Following is a belated entry from this past February, brought to mind by recent discussion initiated by Shane on the home page here about the comfort to be found in freehiking under various weather conditions. In a response to that thread I referenced this blog, which I just noticed, had either been not posted here or lost in changes made during the early days of this forum. So here is a not too distant memory of a most notable winter past for many of us here.
Last Friday, John Purbrick (also a member of this forum) and I journeyed together from our homes in the Boston area, up to Vermont to do some extended snowshoe hiking. It was our desire to make this a naked hike, and the weather cooperated, as best as it could, for February. The temperature was in the mid 30s (F), on this sunny day with few clouds, and most importantly, no breeze. We found pretty amazing luck for a trip that needed to be pre-scheduled, even if only amongst two free-folk. We had hoped for more participants, but trying to get even card-carrying freehikers to join a naked snowshoe hike is worse than herding cats. I knew going into this, that my group of naturist friends are possessed of far more common sense than I. My friend John, also an avid free-range nudist, is willing to try anything once or more…..he has enjoyed skiing naked in spring conditions many times in the past. He has not been naked in February winter conditions for long durations, but was willing to play along. And he knew going into this, that he was dealing with a fellow nekkid free-ranger, with a severe case of cabin fever, not a good omen, under the best of circumstances.
Starting out at 6am, we arrived at our trailhead around 10:45 am after a couple of stops along the way for provisions, and a last minute map consult over a change of venue. I had packed amply with about twenty pounds of water, food, and gear in my larger pack, the way that I normally prepare for an extended day hike in the winter, stuff that one never plans to need, but sure doesn’t want to be without in case of a change in the weather. John had packed more modestly expecting to tackle a couple of short 2-3 miles jaunts in the woods interspersed with a warm meal at a diner. Me the dreamer, John the realist.
We (I) decided to tackle a section of the Long Trail that approaches the summit of Stratton Mountain from the south, near Wadsboro. This, because we had found the snow cover to be a surprisingly modest one to two feet as we crossed into the state via route 9 near Brattleboro forty-five minutes earlier. Also because it has always been my desire to see this beautiful peak, along with the vistas from its fire tower during the winter. I wanted to take advantage of our fine weather to accomplish this goal. Envious of his light load, I conceded to John, switching to my smaller daypack and jettisoning most of my provisions to the trunk of my car. So, in the midst of some curious snowmobilers, unloading sleds from their trailers at the carpark, we were on our way, lean, mean, and ultra light.
During some previous winters, I have found enough snowpack near this trailhead, to cover the white blazes painted on the tree trunks, ordinarily five feet off of the ground. I have turned back on these occasions, being both ill-equipped, and solo. This day we found the trail conditions to be near ideal for our purposes, packed down from the passage of hikers on previous days, but with a fresh overlay of a few inches of new powder. Our agreed intent was to divert and hike via a side trail, to Stratton Pond, thus staying at a lower altitude. But we soon encountered a trail sign that informed us that we were destined for the 3900 ft summit, (a tall one in Vermont) and that our only route from this location to the pond would be over the summit and down the other side, about a seven mile hike each way. So we agreed to hike on up, for a couple of miles, then turn around when we felt it was time to return. Eager and already working up a sweat, I shed my clothes, not more than a quarter of a mile in. Now thats more like it.
