After trotting in snowshoes to a clearing, Richard Covey knelt down and shoved his bare hand down into the snow.
He dug and pushed his arm further down, trying to reach the frozen ground of the lower Bristlecone Trail at Mount Charleston.
He never reached his destination.
“That shows how much accumulation we’ve gotten,” the U.S. Forest Service field naturalist said on a recent February afternoon.
Covey then shook off his snowy hand and pointed out fresh deer tracks nearby.
“They don’t have snowshoes so they sink right in,” he said. “They’re basically on stilts.”
Covey’s quips aren’t just observations, they’re a segment of interpretive snowshoe hikes offered by the U.S. Forest Service through a partnership with the Great Basin Institute.
A field naturalist outfits participants with modern snowshoes and leads them on a trip through the snow-covered forest.
The walks are provided free of charge and conducted on weekends all winter for individuals and groups of up to 30 people.
“Don’t be afraid,” Covey said gingerly of the hike. “You’re not out of shape — it’s just the air.”
At elevations of between 8,000 to 9,000 feet above sea level, Covey, 25, leads groups on hikes of varying lengths and skill levels. He weaves in information about how animals and nature adapt to winter’s chill.
Animal tracks — deer, horse, chipmunk, fox — are imprinted alongside boot indents and snowshoe tracks. Covey tried to identify each he passed.
In between one set of stops, Covey encountered a fellow snowshoe hiker coming down the trail.
The man, Hal Street, was finishing up a solo three-mile hike, and the Las Vegan told Covey he knows several of the trails of the Spring Mountains well. “This is my second home,” Street said. “I don’t think I could live in Vegas without it.”
He skis or snowshoes two or three times a week, often never encountering fellow snow adventurers.
“A lot of the time, I am the only one,” he said. “It’s a good feeling — you’re it.”
Covey has led two snowshoe hikes so far this winter — “I just love any reason to get out,” he said — with adults and children.
He challenges youngsters to foot races to see who can top a snowy hill faster in boots versus snowshoes. He shows how humans conduct body heat with jackets, like animals use fur.
He fields questions along the way and, no, there are no bears, he says.
“It’s the wildlife that people are most curious about, and that’s maybe because they aren’t aware of everything up here,” he said.
The snowshoe hikes are a workout, but Covey accommodates for the speed and skill level of the group, he said. He also totes around a radio, a first-aid kit and supplies for emergency situations. Hikes are canceled if inclement weather is in the forecast.
Participants should wear clothing that protects their heads, hands and feet from the elements.
“It’s pretty basic,” Covey said. “If they show up, we have the shoes.”
Walks and other programs are provided year-round by the U.S. Forest Service.
For more information about reservations, call the Spring Mountains National Recreation Area Education Department visitors center at 872-5486.
– By Maggie Lillis, View Staff Writer for Centennial View
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