A barefoot climb of Mt. St. Helens
Barefoot hiking has never caused the kind of controversy and acrimony that barefoot running has. Perhaps it’s because hiking doesn’t come so overloaded with notions about proper form and “performance.” People generally go hiking for recreation and sightseeing — any exercise or positive health effects hikers get are side benefits. Most runners participate in races of some kind, but hiking is less competitive — unless you get two diehard “peak baggers” on the same trail. (Count me out, man, I’d rather stop and smell the flowers.)
So barefoot hiking should be a lot like barefoot trail running — not so much about performance as about the experience. I thought I’d give it a try when my friend Ron Krull invited me to climb Mt. St. Helens late in the summer. The photos are by him unless otherwise noted. And a special note: FWIW here barefoot means actually barefoot. There is nothing wrong with minimal shoes — or any shoes you want — but, dude, it’s not the same thing.
I’ve done Mt. St. Helens before, so I knew what I was getting into. …more
Fitness victory for the year: 500 plus barefoot running miles
Since moving to the Pacific Northwest years ago, I’ve become a kind of slacker athlete. I don’t want to become a complete couch potato (or these days it’s more like “laptop easy chair potato”), so I usually sign up for some sort of exercise or martial arts class and basically “show up.” That is, I just can’t or won’t get competitive. But it does help to have a goal that is at least a little bit scary.
In 2011 that goal was running 500 trail miles barefoot (note this means actually barefoot, not with minimal shoes, which aren’t the same for me), and doing every race in the X-Dog trail series barefoot. At 510 miles and 9 out of 12 races completed, I’m declaring victory.
[photos by Thaddeus Duhme]
To tell you the truth, I wasn’t concerned at all about the 500 miles part. That’s only about 10 miles a week, and for me at least, barefoot running is easier on my body and more fun. It was the surfaces and terrain of the X-Dog trail races, for instance this one on Mt. Hood that had me concerned. Going through all that mud and rocks and snow wasn’t going to be a quick dash across the golf course.
The X-Dog running season started on a pretty easy note, with a muddy run around Hagg Lake. But the second event, the Havoc at the Hideout [where I was joined by some other, better :) barefoot runners], was punishing. Miles of hilly dirt road turned into incredibly deep sucking mud, with buried (and therefore invisible) pieces of sharp gravel. When I got to the end I was sure my feet would be mincemeat…
…But I think I had just one small cut, on the top of my foot not the bottom… and I actually felt really good otherwise. No limping around or sore muscles like other people have. I was totally comfortable in the beer line. This is the great benefit of barefoot running for me: though there is a bit of discomfort as you get used to the sensations, you learn how to treat your body better.
After the Havoc I was on my guard, and always carried an emergency set of minimal shoes in my pockets–but I found I never wanted to use them. It turns out you can run barefoot down a boulder-strewn mountainside, and it’s totally fun. But you can’t crash your way down it, like you might if you had shoes and the focus was on winning. And the bigger lesson is that your body can do so much more than you think it can, if you just give it a chance. Other than two or three cuts on the top of the foot from not picking my feet up enough on surfaces like this…
[photo by paraganek]
I had absolutely no running injuries this year. Well, I did tweak my calf muscle in December, running on smooth pavement, which I guess was just too consistent a surface for my trail-running brain to adjust to, but I was back running like normal a few days later. “No lost training days”– pretty good for a whole year of running.
Now I need a new goal for 2012. Suggestions? It doesn’t need to be running related.
Zen and the art of trail maintenance
The tools of trail work: the Pulaski, a Janus-headed half-axe, half-adze; the adze hoe (ain’t gardening); the pick mattock, which will pick your eye out if you lose your footing. Hard metal tools, forged in fire and originally designed for wildfire-fighting.
The tools are hard, but the work is soft. You can’t just hack a trail up the side of a mountain. According to to the Student Conservation Association’s trail manual, Lightly on the Land, early trails in the Northeast U.S. used to be built this way–hacked hurriedly straight up to the summit. This was because in the Eastern U.S., most of the trails being built were recreational, e.g. from a Catskill inn up to a viewpoint, and because people had to worry more about staying within property lines.
But now the “horizontal vision”–winding, low-grade trails that obey the contours of the land–of the Western U.S., where trails were originally more logging- or mining-related, is the favored method of trail building.