The woods were for a moment, quiet as we worked our way up through the bare hardwoods on the lower slopes. The sun was warm, we had a trail to follow, and all was perfect in the world. Snowshoe travel is fun, relatively efficient, but more strenuous and slower then travel in summer over the same ground. We were pleased to be following some buried ski tracks, for it made the going a bit easier. I was most pleased, to be warm, comfortable, and naked, as we moved forward, doing just what I wanted to be doing. John was most pleased to be textile at the moment, doing just what he wanted to be doing. It is important to continue munching on gorp with a heavy mix of sweets, and sipping fluids, while hiking naked, particularly in the cold, and I always remain attentive to this need. However, after about forty-five minutes, that most important part of my male anatomy began urging me for a change. Nothing unexpected, these are after all, marginal conditions for extended nudity. So I slipped on my kilt, and a wool sweater, and we continued on. My Mr Peter knows all, because no sooner had I done so, then we broke into a clearing, and crossed a fire road, which is popular with the sledders. As we mounted the embankment on the other side, and headed back into the woods, a pack of winter sportsmen buzzed by doing 40 mph or so, in stark contrast to our 1 mph average rate of travel. The modern machines are far quieter that they used to be, so there was little warning of their approach. So we both stood and waved to them, in our most civilized and properly clothed manner.
After crossing the road, the landscape began to change. The trail became steeper, and the hardwoods began to yield to more pine, spruce and fir. We soon lost all evidence of our previous ski traveling ghost companions, as we followed the white blazes of the main trail upwards into virgin snow. We were now breaking new trail. It wasn’t long before both of us were warm enough to lose our clothes for this second leg. It was nice to be naked again, and in the company of a kindred soul. Our snowshoes served us pretty well in these conditions. Though larger ones would have been better for this stretch, we were both pleased not to be dragging the extra weight that would have entailed. None the less, while I was in the lead for a time, I found myself post-holing several times while John behind me, neatly avoided my folly each time by way of astute observation of my “bad judgement”. Not so for my “boys”, hanging where they do on the male anatomy. They took the full cold assault each time. OK, naked snowshoeing is not quite the same walk in the park as a warm August nude stroll on the beach……But I’ll take it.
After pushing on for a mile or so, enjoying every minute, a side trail came in and joined from the right. Evidently, the most popular route to the top, as from here on forward, the trail was well broken and compacted. With the easier going, the trail beckoned us forward. With the sound of the sleds long past, we were presented with a new winter wonderland, closing in. A deep evergreen grove extended all around, as far as we could peer into it. Here was to be found, a profound silence, as we paused from time to time to admire glimpses of the expansive vista of the Green Mountain National Forest, in its winter wardrobe, through small openings in the tree cover. John remarked about how little evidence of wildlife in the way of tracks, there was to be seen on our way up to this point. Just a few deer tracks, and maybe those of a fox or other small mammal. The smallest varmints were most likely tunneling beneath our feet in the snow. Then some chickadees spoke up, just to remind us that we were not all alone.
Our new challenge was the low hanging spruce branches, all ladened with snow. As we passed under some of these which had prior claim to our right-of-way, they would insolently drop their load of snow upon our neck, shoulders and back, the resulting shock of cold melt-water running under our daypacks, and down our bare butts. Refreshing at first, these little assaults to our nakedness grew tedious in time. Also, the air was becoming decidedly cooler as we gained altitude. Presently, John spoke up and said that he was ready for some textile warmth. I not yet cold, but aware of it, knew that I must either keep moving, or cover, so I eased on ahead as he suited up. As I rounded the next bend, I came to a small equipment shed, familiar to me from my last time in these parts a few years ago. That time, was also in the nude, but in October. I called out to John, that we had arrived at the summit. In short order, he emerged from the tree cover, in textile cover from the waist up. After pausing for a quick photo op, I threw on my sweater and kilt, we dropped our packs, and together we scampered up the abandoned firewatch tower at the site, for a quick look. The 360 degree view of the Vermont hills to the north and west, Harriman Reservoir and the world famous (to summer naturist sunbathers) Ledges to the south, and the White Mountains in New Hampshire to the east was stunning. Immediately below us on all sides, the equally stunning grove of evergreens that we had just traveled through, smothered in rime ice, as might be an enchanted forest and village diorama to be found under a Christmas tree. In our near view, to the northwest, down in a valley was our former destination, Stratton Pond, it’s distinctive shaped formed in a broad unbroken sheet of white ice. The sun was now slipping behind a more persistent cover of clouds encroaching from the west. We did not linger as long on the tower as we might have liked, as a new kind of cold was creeping into our bones.
