Each winter, the dazzling snowscape along familiar Mount Charleston trails reminds me of homes that friends dress up in Christmas finery: The ordinary is recast in extraordinary light, the sight is fleeting, and there’s a sense of urgency to visit.
When snow starts falling at Mount Charleston, I start plotting a snowshoeing trip. It’s a similar experience to hiking, and a great way to explore the winter wonderland. Several local outdoor equipment retailers rent snowshoes and poles at reasonable rates. The snowshoes’ plastic straps fit around any comfortable waterproof boots or shoes, so there’s no need to buy extra equipment. Lessons aren’t necessary like they would be for downhill skiing, but it’s best to try on the snowshoes and make sure they fit before leaving the rental shop.
Snowshoeing is best when the snow is at least six inches deep, so the Lower Bristlecone Trail, at an elevation of 8,477 feet on the Lee Canyon side, is an ideal path. In the past, the Lee Canyon ski resort has rented snowshoes at McWilliams Campground, where visitors have quiet, easily managed routes to explore under ponderosa pines. There are other options on the Kyle Canyon side of the Spring Mountains National Recreation Area.
As this winter begins, I remember our last snowshoeing trek — a February day after bountiful snowfall on Mount Charleston. In this case, my husband and I headed for the Escarpment Trail. First, we rented snowshoes from Southwest Bikes ($25 a pair per day). It was no hassle to park at Spring Mountains Visitor Gateway, which is at a relatively low elevation — about 6,600 feet — and far from the more popular snow-play areas of Lee Canyon. Several inches of snow had fallen at lower elevations, and temperatures remained in the 30s to slow snow melt.
Wearing our snow boots, jackets, gloves and ski pants, we carried our lightweight aluminum and plastic snowshoes to an outdoor visitor center bench with a commanding view of the surrounding snowy mountains and a nearby escarpment where our trail would lead after a brief time on the Pack Rat Route. Paths meandered below the cliff that was our initial perch, and we spotted a few fellow snowshoers enjoying the quiet morning. We strapped on our snowshoes and stomped around to get past the initial awkward feel. After more steps, and as the snow deepened, we became comfortable and confident with the click and clack of our snowshoes.
The Escarpment Trail, which snakes uphill across from the visitor center, is in the landscape’s transition to the pinyon-juniper zone, meaning the plantscape includes yucca, cactus and manzanita, as well as stockier pinyon pines and junipers. Silver-green bayonets of yuccas poked out from sparkling and swirling snowdrift patterns, and the red bark of manzanita contrasted boldly with sparkling white. The view up Kyle Canyon was stunning, with the 11,918-foot Charleston peak visible in the distance. The mostly gray, unthreatening skies included occasional patches of blue.
Parts of the trail were well-worn by fellow snowshoers, yet other areas were pristine. After an initial ascent, the trail stretches the length of the rocky escarpment and loops back down for a total of 2½ miles. Knowing the weather forecast is critical for snowshoeing safety, and it’s important to bring enough water and food for the day as well as to be in the company of fellow snowshoers as much as possible.
For this winter season, a snowshoeing goal of ours is to traverse three miles or more under the tall pines and firs along the Lower Bristlecone Trail. We’ll be scanning the branches for mountain chickadees and nuthatches, and we’ll bring along a thermos filled with hot cocoa to celebrate the frosted, fanciful scene. We’ll arrive early to lessen the parking anxiety that’s often a part of the Lee Canyon winter experience.
When the fleeting chance to snowshoe at Mount Charleston arrives, the time is right to take to a familiar, mostly flat summertime trail with odd aluminum and plastic contraptions strapped to your feet for fun, exercise and inspiration. ◆
Where to rent:
Southwest Bikes (northwest)
7290 W. Azure Drive No. 110
Gravity Sports (southeast)
9775 W. Russell Road Suite 120
REI Boca Park (northwest)
710 S. Rampart Blvd.
For Mount Charleston information:
Lee Canyon Ski and Snowboard Resort
6725 Lee Canyon Road