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Snow, Ice and Five Fingers Oh My!

March 12, 2009

five-finger-snow-and-ice-hike-3-12-2009-001 At home at last!                                                                                                          Photo by: Patti

Not all journeys go as planned. In fact, they can go from a simple journey to an all out adventure. When this happens all bets are off and anything is possible. One thing is for sure, it will test your resourcefulness and your ability to keep a smile on your face.

Today I was going to take the day off running because my ankle is sore and it worked in perfectly with my outdoor club’s 18th birthday hike to the summit of Tiger Mountain. The weather was about 50 degrees all day and I thought a nice barefoot hike to the summit would be a great cross training activity. I love to hike barefoot and again I brought my FFF’s(Five Finger Flows) for backup. When I made my way to the trailhead there was snow all the way to the bottom. I felt really bad that I was not going to be able to go barefoot hiking today. I put on my FFF’s and took off for the summit and within the first 100 yards I realized this was going to be no ordinary hike. The trail was covered in a compact snow and ice. I had zero traction! I had to pick each step carefully and there were times I was on all fours trying to go up hill. I had scratched, clawed, crawled, pulled on branches, walked on fern branches, and used a branch for a walking stick to make it to the halfway point. I started having thoughts of turning around and having worries about what the trip down might be like. I could see the trail I have come up turning into a toboggan ride to hell.

I have learned many lessons during my alpine adventures. One of the most important is when I start having negative thoughts of how bad a situation can get I must change my thinking right away. Positive thinking and a little laugh about the situation at hand always leads to some sort of resolution with some fun in the challenge. Take away the fun and that little chuckle with the, “how the hell did I get into this one?” and you might as well dig your grave right now because things will get worse. Bad attitude will attract bad results and I have experienced it first hand with Patti as my witness. We laugh about the Mt. Baker Boulder Route adventure now, but trust me I wasn’t laughing at it then. My attitude continued to decline and things got worse, much worse. Oh, just a little word of advice. When you are at your wits end and you think about looking into the sky and screaming, “Bring it on God!” Resist this urge with all of your might because few are prepared for what happens next!

Back to standing in the middle of this mountain with freezing toes and the fresh thought of trying to get down from here I begin to switch my thinking. I think to myself how can this be fun? How can I make it to the summit party? What would Bear Grills do? That was the switch from the negative to the positive. Find a solution and have fun. I grabbed some fern branches and tried to tie them around the FFF’s for added traction up the snow. I had to laugh and even though this was not the solution it was fun giving it a try and it lead to the next idea. Cedar limbs tied to the soles could work. They are much more durable and they gave good traction when I walked on them. This was a viable solution and I would have used them, but I am running out of time and if something were to go wrong in my decent I was not well prepared for a night out in below freezing temperatures. I felt sad that I would miss the party and I really wanted to get up there, but I knew at this pace I should concede. I turned back and started my downhill slide and passed some friends going up. We talked for a bit and then I continued on finding that going down was not as bad as I had pictured. Great balance and core work. Two more friends were on their way up and we stopped to talk and one of them had a spare set of small Yak Traks. Yak Traks are slip over the shoe traction devices. What the heck I thought give them a try. They fit on my FFF’s! They gave me traction! I could go up hill! I turned around and headed to the summit and I made it just as the party started. I was very happy to be there and I hoped the journey down would be much easier.

Now that I am at the summit my attention turns to my numb toes. FFF’s do not really give much in the way of insulation when your feet are on the snow and ice. At the very least you need to keep your feet moving to keep them off the snow preserving as much warmth as possible. I had brought some down booties with me this time after my experience on my last cold weather barefoot hike. My last experience putting on the FFF’s on numb feet that were damp made me apprehensive when taking them off to put on the down booties, but at this point I will deal with that challenge when I get there. I pulled off my FF’s and put on the booties and about ten minutes later I could feel my big toes coming back to life. Ah, the feeling of warm feet at this point was a real treat. I put my FF’s under my butt to sit on the cold log and insulate me from further heat loss. This worked well and it also heated up the FF’s for when it was time to put them back on for the trip back down. Putting on the FFF’s this time was not bad at all. This I think was due to the FF’s being wet at the toes and this worked like a lubricant on the skin and getting them on was much less work. Another lesson learned for the future.

The journey down was going well for a while until the Yak Traks broke on my left foot and then the right. Going down was a superb workout and challenging. Daylight was long gone and my headlamp lit the way. Going down in these slippery conditions make you work to find your balance and keep your weight forward. This is great training and could have many benefits for barefoot runners conditioning ligaments and tendons that don’t get much work on flat surfaces. The lower half of the trail is very steep and it took all I had to keep off my backside and keep from shooting off the trail into the rocks and trees. I remained focused on the trip down and when my mind did wander I was gently reminded to pay attention or else. Approaching the trail head I felt a sense of relief along with the new found knowledge that I would not be repeating that again, EVER!

I had made it out safe, but sound? The definition of “sound” depends on the individual and this little adventure might qualify on the side of lunacy. One guy I passed on my way up would have most likely called me a lunatic. He was coming down in his climbing boots with a set of crampons on the bottoms and the look on his face said it all. For the record he wasn’t the only one with that look on his face today there were plenty of others too. I admit it not one of my most shinning accomplishments, but it was an accomplishment none the less. I had fun, I laughed, I learned and I hope you did too.

I will close with this comment for the day:

When I started this journey I had no Idea how I was going to make it to the top I just thought I could. Positive thinking brings positive results and good things will unfold beyond your control. If you have fun and laugh along the way chances are your life will be richer because of it.

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