Friday, April 25, 2008

How Desperate Can We Be For a Nude Hike?

Pretty desperate, I'd say guessing from the spur of the moment hike I did last Thursday.

Listening to the weather forecasters, Thursday was supposed be be one of the better days in the week and so I tried to arrange my activities to sneak in a quick hike on that day. Then the owner of Scenic Hot Springs asked me if I could check on conditions up there in preparation for a county site visit (and retrieve his mail for him). Scenic wasn't my goal because of the extra 45 minute drive . . . I had planned on hiking in the Wild Sky Wilderness nearer Index . . . there is so much to explore out there. But in any case I figured to do the check at Scenic and then head back west for a real nude hike. Didn't turn out that way.

The hike I needed. Cabin fever . . . stress and losses. A hike always re-energizes the soul.

Hours earlier, nice sky and a chance to mow my backyard lawn. Wish I could also mow my front lawn nude, but alas ...

The morning started overcast in Seattle, with promises of a clear sky. Having the house more-or-less to myself I did the necessary chores . . . like cutting the grass (nude, no less as there is some privacy in my backyard). By eleven it was looking like a good day to get in a hike. I should have checked the current forecast.

Never mind the heavy accumulation of clouds piling up over the Cascades from the southwest (a sure sign of bad weather). As I drove east on Highway 2 the sky blanketed any hope for sunshine (even under grey skies). Drizzle started peppering the windshield and I hit heavy fog as I stopped in Skykomish for the mail. Only a few miles east of Skykomish I ran into lazy, heavy snowflakes. Hmmmmmmm ... The snow got heavier and heavier as I headed east past 2,000 ft.

The snow berm blocking FS 850

Mike had phoned me from Canada to specifically check whether the snow was melting enough so that he could drive up FS 850 next week with the inspectors. Kind of flabbergasted me as well. By this time last year there was barely any snow on the access road. Now the berm was a good eight feet tall and as solid as a concrete casting (guess that's how our snow gets the name Cascade Concrete).

Being as the whole of the Cascades was cloud enveloped, I figured a Wild Sky hike would be more of the same I was facing at Scenic. I decided I might as well hike up to the springs and check out conditions. It was snowing lightly which meant it was probably raining at the lower elevation near Index. Given a choice I'd much rather hike in snowfall than get drenched in cold rain . . . especially when I'm nude. Since there are no cars at the Surprise Creek Trailhead I knew I pretty much had Scenic to myself. I stripped in the car, emboldened by the lack of human activity about and the blanketing drift of snowflakes hemming the personal space that normally would have been wide open to any vehicle speeding by on the overpass across the BNSF Yards. Then it was a climb up the huge mound of plowed snow near the car and off into the canopy for the back route.

Coming out of the back route canopy onto FS850 near the clearcut

I took my snowshoes, unsure of what the pack was like. Snowshoes slow you down and take a lot more out of you. Fortunately the snowpack was firm and mostly taking the weight of my boots with only an occasional posthole to the knee. The gaiters kept my feet and lower legs dry and warm.

The BPA clearcut was much the same except for the wind streaming through with stinging bites from pelletized snow . . . storm stuff and some pretty cold weather. My thermometer didn't tell me much except to hover around the low thirties. I suspected from the type of snow and the biting wind behind it that we were right at freezing and I was beginning to have second thoughts about doing this nude. A challenge yes . . . but a stupid idea?

I wasn't really feeling any worrisome effects from the cold. Partly because my back was to the wind as I trudged up the clearcut and the backpack afforded a lot of protection. No shivering . . . which is always my first warning to forget nudity and get some clothes on. The cold really didn't bother me much at all . . . in fact, it was invigorating to expose myself to mother nature and enjoy what she was throwing back at me. Besides, I kept telling myself, once I reached the trail entrance at the top of the BPA Road (3,000ft) I would be re-entering the shield of trees once again and the wind would abate. Fat chance as the snow fell thicker and the winds swooped downward off the face of the mountain using the artificial chute of the widened trail. I was about to hike fully naked into a maelstrom of biting snow . . . almost blizzard-strength.

