As the calendar turned to September I was reminded that snowshoe season is just a few short months away. It is time to get my snowshoes out of storage and give them a good coating or two of varnish before it gets too cold. In the north country snowshoes are a necessity for easy travel in the deep snow and not just a form of weekend recreation on groomed trails.
For several years I co-taught snowshoe lacing classes at Hartwick Pines State Park. Last winter was the first one in several years where I was not involved in leading any classes and I really missed it; so as part of North Country History I am planning to offer snowshoe lacing classes. Prices need to still be determined but they will be quite affordable. Snowshoes will be offered in several styles: Green Mountain Bearpaw (the most popular), Michigan, Ojibwa, and possibly Alaskan style. I can host classes locally in the Frederic/Grayling area or come to you to teach the class. Class sizes will be limited to just a few people per class (no more than eight) so you will be able to have more instructor-student interaction than in a larger class. I will post more information soon.
To get into the spirit of snowshoes I thought I’d post today something from John Emmett Nelligan, a lumberman in Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula in the late 1800s and early 1900s. He does not actually mention snowshoes in this passage but that is how they would have traveled through the deep snows. The following is from his autobiography A White Pine Empire: The Life of a Lumberman.
Winter time is by far the best time of the year to cruise your timber and it is not so much of a hardship to camp out at that time of year as it seems at first thought, in spite of the fact that the weather is extremely cold, the ground frozen, and the snow two or three feet deep on the level. We usually camped on high land where it was possible to obtain plenty of hardwood for campfires, maple, if possible. After picking a site for our camp, we would make big scoops out of wood -rough snow-shovels- and clear the snow off a large space of ground. Then a great log fire would be built on the ground over which we intended to pitch our tent and this fire would thaw out, dry, and warm the ground. After clearing away the remains of the fire we would heap balsam or hemlock boughs on the space and pile them together with the butts on the ground and the tips pointing toward the head of the bed. This made a fine mattress, springy and comfortable, on which to sleep. The next thing to do was to pitch the tent, which was shed style and was placed as near as possible to the fire without burning it. Over the tent we built a second roof of poles and a layer of evergreen boughs, leaving an air space between the two which insulated us against the cold and protected us from frost. The fire was kept going all night and used about two cords of wood every twenty-four hours.
As far as the actual moving of equipment was concerned, it was easier to change camp in the winter than in summer. Our camp outfit was packed and placed on a toboggan and we would tramp a path ahead of it with our snowshoes, a path along which the toboggan slid smoothly and easily . . . Perhaps the worst feature of timber cruising in winter is the running of the hand compass with one’s bare hands. It is work that cannot be done with mittens or gloves on.
One of the great advantages of cruising in the winter is that one is able to cross the lakes on the ice and can travel through the woods on snowshoes. But there is great danger in trusting the ice of lakes and many a woodsman has paid the supreme price for his carelessness . . .
The getting of water for drinking and cooking while out land looking was no problem in winter, for there was always snow to melt, but it presented real difficulties, sometimes, in the summer months. Once when Flannigan, who was my partner, and myself were cruising some timber on the headwaters of the Ford River we couldn’t find any water for two days and the weather was uncomfortably warm. Thirst, we found, was very disagreeable, much more so than hunger. On the third day we ran across a mud lake, the water of which we had to boil before using. We learned a bitter lesson and on our next trip into the woods we carried two canteens.