Sunday, October 29, 2006

First Snow Hike of the Season

What was supposed to be a sunny, clear day but that was not to be.
Clouds came in and the weather go nasty the higher into the Cascades we went.

Well, we got the first winter storm of the season today but when I started my drive to the mountains the sky was only slightly overcast and the weatherman had promised a sunny afternoon. The snow level the night before had been at 3,000 ft. Snow just below the trailhead for the hot springs. I was looking forward to a cool-weather hike onto the white stuff. Maybe I should have paid attention to the huge pileup of dark, menacing clouds over Everett.

I knew that a nude snow hike was evaporating quickly when the cold rain started in the foothills and then became wet snow further in. By the time I pulled into the hot spring turnoff I had second thoughts about even driving up the forest service road. Snow was sticking at 2,400ft. I parked just inside the gate where a snow dump would not get the car trapped. I do not relish having to put on chains to drive half a mile. My choice adds an extra mile to the hike.

37 degrees is pushing it, and it's snowing out
now . . . big time. But what the heck.

When the early afternoon air temperature drops below 40F I usually back off from hiking nude. Though big, fluffy flakes are coming down pretty thick, I feel comfortable undressing half in the warmth of the car and the cold outside. When nude I salve on an extra layer of baby oil to shed the snow flakes from my skin. Then it's walk around to get my metabolism running. Yeah, I can do this. Feels okay. I shoulder my fanny pack, loaded up with some extra clothing should I need it. I expect that despite the cooler than optimum temperatures, two miles to the hot springs and I can rewarm myself in luxurious heat.

So it's off with the clothes and time to
hike on up to the hot springs

The first half mile is okay. The FS road is sheltered by tall evergreens and there is little wind. My easy exertions are keeping me warm and I'm enjoying the hike. However, the next three-quarters of a mile are up the maintenance roads of a BPA clearcut. The winds are steady and brisk, funnelling west to east through the clearcut. The snow pelts my skin in hard little pellets. The higher I climb the brisker the winds become. The gloves go on. Fortunately, the winds are to my back and I deal with them. It is cold out but I don't feel any untoward effects yet. Just before thankfully turning into the tree-sheltered trailhead switchbacking west at 3,000 ft, and up to the springs, I take one last defiant look at the darkening sky and the mists obliterating the nearby mountain sides. A winter storm is rolling in, and soon. Fortunately I have only three-fourths of a mile to go and then I can soak all the cold away.

Hiking the BPA clearcut was torturous. I'm happy
to see the sheltered, fresh snow-covered trail.

The change is immediate. Without the constant wind the hiking becomes pleasant once again. I stop to do a body parts check, enjoy a cup of hot chocolate and (egads) a cigarette. I break down and slip a couple of hand warmers into my gloves to warm my fingers. The rest of me seems okay. On I hike, slower now because it is enjoyable. I have just over 500 ft rise in the remaining three-quarters of a mile to the springs and I make it in a half hour. Slipping into the water never felt so good. I enjoyed the soak for the next few hours while the snow intensified.

Around six pm the clouds enveloped every peak in sight. The winds picked up and howled through the trees, blowing snow onto the pools. Nearby, a dead tree finally snapped and deadfell down the slopes. The storm was here and light was going fast. My thermometer now hovered between 33 and 34 degrees . . . meaningless as I was immersed to my neck in 115 degree hot spring water. Still, sooner or later I was going to have to get out and face the elements. Did I really want to hike all the way back down nude again . . . or should I bundle myself up and be safe? I often hike down nude from the springs, my superheated body keeping me warm until I reach my car. I waited until I was standing naked and dripping wet on the deck before I decided. Dried off and into hiking boots, I felt comfortable enough. I decided to hike back down nude. If need be, I had plenty of dry, warm clothes and heat sources. I refilled my water bottle with 130F spring water and stuffed that in my pack. I set off before standing around shivers would change my mind. By now the sun was going down and the trail in murky dusk . . . hard to see.

Hiking the trail down was enjoyable if I took it carefully and chose my footing in the twilight. I considered fishing out my headlamp but a stop would cool me too much. I sipped hot chocolate as I hiked. Stepping out from the trailhead into the strong winds on the exposed BPA clearcut almost staggered me backward. Difficult choices again. I did a body parts check. Toes and fingers fine . . . no numbness anywhere except . . . the family jewels. Damn, they were cold and hurting! I broke down and fished a spare sock out of my pack, stuffed a hand warmer pack inside, and covered the numb part, securing it with a rubber band. I hate to use these so-called 'cock socks' because I think they leave the wrong impression, but who was to see. If it kept me warm and allowed me to continue hiking nude, so be it.

The BPA clearcut was brutal. I considered getting dressed numerous times. Fortunately, as I slowly descended, the winds slowly diminished. So I persevered. Eventually I reached the forest service road down below and entered shelter. Probably 32 degrees out but it felt heavenly warmer than the clearcut. The silly looking sock came off. I was immersed in darkness now but eshewed the headlamp for the challenge of hiking nude, cold, defenseless and open in the darkness. Half a mile later I was happy to see the shelter of my car waiting for me. I had some serious rewarming to do.

Almost back to the car and safety. Temps have dropped to 32-33F
with 20-30 mph wind gusts. The rewarming will be painful, lol.

My nightmare . . . you can never find the car keys when you need them. Normally they get clipped on the inside of my pack but this time I had put them into the pocket of my jacket. As I fished out the coat from the outside of the pack I had the horrendous thought of what if the keys had fallen out of the pocket somewhere up on the slopes? I have a bad habit of not zipping up pockets. Fortunately, they were there. The car started right up, bringing blessed light and soon, heat.

An extra towel dried melting snow off my nudity. I stayed nude inside the car and let the heater vents do their job for the next half hour. Challenging, but a great nude snow hike.

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