At the trailhead to the springs. The wind was so brutal on the clearcut that I put on a little protection

In the hour I'd been braving this unseasonal winter storm fully two inches of fresh snow had filled in the tracks of all the previous visitors. A couple of hundred feet up I scrambled down the eight foot gorge the Honeymoon Hot Spring runoff had carved through the season's snowpack. Down on firm ground and walled in I took a respite and a self-check . . . looking for the warning signs of frostbite or coldnip, pasty-white skin being the best indicator. None. If anything, my skin was healthy and 'pink' . . . faring the cold rather well. It even felt warm to the touch and protected in the narrow chasm,snowflakes that had adhered to body hairs quickly melted and ran off. Time for a quick cup of coffee and some essential rewarming of one 'vital' body part . . . the one part to realize that 'hey, it's cold out there!'

Some idea of the driving snow

The snow on the tree boughs above is all fresh snow. All along the trail up I had to dodge and duck under snow-ladened tree limbs like this and often cascaded myself with snow. The top I'd put on became soaked and more a liability than protection. I removed it for the rest of the hike. I had spare, warmed clothes in the backpack (remember that trick of wrapping them around a hand warmer pack?) I was determined to finish the hike nude . . . I wanted a nude hike, period.

Making Snow Angels between relaxing and re-warming soaks

Stepping into the hot spring pools was nirvana and I did nothing for fifteen minutes except soak the liquid heat of the earth back into my body. I actually started shivering in the pools as my cold outer layers took heat out of the water and left a layer of cooler water as a barrier next to my skin. The same effect in reverse of the adage to soakers to not move too much in a very hot, hot spring . . . allow a layer of water to be still next to your skin as insulation. Moving the water around took care of that problem and then it was into the second pool of hotter water and a really long and lazy soak. For the record, the pools were at 103F and 109F . . . nice and toasty hot!

The snow continued to fall, warming into bigger flakes now. Someone had earlier posted in a naturist forum about making nude snow angels, and I saw the perfect, untouched virgin snowbank just begging twenty feet away for a warm body to plop down and start making like an idiot. That idiot was me but it was fun, the snow angel looked passable. I barely felt the cold caress of the snow . . . until I hopped back into the hot pool and discovered that my butt was decidedly cold. I spent the better part of the next two hours just enjoying the cloud-enshrouded mountains and the valley far below.

Making my way back down the moutainside

Eventually, of course, we all have to head back from whatever selfish sojourns we undertake. Fully reheated it became a no-brainer that I would hike back down nude. It was bad enough on the trail but once I re-entered the clearcut I entered the biting wind and snow once again . . . this time facing right into it.

Near blizzard conditions on the clearcut again

Ever go skiing and have snow encrusted on your face? Imagine that happening to the rest of your body. If I stopped for any reason I really felt the cold and nudged that much closer to giving up and digging those pre-warmed clothes out of the backpack. But I still hadn't experienced any warning signs of hypothermia (the shivering, the muscle cramping, etc.). This was another one of those 'damn it, I can do it' challenges for me. I'd been highly stressed for weeks and I needed to win a personal physical, mental and spiritual challenge to get myself back on track. I took it one stage at a time. After a long time I finally reached the BN yard and the safety of my car.

Ummm, guess where the keys are, and I'm standing around
in a freezing cold steady rain shower

Except, wouldn't you know it but there were the keys to the door and protection sitting safely and securely on the passenger-side seat in plain view . . . and the doors were locked! With the lifting of the earlier storm and the fog and mist I was no longer obscured from plain view on the nearby highway. I wonder what the few passing cars might have thought to the strange-coloration (pink-fleshy) of that hiker way over there (there being my car at the trailhead and me standing naked beside it with the coathanger I keep wrapped around the tailpipe . . . fishing to work the door latch up. It was raining down at this elevation and I was getting thoroughly soaked and chilled . . . more so than all the effects the snow and wind had had on me earlier.

I got the car open easily enough (I've had a lot of practice because I forget my keys often). Then it was to crank her up and get that blessed heat blasting out of the vents. One thing I suggest is that if you ever need to warm up after a foray like mine, hold off putting on clothes until the heater has had a chance to warm you. Clothes become two-way insulators. Put too many layers on and your prevent that rewarming heat from reaching your cold skin. Best to stay naked for as long as possible. I drove the seventy mile back to civilization with only a teeshirt.

No . . . enough of the cold-weather hikes. Where is this warmer weather we've been waiting for for months. I need a good warm weather nude hike and some much-needed vitamin D!

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