It’s been about 3 weeks since I last went hiking—lots of snow on the ground. Unlike some other barefooters, I’m not superman in the snow. I need a decent air temperature, and tamped-down snow so it doesn’t get on top of my toes (which seems to be what really cools them off for me).
Anyways, yesterday hit 50°. The snow had been melting for a few days before that, so off I went to do a short 5-miler at Clear Creek.
It is still tricky hiking in these conditions. Even with CIVD kicking in, one’s feet can still get pretty cold just by walking on top of packed snow.
The following picture (sorry, only had my cell phone with me) gives a pretty good view of what I was walking on for at least part of the hike. While the tops of my feet were warm enough, walking on that still cooled down my soles pretty quickly.
Seasoned barefooters are aware of something called the “toe clench” that’ll help keep one’s feet warmer. All it really is is clenching the toes of the foot that’s in the air. It does its job in two ways.
First (and mainly, I suspect), it helps draw warm blood down into the foot. All that action between tendons and muscles and bones keeps the blood flowing. Second, there are muscles down there, and using those muscles to clench your toes does produce heat (though I’m not sure just how much).
One thing I want to caution about though, is using the toe clench as a barometer of how cold your foot is. You should know that you can still do the toe clench even with a very cold foot. The reason is that at least some of the muscles that clench your toes are located in your calf, and connected to your toes with tendons. You can more easily see the equivalent structures in your hands if you feel the inside of your wrist as you start to clench your fingers. Those are the tendons that connect farther up your arm.
You can get a feel from that at this link, one of the plates from Thomas Ellis’ The Human Foot. If I am getting it right, there are two sets of muscles that clench the toes. The first, the flexor brevis digitorum, is located under the foot, and would give out if your soles got too cold. However, there is also the flexor longus digitorum, which is the one that goes to the calf, and will keep working as long as your calves are fairly warm.
So, bottom line: use the toe clench to draw in blood, but don’t use it to figure out how cold your feet are.
How can you figure out how cold your feet are? To me, the solution is to close my eyes and see if I can feel the texture of a stick with my toes. If I cannot, my feet are getting dangerously cold, and action needs to be taken.
Anyways, continuing on my hike, it was actually a bit of a challenge. The difference between this picture and the previous one is that one area got more sun than the other, due to the angle of the path and types of trees in the area.
The trail I was on, the Cemetery Ridge Trail, is actually a pipeline access road (not used often, though) and has gravel on it. (You can see that gravel on the lower left of the above picture.) I normally walk just off the edge of the trail, where I am taking this particular picture from, but as you can see that’s coming to an end in untamped-down snow.
So I had to walk a fine line between walking on the gravel or the snow. If I walked in the rut, it was heavy-duty gravel, uncushioned by packed down snow. If I walked off to the side, instant cold feet. I had to settle for a little bit of each . . . along with toe-clenching, of course.
From there it was onto the Hemlock Trail, which has a southern exposure along nearly its entire path.
That meant just plain old comfort, and no worrying about where to step. In fact, that moss was a welcome change from the gravel.
Finally, it was back down into the Clear Creek valley, which is pretty much shaded this time of year by the hills on its south side. So guess what the trail looked like.
You’ve got it.
This wasn’t bad at all. My feet were well-warmed from the rest of the hike. The snow was packed down quite well. In fact, I was having a hard time trying to leave footprints in it (you know, to freak out other hikers). I didn’t even need the toe clench.
But do remember to keep it in your arsenal for hiking in conditions that you might otherwise think impossible (or overly uncomfortable).