“Excuse me, why are you hiking Lion Head barefoot?” This was one of several questions I received yesterday while climbing Mt Washington. Mt Washington is a beautiful mountain that rises to 6,288 ft (1,917 m), and is the tallest in the Northeastern United States.
The night before, I had been experiencing a muscle spasm. Having missed out on climbing the mountain twice previously for the same issue, I did not want to miss out for a third time. After stretching for 2 hours, I decided to give it a shot.
My buddy Mike and I were to leave at 8:00 and hit the trail shortly after 10:00. After running late and wrongly estimating drive time, we finally hit the trail at 11:15. My Hiker’s Guide to New Hampshire estimates a total time of 8-9 hours. Not knowing what to exactly expect and being barefoot, I was a little concerned about having enough daylight. Though I am ambitious, I did come prepared with footgear and a headlamp.
The trail starts off quite rocky, and continues to be rocky. There is virtually no grass, dirt, or mud. Just rocks and rocks and rocks. Mike, who has some decent barefoot hikes like Monadnock under his belt, quickly put on his shoes. It actually turned out quite well. Daylight was a concern, and Mike was pushing me to keep a faster pace. I normally don’t recommend rushing while barefoot hiking, but I felt comfortable enough to keep pace.
We had started at Pinkham Notch Visitor Center, taking the Tuckerman Ravine trail. About halfway, it splits to either stay on the Tuckerman Ravine trail, or take Lion Head. We had decided to take Lion Head, as it was steeper and shorter.
We powered up the mountain, taking no breaks. The top was quite rocky; rocks that were awkward sizes at awkward angles. Despite the terrain and being barefoot, we passed everyone that we encountered and arrived at the summit in 3 hours. The White Mountain Observatory gives a rough estimate for an experience hiker in good physical condition 4-5 hours. I say we did pretty good!
After waiting in line for a few minutes, we finally had our picture taken at the summit. I ran into 3 other barefoot hikers, one of which gave me a compliment of “nice shoes”. There’s not many of us “crazy” barefoot hikers, so it’s always nice to see someone else barefoot on the trails. Another hiker at the summit allowed me to grab a few of his Chips Ahoy! cookies. Hmm! So good when hiking.
On the descent, we took the Tuckerman Ravine trail all the way down. Having made good time climbing to the top, I was thankful we could take our sweet time going down, and we sure did. Mike ended having a knee issue, so he took off his shoes for the descent. This allowed me to keep up with him some, but his feet were fresh.
The Tuckerman Ravine trail crosses over a small and beautiful waterfall. The rocks become more like steps and it becomes easier on the feet. It was great to finally have a break. Two and a half miles from the trail head, there is a water pump. Inexperienced me decided not to fill my water bladder which ran out soon after. If my bare feet didn’t take a beating and slow me down the last half of the descent, my dehydration would have. It was exhausting to constantly balance and “rock hop” with little energy and sore feet. The last stretch had become all mental; a mental game of enduring pain. The decent had taken us 4 hours and 45 minutes, and I was quite happy to get off that mountain.