My hoped for moment of naked bliss, on an outcrop of granite, under a warm February sun was not to be for us that day. Both John and I enjoy playing in the snow, but would not likely consider tent camping in it as our idea of utopia. I say this, so that my reader may know where to place us in the continuum of winter outdoors enthusiasts. In my humble opinion, partaking of winter sports is a practiced game of conservation and allocation of precious resources, namely those of personal heat, portable nutrition, and water. One may choose to bundle under the latest in high tech cover or old school wool and furs, and extend one’s time away from home, or one may choose to blow it all in a quick flame of euphoric nudity. The end result is the same in either case. One sooner or later, comes crawling back to the warm hearth, cold, tired, hungry and thirsty. One may guess how the scale of opinion tips to the latter choice in our case. However, I put on everything wearable that I had in my pack, soon after arrival at the summit, knowing that inactivity, coupled with my loss of body heat, dehydration and the accumulated sweat on my skin from the nude hike up was going to cause me to chill immediately if I did not. As mentioned previously, John had already begun layering on, before we arrived, and completed his task as I was going about mine. It was a kind of bittersweet moment as we stood and wolfed down our lunch provisions while fending off the cold. In the lee of the trees on this fully wooded summit, we found it still too cold to sit down on the cold snow and be even less in motion. There was a breeze up here and the sun was now playing hide and seek with us. I was beginning to shiver a bit, and was in a hurry to get moving again, lest I truly get into trouble. Neither of us had adequate reserve cover or provisions in our small packs to last comfortably for any appreciable time up in this place. So I rushed John a bit more than he may have preferred, and we both reluctantly departed and began our trek down.
The trip down became another joyous affair. The rate of travel was much faster with gravity working for us. I was soon warm again and had all of my textile back in my pack, where I preferred it to be, in no time. Not used to extended time on snowshoes, I found downhill under these snow and terrain conditions to be surprisingly rough on my legs, I was glad that I had my trekking poles with me so that I could allow my shoulders to bear some of the burden of my decent. Also my inner right thigh began cramping, a problem solved by sipping yet more water from my camelback. Not so John, he has cast iron knees, and was happily skipping down the trail, his single pole draped over his shoulder like an old fishing pole from those easy childhood days of August long ago. John lingered at the road crossing, adjusting his pack, while hoping that the sledders would be by again to catch a glimpse of me in total nakedness. We had heard them again through the woods, as we began to drop down from the evergreen forest, back into the hardwoods of the lower slopes. But they were determined not to see us again that day. They were a no-show at that moment.
As we passed the trail sign near the trailhead once again, this time around 4:45 pm, I remarked to John that we had just traveled nearly seven miles on snowshoes for the day, most of it while naked. And we had not encountered another person on our trail, the entire day. Pointing to the mileage inscribed upon the post and noting that it said 3.4 miles to the summit, he said “no way” to my 7 mile estimate, thinking that we had not reached the indicated destination. There is a Little Stratton prior to the main summit, noted on the trail map that we carry, which had lead to some confusion earlier, as we had discussed walking just a short way up, then returning to our car. I assured him that we had “gone the distance” and been all the way to the actual summit and back, since it is the one on the map that is anchored by the abandoned fire tower. Hoodwinked again by me, his crazy friend, John agreed with me in the end, that the trail and the day had both treated us most kindly, and that we had both been willing to follow “just a few steps more”, time and again, while enjoying our naked treasure, just to see what lay around the next bend. The best kind of naked hike of all. -Dan
PS. No textiles were harmed in the research for any of these tales. If we don’t count the single startled sledder (snowmobile) at the car park in Vermont, who noticed me, as I emerged, still on snow shoes, and naked from the woods upon our return from the Stratton summit, and commented that “I might has well have left my pack in the car as well, for goodness sake.” 🙂