Ben Schorzman | Content Coordinator, Eugene Rec
The day starts like many snowshoe trips. An early wakeup call followed by an hour and a half drive past Dexter Reservoir, through the old logging town of Oakridge and through a dense forest of Douglas firs.
Amidst falling snow, trip goers clamber out of the River House Outdoor Center’s bus, donning jackets and strapping into snowshoes. The first hour of hiking is meant to acclimatize to the jarring surroundings. Not two hours previously everyone had been in gray Eugene. Now they’re surrounded by powdery white. Vistas of snow-covered trees fade in and out as snow showers blow through.
At lunch time, trip leader Dave Walp calls a halt. If people followed the pre-trip instructions, they’ll have something to sit on, a warm Thermos of coffee or tea and a nourishing meal. It’s during the relative quiet of lunch the snowshoe trip elevates from a simple hike to memorable day in the wilderness.
“...Have you wandered in the wilderness, the sage brush desolation?”
The beginning lines of Robert Service’s 1916 poem, “Call of the Wild” break through the sounds of the forest. Walp, reading from a heavily creased and worn piece of paper, shares verses he memorized when he was a sixth grader, more than 60 years ago.
“That particular poem struck home with me,” Walp says. “It offers a great juxtaposition of listening to a poem in the outdoors, where you’re in the environment it’s talking about.”
Walp, in the middle of his 43rd year as a River House guide, is retiring from snow trips at the end of the season. He’s spent his entire life outside and has become a fixture of River House trips during the winter. His trips are so popular they always sellout in the first week of registration. From his classic apparel choices (wool pants, green flannel and wooden snowshoes with rope bindings) to his inexhaustible knowledge of the outdoors, he’s helped establish a diverse, experiential outdoor programs for Eugene Rec.
Eugene Rec guide Dave Walp, who is finishing up his 43rd year guiding snowshoe trips into the Willamette National Forest.
“(Dave) is iconic,” Eugene Rec outdoor programmer Aimee Goglia says. “He’s just always in the woods. He has so many stories. He knows it so well.”
The Call of the Wild
When Walp leads a group snowshoeing, it’s more than just guiding people through the woods. Providing interpretive details of their surroundings brings things alive. He’s an encyclopedia of knowledge. He’ll rattle of the names of the trees lining the trail. He scours the snow for animal tracks and then points them out. At one trail sign he stops, pointing at scratches on the post.
“That,” he says after everyone has gathered around, “is bear sign.”
People open their eyes in surprise. Walp nonchalantly adds sometimes if you’re lucky you can even find leftover hair from the animals.