Sunday, December 13, 2009

Canyon Creek Falls Nude Hike

At the frozen cascades of Canyon Creek

Another one of those impromptu hikes after being cooped up in Seattle all week dealing with the Arctic cold snap (biting cold that the body never quites adapt to between dashes from warm cars into buildings and back . . . one frozen outside faucet that I forgot to bib, etc.) This early-winter cold snap is over. Next week is promising 'warmer' cold air of a more typical Western Washington nature . . . full of moisture and maybe the snow we've been waiting for (at least in the mountains). Heck, they were even calling for a high of 48F in Seattle on Saturday. I can deal with nude at 48F all day without breaking a sweat . . . literally. :-)

Of course it's not 48F yet (10:00am) and it's probably a good ten to fifteen degrees colder in the mountains but I've got a sudden case of cabin fever and the knowledge that next week I ain't going to be feeling like doing much of anything for a few days after my monthly treatment. So it's off to the Cascades while I do have this slim window of opportunity.

Canyon Creek is another one of those innumerable creeks cascading down to the North Fork of the Skykomish River from the Wild Sky Wilderness near Index, WA. A closed and gated decaying dirt road wends its' way through numerous switchbacks to an idyllic broad high alpine valley with magnificent views of the enclosing craggy mountains. The road had been carved out to serve as access to a planned community for the super-rich . . . an exclusive paradise away, yet not too far from the city. Protests, the financial difficulties of construction in wilderness and lack of permits led to the abandonment of the project . . . and the road, which is beyond redemption with the lack of maintenance. The Forest Service bought up all the individual pieces of land and this area is now part of the Wild Sky Wilderness . . . no motorized vehicles allowed. No trailhead, either. Just an unassuming rusted Forest Service gate blocking an overgrown roadbed surface.

Few people stop at this spot on the Index-Galena Road. There is room to get one, maybe two cars off to the side by the gate. A quarter mile in on the initial leg of the road is a large clearing where people sometimes go to shoot their guns. Judging by the tread, few ever bother to go further . . . head uphill. That suits me just fine as I know I'll have the area all to myself . . . my car parked by the gate serves such notice. Northwest hikers are a courteous bunch, if anything. They will not intrude and will, instead, find another spot . . . perhaps the more popular Lewis Creek pullout that I hiked (nude) last week.

I strip and load my pack while still in the warmth of the car. It is a different backpack this time. I'm experimenting with ultralight . . . a smaller pack for the shorter excursions; clothing for emergencies, essential survival gear, cell phone, camera . . . the thermos of coffee. The old pack was becoming tacky, unwieldy for the shorter nude hikes. A smaller one would be easier to sling, lighter and give me more of the sensation of being nude to the environment . . . the whole point.

The outside temperature is 28F degrees. Colder than I expected so I'm not sure how far in or how long the hike will go. We will just see. I've got three hours free of commitments . . . three hours to test the body's responses and limits to cold. Perhaps I'm being a little foolhardy. I know it's extremely cold outside of the warmth of the car; but there is a challenge out there . . . the testing of just how much cold can I take before I back down and pull clothing out of the pack. I want to see how far I can go before it becomes uncomfortable.

I rarely hike nude in subfreezing weather for any length of time. Fortunately, even in the middle of winter here in the Pacific Northwest, air temperatures are often above freezing when the sun reflects bright off the snowfields. That is when I love to hike nude in winter the most . . . drinking in the heat and blinding light of sunlight on virgin snowfields . . . getting my vitamin D.

There is no snow at these lower elevations yet. There is also little sunlight . . . certainly none reflected off the wilted olive-drab and rusty brown flora of the forest canopy. It is, however, bitingly cold when I step out of the car and quickly get beyond the 'road closed' sign before an unexpected vehicle passes by on the main road. Out of sight, it's sling the pack and off at a brisk pace inward on the slight incline of the lower roadbed.

The air is calm. No breeze, which is fortunate. The skin tightens . . . body hairs standing on end, a reflex response to the cold to trap insulating air close to the skin. Invigorating . . . as long as I keep moving. Within five minutes I reach the large clearing with the shot up targets and blasted computer monitors. The sight of these illegal shooting pits always disgusts me. In the bleak light of winter the mess is even more saddening. I turn away, heading upslope on the overgrown road and the denuded foliage up ahead.

This hike had started simply as a chance to get outside and enjoy the caress of nature on my skin. As I hike the steeper portions . . . take shortcuts through the canopy to cut distance off the switchbacks . . . I feel the heat tingling the entire surface of my body . . . those parts that are exposed. While I was assembling the photos of the hike afterwards, one struck me . . . the one to the left (cropped). My skin is absolutely flushed red from the dilation of blood vessels beneath, warming the outer layers. No immediate threat of hypothermia at the moment. My metabolism was working overtime.

When I get back from these types of hikes I'm always famished and in need of refueling. On the trail, it's Runner's Gels for energy and hot coffee from the thermos to add heat to the core.

Red, flushed skin is a good sign. It means there is sufficient core heat to spare the outer layers with heated blood. White, chalky cold skin would be a concern. There is none. I feel warm. I feel energetic. And the falls are not far off now. One last switchback.

These falls are constantly rearranging themselves. Last spring a pretty large slide took out a fifty foot section of the old roadbed and a large chunk of the creek chute above. Clambering over the rubble you can now approach the falls almost directly for a closer view. In summer a welcome dousing under cool water . . . in winter . . . well pretty but stay dry and watch your step.

I hung around the waterfalls for some time taking pictures . . . trying to get just a little closer. A mistake, in a way. The air was a lot cooler this close to the falls . . . which though mostly frozen still churned up moisture. And the geological chute that confined the creek on its' downhill rush was a natural conduit to funnel colder air from above . . . stirring currents. Hanging around the falls also meant I wasn't moving that much. I was beginning to feel the effects of the cold with tiny shivers down the center of my back. I recognized it for what it was worth. I could dress now and start the warm up . . . or head back and see how long before I knew I needed to give in. BTW, did I ever let ya'all know I'm a very stubborn type? Nude it was . . . at least I knew I was headed in the direction of warmth. I made the car without incident and without really getting beyond the occasional shiver. Kind of proud of myself.

Warming up is another thing . . . more complicated that it should seem. One thing I have learned is that to rewarm yourself efficiently you should resist dressing yourself up in thick, insulating clothes and instead, stay naked (assuming you've gotten yourself into a warm enviroment, of course). Counterintuitive? Well, think about it this way and try the options if you ever do a cold weather nude hike. You've got the car heater blowing hot air at full bore out of the vents and it feels great on cold, chilled skin. Cover that cold flesh up with cloth and what happens? Well, the heat can't reach your skin to rewarm it. You've just insulated it from the heat. Think about it the next time you need to warm yourself. Nude is warmer! How's that for twisted logic? LOL

Images from this "cool" little hike are in my JAlbum here.

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