it, we were off into the Carolinian forest. We trekked through the quiet trails of the park, occasionally intersecting with the plowed roads where we encountered walkers and a surprising number of joggers. We walked as a group. Sometimes the trails were narrow so we walked in single file. At other times, we could walk several people astride. The friendly guides checked in with the group to make sure everyone was doing well and not feeling too cold.
Walking at a brisk pace, we explored the 400 acre park, seeing some places I have never seen before even though I have been to High Park over a hundred times. There were times when it seemed as though we were far from the city, deep in the woods, and then the next moment, we would have a great view of Toronto with all of its sparkling city lights. It was neat to see a river still flowing at such a cold temperature.
The evening temperature was -8 C, -16 C with the wind. I did not feel the wind so it felt like -8 C and I did not have the cold face feel that comes with low temperatures. They advised us that we would warm up when we moved and I did indeed warm up to the point where I started to open up my coat a little. My feet remained warm (my boots are advertised to be good for temperatures up to -20 C) and so did my hands. I was quite surprised about that as I usually have cold fingers.
Snowshoeing is similar to walking, but your hips get an additional workout from the wider stance. The walk is an intense workout, burning up to 750 calories an hour. Even though it is a low-impact activity, snowshoeing is still a killer lower-body workout, working the muscles in the legs and derrière.
Depending on where you walked in the group, you could either keep to yourself and enjoy the meditative silence or you could walk close to others and be engaged in lively discourse. At times, I sidled up to a Toronto Adventures guide who was talking about the park, the environment, the coyotes and the birds that inhabit the park.
At the end of the two-hour walk, we were rewarded with hot chocolate. We all felt great about the workout and the enriching time spent in our natural environment with friends.
Who can do it? If you can comfortably walk a few kilometres, then you can snowshoe.
What to bring:
~ Dress for the weather
~ Flat bottomed boots, no heals or running shoes, must be water proof
~ Warm winter coat
~ Hat & Gloves (mittens)
~ Warm socks
~ Most days you will find that you will be removing layers due to heat. Better to dress warm in layers.
~ No pets allowed
My recommendation is to bring something to drink. My thermos of hot herbal tea was hydrating and comforting. Make sure you have dinner or a good snack before the hike.
The cost for the City Moonlight Intro to Snowshoeing by Toronto Adventures is $49.95 plus HST and includes snowshoes and a guided snowshoe adventure.
Would I go again? Yes! I would like to try the Humber Valley, Bruce Trail snowshoe hikes as well. I just noticed the Scotch Brock Snowshoeing & Wine Tasting half-day trip – it sounds awesome! Other winter activities Toronto Adventures offers include dogsledding, cross country skiing, skiing at Blue Mountain and snowboarding trips. For summer, Toronto Adventures features kayaking and canoeing on the Humber River, Sunnyside Beach stand up paddle boarding and Adventure Bus Hiking Day Trips.