Special to The SunBreak by John Hieger.
The crunchy first step of the trailblazer is serious work; being the slouch who pulls up the rear is usually preferable unless you’re in it for the glory. While the movement feels somewhat robotic at first, the good news is the superhuman abilities snowshoes provide in the face of steep grades.
The traction of my cheap rentals gripped the heavy Cascade snow like a cat to a scratching post, enabling my buddy and I to tackle steep slopes with a sense of performance-enhancing momentum.
After a half-hour of steady climbing and uncomfortable sweat–you assume snowshoeing is going to be an ass-freezing ordeal, but in this muggiest of El Niños, a vertical gain is a sweatshop–we reached an impressive vista that opened the Icicle Creek Canyon up to the east. The “creek” coursed below the jagged peaks on each side, giving a postcard view over the cold valley below. Winter imagery in Central Washington is the stuff of marketing campaigns.
We proceeded upward, until reaching a friendly local who informed us of the trail’s name and length which ignited a spirit of retreat. Eightmile Lake in winter is the stuff of early risers, and learning this fact after a late start and a healthy investment in the trail itself would have been devastating in uglier conditions.
Having approached the winter stroll with an appreciative, rose-smelling outlook–as opposed to the robotic blitzkrieg mentality some Northwesterners exhibit–allowed us to avoid the feeling of defeat that comes when you can’t reach the final destination. The untamed scenery and departure from the muggy Seattle gray was a victory in itself.
Returning to the valley floor we split from the snowmobile track the highway becomes this time of season, and headed for our own piece of solitude. Trailblazing alongside the river and the surreal snowball islands that live within the cold moving waters of Icicle Creek brought the imagery of the old Coors beer label to life, but without the cheap marketing and calories.
Icicle Creek Road is at the west end of Leavenworth and intersects U.S. Highway 2. Eight miles up Icicle River Road from where it intersects with U.S. Highway 2 at the west side of town is the 8 Mile Campground parking area, which offers access to the trails and river. Snowshoes rentals are $12 a day for adults at the Der Sportsmann: 837 Front Street, in downtown Leavenworth.