Homer's Travels: Snowshoeing Nebraska: Boyer Chute National Wildlife Refuge

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Snowshoeing Nebraska: Boyer Chute National Wildlife Refuge

Despite posting this Boo Hoo Whaa Whaa post about not being able to snowshoe due to the cold, I wondered if I was crazy when I left the house this morning to go snowshoeing when the temperature was -8°F (-22°C). The thought lingered as I drove into Fort Calhoun, the nearest town to Boyer Chute National Wildlife Refuge, and was greeted by a sign flashing -5°F (-20.5°C).

I picked Boyer Chute as my next snowshoe expedition as it had wide, flat trails that would be easy to navigate on snowshoes. Boyer Chute was also the site of my first Nebraska hike in 2008 so I was somewhat familiar with what I would be getting myself into. The day was supposed to be clear and cold and I was mildly surprised when I saw the haze hanging over the area. I would go on to discover that the haze was coming off the Missouri River that borders Boyer Chute and that the ice and snow that results from the haze freezing to the tree branches would not hurt the hike but would in fact make it even more enjoyable.

I strapped on my snowshoes and followed the trail into the refuge. After crossing the bridge over the chute that gives the place its name, I was mildly disappointed to find that the main trail had been scrapped almost clean of snow. Fortunately there was plenty of snow on either side of the trail, wide as a typical Nebraska dirt road, for my snowshoes. The trails on the refuge form two, four mile loops. The center trail I was on made up a shared part of the two loops. The hike I took in 2008 followed the northern loop. This time I would take the southern loop.

As I approached the point where the two loops separate, I saw why this part of the trail had been scraped clean of snow. There was earth moving equipment and what appeared to be dredges working to clean out a smaller channel of the Missouri.. This small channel separated the main land from two long, thin islands. It appears they are increasing the fish habitat at the refuge. There wasn't very much activity on this cold day, only a lonely guy on a bulldozer shoring up the bank of one of the islands.

I turned south. As I got away from the machinery and equipment the trail became more snowy. About a mile or so from the intersection, the bulldozer tracks, and most signs of construction came to an end and the snow on the trail became deep. I paused along the river to watch the steam rise over the swift moving Missouri river. The mist of earlier in the day, having crystallized on the branches of the trees, heated by the sun and shook loose by the lightest breeze, fell like light fluffy snow. The glistening white trees, the misty river, and the falling snow coalesced and, looking around, I had one of those moments. You know, one of those rare moments when everything is right with the world. I stood there marveling. It was truly beautiful and serene. It is for these moments that I hike and snowshoe.

Shaking myself out of my reverie, I ate a rock hard snack bar, frozen solid, and drank some water from a bottle that was about one third ice, before continuing my way along the trail.
The last third of the trail was through thick, powdery snow. It was tough going until I came upon a set of snowshoe prints. I tried to walk in the prints, where the snow was compacted, but the other snowshoer had a different stride than mine and it felt awkward. Then I noted the tracks merged with some deer tracks that were everywhere on the trail (I saw a deer earlier on the hike). The deer's belly must brush off a lot of the powder as it was a lot easier going on their trail. The only hazard was the holes make by their hooves which made it a little rough in places.

The snowshoe tracks changed from what I consider modern, oval shape, to the more classic teardrop or tennis racket shape. Somewhere I had switched trail guides. The new tracks led me in the wrong direction into the grass and along the edge of the chute. I left the tracks and made my way back to the main trail that, once again, had been cleared of some snow but there was plenty for my snowshoes. The trail connected up to the Oriole trail and back to the parking lot.

I managed another personal best of 4.9 miles with 110 feet of elevation gain. I've been able to maintain a 1.9 mph pace on the last two snowshoe outings. I was sure the last one third of this trail was going to slow my pace, especially when my shoes were sinking three to six inches into the snow each step, but I guess I made up for it on other parts of the trail.

The cold didn't bother me either. I was so layered up I could hardly move. My hands were the only issue. My fingers hurt early on, and I mean painful, but they thawed out and warmed up about a mile and a third into the hike. I might have to invest in some mittens as they keep your fingers warmer. The only problem is how do you use a camera with mittens? I've seen combo - mittens/gloves before that I'll have to check out.

I added some pretty cool pictures to my
2008-2013 Boyer Chute National Wildlife Refuge Google Photos album.

Tomorrow, more snow to shovel ... oh joy.


  1. Snow would be so much better if it weren't so darned cold. ;)

    I use a pair of outdoor research Gripper Gloves (I think that's the name; I'll double-check at home and correct if mistaken). They're a polartec glove that can easily slip inside a mitt, but they have individual fingers and grip material on the thumb, palm, and first two fingers. Usually good enough to work the camera without losing a finger.

  2. Great pics - the ones that spoke to me the most was Almost Black and White and Steaming Missouri. I didn't venture out much in the winter there, dang, I missed so much beauty.

  3. GH: What I may need is a mitten that fits over my current gloves. My current gloves are fairly thin (I can use the camera with them on) but good insulators. An extra Mitten layer may do the trick.

    Dobegil: Thanks. I've been looking for a place I could get out and see this kind of stuff and I finally found it. It was very beautiful in ways that are rarely seen.