Monday, April 28, 2008

Freehiking Boss Creek in the Wild Sky Wilderness

Freehiking means you wear or carry the absolute minimum
. . .leave the crutch of clothes and supplies far behind

As masochistic as last Thursday's nude trek through a late-season raging snow storm was, Saturday's hike was an idyllic, sunshine-replete romp up a long-abandoned track in the proposed Wild Sky Wilderness near Index, WA. It was a perfect nude hike on many levels:
  • Temperatures were in the low to mid seventies,
  • The sun was a-shining,
  • There were no bugs at all, and
  • I got the companionship of a pleasant couple and one energetic dog for part of the hike.
My hiking companions I should explain. I like Boss Creek because the trailhead can only accommodate one vehicle at a time . . . two if squeezed in there. As a consequence, if I can zip in there and take up most of the unofficial trailhead I'm pretty much assured I will have the six mile trail into the heart of the wilderness, and spectacular scenery, to myself. While the trail is not well known it is also not a difficult one. The first short mile is a gentle walk to a large clearing where those with a bent toward firearms do their target shooting. From there the abandoned road bed starts switchbacking up to a north-trending saddle into the Boss Creek drainage 2,000ft higher and five miles further in. Along the way there are some nice waterfalls as you round an unnamed mountain and head into the drainage.

Since I often claim the trailhead for myself, it' a disappointment to drive in and find another vehicle (and people) already there. It's not selfishness . . . it's just an understanding that I'll have to rethink where and when I'll hike nude because there will be people on this trail. I always try to be considerate of other people with whom I share the trails . . . nudity may make them uncomfortable.

However, that wasn't the case with this great couple. The conversation went something like this:
After having checked out other possibilities to hike nude (and finding half of Puget Sound already swarming into campgrounds and better known trails all up and down the Index-Galena Road, I return to Boss Creek where I note the SUV and the couple still there putting on hiking boots. Nosing my car slightly into the trailhead pullout and petting the friendly dog who ambles up to my car I smile and ask hopefully, "How's the trail?" I'm hoping, of course that they've already had their hike and they're getting ready to leave.

The male, in his forties I'd guess, looks up from where he sits half out of the driver's side. He smiles good-naturedly, "We're just heading in. You're welcome to join us." His wife (I found out later) waves from the other side of their vehicle, already boot-clad and ready to go.

My desultory 'Oh' served as a diversion while brain cells silently considered diminishing possibilities. Such great weather and nothing was working out! I could join them and be a textile for awhile . . . until chance and distance allowed me to hike naturally. Then there was the matter that I was wearing nothing but a long teeshirt that barely covered my upper thighs . . . suddenly making me acutely aware that I was half naked already and I didn't want to have to explain my dress if I got out of my car to join them.

I was already preparing to head on in hopes of discovering another good location when the guy came over and introduced himself, "Tom . . . and my wife Lacey. Air Force?" I stuck my hand out the window and shook his, "Rick". Their dog crowded in for more petting atop his head.

Ahhhh . . . the sticker in the back window. "Was . . . long time ago."

"Me too. Want me to move the car to make more room?"

"I dunno. I was kinda hoping to have the trail to myself so I could hike nude." I gestured at the teeshirt I was wearing.

"You don't have to leave because of us. We've seen nude hikers before. Nice day for it."

Well, it kind of went like that. They were genuinely friendly, outgoing people that wanted to share a new trail. Discovering that I'd give it up because I wanted to hike it naturally didn't faze them . . . titillate them . . . or antagonize them.

The conversation went on for some time with both of them reassuring me that I was welcome to join them in any state of dress or undress I wanted. There was room for my Civic and I parked. Somewhat relieved I got out to prepare my pack, don boots and drink the last of the coffee in my mug. My just-met companions were waiting just the other side of the gate across the entrance. I shrugged, quickly pulled my top off over my head and tossed it into the car. I double-checked I had my keys in the side pocket of my pack and shut the door, scampering around the gate with my pack before an errant car rounded the bend on the main road and got more than an eyeful of me. Out of sight of traffic I was greeted with smiles but no more than a curious appraisal and acceptance. Experience and confidence allow me to deal with it by beaming a smile right back. We turned inward on the overgrown roadbed amid a fresh discussion of what we did for a living. The dog took point fifty feet ahead and we slowly followed. Refreshing.

They had no problem with my nudity . . .
I had no problem with letting them take souvenir pictures

Eventually the conversation did turn to my being naked. Mainly . . . why? My response was 'because it just feels so great". The sun . . . the slight breeze. It feels great on the skin. I asked them how they felt with ankle-length pants and arm-covering shirts. Hot? Perhaps a little humid under those clothes? How about the clothes binding and cinching as they hiked. To me, I pointed out, it's a miserable way to enjoy nature. I challenged them to try it. Now . . . or sometime else, but just try it.

Hubby seemed a little worried at that. His wife didn't though. She seemed to actually be entertaining the thought with a mischievous pixie smile on her lips. However, I changed the direction of the conversation by pointing out the large sunlit clearing ahead where locals come to do their target practice. Their dog was already checking it out.

Target Practice

We lingered, checking the litter-strewn area out. I posed for a few pictures for them and just enjoyed that open area for the sun exposure. We shared lunch from our packs, laid out on a few large boulders on the far side of the clearing . . . sandwiches and, of course, the thermos of coffee from my backpack to match their ersatz water bottles.

