Thursday, November 9, 2006

Cold Weather Hike: Iron Goat Trail

Today we got a break in the nasty rain and winds of this most recent storm front. Since I had the afternoon off I headed up to the mountains, not really intent on a nude hike but most interested in seeing what damage, if any, had occured at Scenic Hot Springs.

Scenic actually fared rather well with just moderate erosion to the road and trail surfaces. As expected, the springs sources were way low bringing the pool temperatures down to 91F and 80F. A tepid soak at the least. I passed up on the opportunity . . . but I did not pass up on the opportunity to hike back down to my car nude. Fortunately, unlike the last time, the winds were nonexistant and I had a pleasant hike. However, forty-five minutes nude was not enough.

Across the valley snow was very evident on the slopes of Windy Mountain so I drove back down SR2 (naked of course, but with the heater going full blast to rewarm me up) and was soon on my way to the upper, Horseshoe Tunnel Trailhead for the Iron Goat Trail. I got lucky: no cars, therefore no one hiking the Iron Goat.

The Iron Goat Trail is the old railbed of the Great Northern Pacific (affectionately called the Iron Goat) switchback route over Stevens Pass before the present-day Cascade Tunnel unnecessitated such a torturous route up over the mountains. Today it serves as an easy historical hike with three trailheads (the most recent across the highway from the town of Scenic ready to open next season as an interpretive center). The other existing trailhead is the Wellington Trailhead some nine mile away on the other side of Windy Mountain.

With such distances you can almost be assured of solitude as most visitors only do a portion of the inbound trail from a trailhead. With the Wellington Trailhead inacessible and the Scenic one not open yet, I knew I had the Iron Goat to myself. Four miles to Windy Point Tunnel and back . . . three to four hours. Standing outside my car naked (except the hiking boots) I check the temperature gauge. 36-37 degrees. Iffy. I would be hiking back in dusk and the temperature was going to drop. There's crisp snow on the trail behind me. I check my pack . . . extra clothing, gloves, hat, lots of hand warmers. My metabolisim is up and I feel warm and comfortable, especially with the pack slung and taking the chill off my spine. Keys secured in my pack this time. I pick up my thermos of hot chocolate and my hiking staff. The only thing missing is the camera but you can live without naked pictures of me for awhile, can't 'cha? I set off at a comfortable pace down the boardwalk of the trail.

In half a mile I take the turn to the upper railbed. Lesser used and more interesting. I want to get high and into the snow. the weather actually cooperates for once. No wind. No rain. No snow. The sun is playing hide and seek behind the puffy cumulus clouds sticking to the sides of mountains all around. Already the temperature is down a couple of degrees. I must be getting used to the cold. Even standing around, admiring the views, I feel no chill . . . no shivers. The skin over my ribs actually feels warm! I'm really pumping the heat out. In under an hour and a half I make Windy Point, and yes, it lives up to it's name . . . it's windy on the shelf of this exposed point. Highway 2 and the Burlington Northern railway tunnel-staging area lie a thousand feet below me. As happens every time I come to this scenic lookout point, the exhibitionist in me comes out and I just stay there in all my naked glory, just daring the far-away traffic to see me. Of course, they can't. Too far away. But it's somewhat empowering to be able to do that.

Eventually, I do notice the cold and step back into shelter. My temperature guage says the air is around 32-33 degrees. Freezing point and the three inches of snow beneath my feet is crunchy. The return trip is going to be in colder temperatures so I do the body check thing, pale, waxy skin . . . nope. All is healthily rosy pink and warm to the touch. Fingers fine. Same with toes. One part dangles, exposed, but is feeling okay. Time to head back because it's getting darker by the minute.

The hike back is even better because I take my time the closer I get to the trailhead . . . cramming as much nude time in as I can. Who knows when I get another suitable day for nude hiking like today. It takes me almost the two full hours to make it back to the car and I'm surprised that no symptoms of hypothermia have manifested themselves. I feel great . . . that is, until I sit down in my car and turn the heaters on. The shivering went on for long minutes before I could dress and start the drive home. Even so, I felt a chill for the better part of the next hour. But I also felt wonderfully alive.

Oh, by the way. I bought a new wool cap before this hike. Hunter orange just so those thousands of stranded hunters out there don't take me for a deer or something.

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