Snowshoeing With Bigfoot

Revisiting an oft-trod trail and seeing it anew

We hosted our annual Christmas Eve dinner, opened presents on the morning of Christmas Day and then went snowshoeing. As often as I have done the South Sourdough Trail with my husband or with various friends, this was the first time we had been on it with Dave “Bigfoot” Felkley. This near-septuagenarian, cancer-surviving snowshoeing enthusiast lives in the small town of Nederland, just west of Boulder, and considers the mountains as “my backyard.” He was once in the automobile industry but now no longer even owns a car, preferring to ride his scooter around town and to take the bus to Boulder and beyond. A former mountain runner, cross-country ski racer, salesman in various outdoor stores, start-line announcer at the Bolder Boulder and assorted other events, and ho-ho-hoing Santa when Nederland needs one, Dave was an early adopter of snowshoes for recreation and fitness.
Years ago, Dave Felkley was one of the first to begin leading snowshoe hikes. His Bigfoot Snowshoe Tours introduced clients to the wonderful winter world, and while he has scaled back his tours, he still takes out groups of seniors (his contemporaries on the calendar) and local children (his peers in enthusiasm and inquisitiveness) and the occasional private clients who have heard about him and seek him out. And of course, he goes snowshoeing with lucky friends like us. And he answers his phone, “Bigfoot here.”

Christmas Day 2008 was quite mild (in the high 4os) and sunny in Boulder, and colder and also sunny in the mountains just west of town. High-altitude winds were blowing the snow off the Indian Peaks and ruffling the tall trees that lined our snowshoeing route. Interestingly, there were just a very few windy spots along our path, so we mostly walked with little ground-level wind even as we saw the treetops above us move and sway. If conifers could rustle, they would have! We did hear lots of little metallic tinkling sounds. Jingle bells? No, metal tags affixed to some of the trees (right), probably by scientists from the University of Colorado’s nearby Mountain Research Station and probably studying climate change and its effects on forest health. Some of the tags are square, some oblong, some nailed one to a tree, others in pairs, some numbered, others plain, and they make a gentle sound when moved by the breeze.

Even snowshoeing with grown-up friends like us rather than with kids, Bigfoot spots trees, snags and upended roots that remind him of something — a dragon here, a shark there, a turtle somewhere else and lots of pieces of wood that resemble birds. He showed us a “snow tent” just off-trail, where someone had a piled up a bunch of lodgepoles that, when covered with snow, did look a lot like a tent. Of course, he looked at animal tracks (right), identifying squirrel tracks (common), tracks of what might have been voles (I didn’t know what these tracks looked like) and snowshoe hare (which I didn’t realize lived in our nearby mountains). Dave told us about an area not far away were he used to lead snowshoe and where he not infrequently was able to spot a snowshoe hare. He named the animal “George,” and when his group got near the place, he would tell people to walk quietly and that he would point to George if they encountered him. We contented ourselves with tracks.

As often as I have enjoyed South Sourdough, I have previously only been on the trail itself. About a mile or a mile and a quarter up the route, following Bigfoot’s tracks, we went off-trail to find other treasures. He knows a place in the woods where artifacts of the research station’s earlier years remain: a radiator, part of a Kohler electric engine, assorted pipes, an old storage locker, tanks, axles and whatnot. On the way back down to the trailhead, we kept detouring off into the powder — Bigfoot glissading through the trees very joyfull and more energetically than my husband and I. We would come back to the trail for a bit until he spied someplace else where the untracked powder beckoned.

In the course of our snowshoe walk of about 3 miles and roughly 550 feet of elevation gain, we encountered about 30 other people and a few dogs, including a couple of huskies that were particularly happy to be in a snowy environment. We saw a total of five skiers with all the rest snowshoers, including a mom with two young children, a family of four and one of five. A decade ago, the numbers would have been reversed, with far more skiers than snowshoers.

As we said when we dropped Bigfoot off at his mountain home again, we’ve both often been on the South Sourdough Trail, but never did we have more fun.

3 thoughts on “Snowshoeing With Bigfoot”

  1. Hi Claire!

    I envy you to be able to go snowshoeing with Bigfoot! Dave Felkley is my hero in the “snowshoeing world”. I have never met him but have read, and have, his book, “Snowshoeing: From Novice to Master”. Best book that I have ever read on snowshoeing! Have a very happy and prosperous New Year!

    Ed Urbanski
    Greendale, WI

  2. Mild temperatures seem appealing right now! I’ve been teaching skiing in temperatures ranging from minus 13 this morning to around zero later today!

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