Skill: Turn strangers into friends. Tool: One pair of snow­shoes.

Backpacker - - Contents - By Elis­a­beth Kwak-Hef­feran

How snow­shoes helped one hiker make friends; plus, our staff’s lat­est picks.

AFEW YEARS BACK, I moved to Mis­soula, Mon­tana, in the dead of win­ter, know­ing ex­actly zero peo­ple there. It was a bold—maybe crazy—de­ci­sion for an in­tro­vert like me, but I needed a fresh start af­ter the Plan A for my life went se­ri­ously awry. How­ever, it only took a few nights hud­dled in my apart­ment, star­ing out at the snow with only my cat for com­pany, to re­al­ize I needed friends. Some of my best re­la­tion­ships had been built on out­door ex­cur­sions, and here I was in the mid­dle of wilder­ness heaven with­out a sin­gle ad­ven­ture buddy.

I was ready for my first at­tempt. I’d read about the Mon­tana Dirt Girls hik­ing and bik­ing club in the lo­cal pa­per; that night, they were do­ing a snow­shoe trip in the Rat­tlesnake Na­tional Recre­ation Area just north of town. Luck­ily, my MSR De­nalis had made the cut when I down­sized for the move. They’d car­ried me up sum­mits from Colorado to the Cas­cades—maybe tonight they would help me climb a men­tal moun­tain. Mak­ing friends had never come eas­ily to me, but hik­ing did.

Soon enough, I was tromp­ing through shin-deep snow with a dozen other women. Although my heart was pound­ing, the De­nalis were steady and sure. As they bore me down the trail, my ap­pre­hen­sion waned. I took a deep breath and in­tro­duced my­self to the near­est woman, then the next, and the next. We started out chat­ting about the snow, the route, our gear; but be­fore long, we shifted to fam­i­lies, jobs, fa­vorite Mon­tana nov­els, and the best place to take a cy­cling hon­ey­moon.

Some­where along the way, I for­got I was a ner­vous stranger and started to feel an inkling of be­long­ing with this crew of cool women— my De­nalis had floated me across the snow and into their world.

I’m used to think­ing of gear in terms of where it can take me, not who it can in­tro­duce me to. But this time, it was more about the com­pany than the climb. Maybe this move wasn’t as crazy as I feared. Maybe I’d find my place af­ter all.

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