Huh? Isn’t that supposed to be Route 66? Well, yes, if you’re driving a car, but what if you’re going for a snowshoe adventure at Smugglers’ Notch? Now that’s a journey of a different color!
David has recently written quite eloquently about the pleasures of a skiing vacation at “Smuggs”, as the Smugglers Notch Resort is commonly and affectionately known. That inspired us to think about a snowshoe hike (or “swike,” as they like to call it at Smuggs) there, so when we heard that Tim & Marilyn were going to be up there, it seemed like a perfect time to combine a hike and a visit! We met Tim and a couple of very friendly and helpful employees in the rental shop. One of them, generally known as just PK, was to have led a nature trip that morning, but it was snowing enough that most people canceled. Thus it was our good fortune to have him as our very affable and knowledgeable guide.
We were outfitted with TSL snowshoes which, it turns out, are actually manufactured in Vermont. These proved to be just a bit narrower than the Tubbs snowshoes that we used at the Trapp Family Lodge, and the binding system was different. Incidentally, we were interested to learn that more people rent snowshoes than skis at Smuggs. There are probably two reasons for this. First, there are likely a lot of people who are reluctant to try skis, which they regard as riskier and more difficult to use than snowshoes. Second, skiers are more likely to own their skis than are the more casual snowshoers.
We were told that, because of snow conditions, we would travel up Route 108, rather than on some of the other trails. That may seem a bit strange to the uninitiated, so a bit of explanation is in order. Route 108 goes up from Jeffersonville, Vermont, through Smuggler’s Notch, and down into Stowe. The road is closed in the winter for reasons that are readily apparent to anyone who has ever traveled this route! While the Jeffersonville side, where Smuggs is located, is a steady, moderate upgrade, the Stowe side is very steep, with incredibly sharp turns, often between massive boulders. In fact, it’s this area that gave Smugglers’ Notch its name, because smugglers were reputed to hide their goods (probably mostly illegal liquor) in the so-called caves in the notch. These are not true caves in the limestone tradition, but rather great jumbles of boulders left by the glacier, some of which form cavelike structures (a fun place to visit in the summer!).
A shuttle bus brought us up to the point where the road was closed, and we donned our snowshoes there. Then, with a moderate amount of wet snow falling, we set out up Route 108. The trail was wide and had been groomed occasionally, so it was well packed and easy going. However, we appreciated the excellent set of metal claws on the underside of our snowshoes, as the packed trail might otherwise have been rather slippery.
As already noted, the uphill slope was quite moderate – in fact more moderate than we remembered from having last driven the road quite a few years ago. As we snowshoed along, PK pointed out the long, extremely steep slope to our right; this led down to a fairly wide, flat valley floor. This marshy area, PK told us, has a beaver lodge, and he sometimes takes snowshoers down there on nature walks. We were surprised that snowshoes would hold on such a steep slope, but the TSL snowshoes have an exceptional set of metal claws underneath – well able to provide non-slip traction under those conditions. We were unable to see the beaver lodge through the snowflakes and the trees, but we elected not to attempt such a steep slope, good traction or not! Instead, we chose to continue getting our kicks on Route 108, and proceeded upward.
The scenery, though partially obscured by the snow, was lovely, with a steep, wooded slope rising to our left, and a steep, high slope to our right beyond the marshy valley. As we progressed, the steep slopes began to turn into impressive cliffs, which showed that we were drawing close to the Notch itself. At that point, we decided that we had had enough, so we turned around and headed back. As we descended, PK regaled us with various stories and bits of interesting information. One of these tales was particularly bizarre.
One night, a group having a torchlight ski were headed back down the Route 108 trail toward Smuggs, when, to their astonishment, they saw a set of automobile headlights coming up in their direction. They soon reached a car, driven by a young woman, that was firmly stuck in the snow. She had ignored a large “Road Closed” sign and managed to drive around a long, horizontal bar similar to those at railroad crossings. When asked why she had ignored such very obvious warnings, she said, “Well, because my GPS told me to go this way.” GPS systems were presumably designed to be used with at least a modicum of common sense, including recognizing when a road is closed for the winter! Incidentally, it required a trail groomer to pull the hapless woman’s car back down to the pavement. Well worth it for the crew, though, as they got a great story that they’ll be able to tell for decades!
On the descent, Warner’s right foot twice came out of the harness, due to slippage in the heel strap. This had also happened at Trapp Family Lodge, and clearly indicated that his rubber bottom L.L. Bean Maine Hunting Shoe, although great for most purposes, aren’t the best choice for snowshoeing. Instead, something with a firmer structure is required – a deficiency that will soon be remedied.
Edie really enjoyed the TSL snowshoes because they were a little narrower than the Tubbs snowshoes that she had previously used. Warner, more accustomed to snowshoes, didn’t notice any difference. We both appreciated the excellent traction provided by the metal claws underneath the shoes, but we agreed that we found the harnesses on the Tubbs snowshoes easier to use. It was yet another reminder to really pay attention to the details if you’re shopping for snowshoes of your own.
Once again, we found that snowshoeing on a packed trail is a great way to get out and enjoy the winter weather. It reaffirmed our interest in either putting new harnesses on our own (long unused) snowshoes, or buying new snowshoes, so that we can do some off – trail snowshoeing in the woods around our home. The snow has now vanished, however, due to the unseasonably early spring. That means we’re now setting our sights on other adventures that appeal to us, and might offer you good opportunities to get some exercise and enjoy the natural world, as well. Hmmm, perhaps hikes to scenic waterfalls might be a lot of fun; in early spring, some of the small ones may be spectacular with the snowmelt. Stay tuned!