The trail steepens and switchbacks from the clearing. Clearly my new-found friends (tourists that they be) had only wanted a short, level hike (or perhaps their clothes were overheating them into uncomfortability, though I didn't push that suggestion). They were going to head back . . . I was only beginning my hike. We exchanged emails and off they went. I donned my backpack, watched them disappear around a curve and then turned to do uphill battle. Dang, the company was good and the time together too short. I smiled a little at the thought that wriggled into my head of the two of them looking back to see if they were out of sight . . . and then stripping to hike back to their car naturally. Possible. Who knows but the episode rang positive. I trudged uphill, shaded by wide-spread canopy and relaxed by the quiet sounds of the forest . . . crinkle of dry leaves from last autumn beneath my boots, the rustle of light breezes between the higher branches . . . the eternal mating calls of stellar jays and smaller finches. Peaceful. I became totally immersed, stopping to listen . . . or experience a two foot square patch of sunlight in the shade . . . or just stand there and feel the soft breezes tickle a thousand tiny body hairs in waves of sensuality.

I guess the moment was what made me decide to go on without the pack. At the top of the first rise the roadbed switchbacks back southerly and into stronger sunlight once again. Linger I do, drinking in the vitamin D to the point of letting the pack slide off my back for even exposure. The backpack is overkill, loaded with winter and snow survival supplies that are simply not needed on a day like today. One never knows what awaits six miles in and a couple of thousand feet higher. But at this elevation, snowshoes lashed to the pack seem ridiculous. I like to hike light but I simply didn't prepare my lighter fanny pack. On the spur of the moment I decide, what the heck, and stash my backpack behind a couple of easily-identified moss-covered boulders by the trail. I decided I didn't want to hike with the pack and, lacking any other method, I'd just hike without anything (other than my boots, hat, sunglasses and hiking stick).

Hiding my backpack in hopefully a safe and dry location

I've been known to lean to the Freehiking ideal from time to time. Walking the nude beaches at Collins and particularly Rooster Rock I will wear nothing at all except the MIA bracelet around my wrist and walk the several miles around the perimeter of Sand Island barefoot and happy as a clam to feel such freedom.

In the wilderness I don't do that as often . . . never barefoot because caution warrants protecting the feet that have to get me back out of that wilderness. But occasionally on a shorter trail I will stash my pack and clothes somewhere and hike on lightfooted. On the Boss Creek Trail I had no idea of what the conditions were further up . . . where the snow started or how much new growth had made the old roadbed an exercise in weaving and ducking around thickets of fast-going alder saplings. But for today I was willing to try to go as far as I could, trusting the nice weather to continue sunshine and warmth.

On foot I can traverse this . . . not so a trailbike or 4wd

Less than two miles in the lower waterfalls are dry right now . . . awaiting spring melt from the snows further up. But what they did in late fall before the snows . . . a substantial tearing up of the natural road surface. This will be impassible once the spring runoff gets into swing.

In many places the roadbed simply doesn't
exist and you must portage around

Around one switchback and there simply wasn't a roadbed anymore . . . it was several hundred feet below in a slump of very wet earth and still growing ferns. Too dangerous to attempt to climb down into and then back up, I had to take careful footing above on more stable-looking ground where the trees had held their own and resisted movement. Glad I brought my hiking staff.

The limit for today . . . not much left to the roadbed and
4 -5 miles to hike back before the sun drops behind the western ridges

The runoff from the upper waterfall is continuing to destroy the remaining bench that the roadbed was constructed upon. In another few years there will be little left except, hopefully, a hiker's footpath . . . potentially tread worn by yours truly . . . minus clothes.

A ravine or draw with one of those waterfalls in the background

These waterfalls at pretty spectacular up close but difficult to photograph . . . they sit in almost perpetual shade. What's left of the old roadbed continues to the left in the image above. In another quarter mile or less the switchbacks become short, steep legs before opening onto the stunning scenery of the Boss Creek Drainage. Last year at this time I had to do battle with the burst of growth from young alder saplings taking over the roadbed . . . dealing with a lot of scratches from supple and strong branches that barred my way, flayed my bared skin and whipped back continuously . . . daring me to bring a machete the next time.

There is also a lot of deadfall and huge, ancient toppled trees that become natural barriers in themselves as the foliage transitions from broadleaf to the evergreens and hemlocks. Much as I wanted to tempt myself to attempt it . . . it was time to amble slowly on back down and try to time my arrival with the last of the days sunlight.

Re-slinging the backpack for the last mile of the trip

Hiking back down into the lower reaches I wasn't really paying much attention and went right by where I'd stashed my backpack. I got right down to the lower clearing before I realized I'd forgotten where it was and a little niggling panic set in. Up again, unsure of which switchback the moss-covered boulders lay that hid my pack, my clothes and most importantly . . . the keys to my car. Fortunately it was the next switchback up and the location became obvious when seen for the inbound direction. I didn't really want to shoulder that pack after the resplendent freedom of the day . . . if the pack had had wheels or little coasters on them I would have gladly wheeled the thing behind me . . . anything to keep it off my back. Is there possibly an invention in there?

Arrival back at the parking area by the gate to Boss Creek

On this trail I normally put on some clothes before I come into view of the parking area and the Index-Galena Road, which can been real busy at times with vehicles zipping by from recreational
opportunities further in. Normally you can hear them on the winding road surface long before you see them. I took a chance and just brazenly walked right up to my car (you can see the asphalt pavement right behind the car) . . . and took my time digging the keys of of the backpack to unlock doors. I didn't see or hear any vehicles for at least another half hour . . . a half hour I stayed naked and enjoyed the last dregs of sunlight before the sun disappeared behind those far western ridges across the Skykomish River. As I sipped the last of my coffee, sitting naked on the trunk of my car facing the western sun, I resolved to do minimalist freehiking more often.

Coffee, the late afternoon sun and a relaxed end to a great nude hike

"Find a nice sunny clearing, undress and stack your clothes neatly on a rock. Then hike out naked in any direction for a few hundred yards and return. By the time your arrive back you will have had an epiphany on the meaning of naturism."

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