In 2022 I
bailed out of
the local Appalachian Mountain Club
because of their increasingly intolerant attitude about barefoot hiking
and control-freak adherence to their "rules".
It was ironic that I had been on several trips with some of their local
leaders pre-pandemic, who could easily see that I was fine as I chose to go,
but even they had started to get pressure from on high.
AMC doesn't own the woods, though, so it's perfectly legit to visit a park
when they're also having an outing there, and perhaps meet them briefly on
the trails or at a trailhead "in passing", ahem.
Perhaps a very mild form of trolling?
Sure, why not, they totally earned it.
It's easy enough to see
where they're going
any given day, and even figure out what their route might be, and if nothing
else the trip listings are a nice tool for looking up where some fun hikes
might be in the first place.
(Now that I've noted that, they might try to lock it down to logged-in AMC
members only, because they're just like that.)
Someone on my usual Wednesday outing had mentioned a trip that AMC had
organized in Boxford State Forest, one of my own local fave spots, and were
going to be in an area of it that I had never been to.
So why not head out for a little exploring and maybe get some performative
snowfooting in as well?
The day turned out to be almost perfect for that: just above freezing, it had
snowed two or three inches the previous day, and the intervening night had
been colder so everything was still clinging to the trees.
I headed for a small trailhead on the opposite side of the park from where
the AMC folks gathered, figuring that all I needed to do was meet them briefly
along the way and not worry one way or the other if it didn't happen.
Heck, just being here in the snow would be plenty of fun.
Cellar hole of the Russell Homestead |
(with iron wagon axle in foreground)
I actually started out with the Magic Socks on, as the ground temp was still
down around 24F [measured with an IR thermometer] and I wanted to warm my
core up nicely before really getting into footin' it.
I made it in past the monster beaver dam, in to Thomas Road, and down to
where the old
(er, sockprints, which still look almost barefoot)
Shortly after leaving the graveyard, I shucked the Socks and tested the
The ground had warmed closer to freezing, and felt fine under my feet.
I continued south, making a guess that the AMC folks could be coming up
the opposite way.
But instead of them I met only one local guy with a couple of friendly dogs;
I asked him if he'd seen the group.
He had indeed, when they were getting ready at the other trailhead.
I noticed after we parted that his bootprints looked really odd.
I know a couple of other people who walk that way, but this was a
fairly extreme splay.
Very splayed gait of the local guy I met
I reached the next intersection, and figured I'd go for a quick check of the
And on the way there, I found a whole bunch of tracks -- clearly from the
group, which had headed up a totally different way and was well north of
me by now.
We had likely passed on two sides of a loop, like ships in the night.
I never heard anything -- hiking groups often tend to be very chatty, but in
these snow-blanketed woods the sound would probably not carry very well.
How many were they?
The tracks looked like only three or four, but it may have been more.
Six cars at the trailhead, though, not counting the truck that had likely
been there overnight.
Not too bad a showing for a somewhat bleak and chilly day.
And of course their tracks sported several microspike-prints.
Cars at the Crooked Pond trailhead
Rather than try and chase them northward, I decided to go explore the two
southern loops where I'd never been to.
[See map at end]
Surely, a group hike intending to explore this "Wunnegen area" section of
the park would make it a point to cover those too?
Maybe I wouldn't find the group after all, but they were going to walk those
trails they could certainly find ample evidence of *my* passage when they
The snow was in that perfect condition to hold shapes -- just reaching a
melty point, but not too soft yet.
Toe check: doin' just fine
So I was going to track up those loops but good, and leave a trail that
the group couldn't ignore.
It was a lovely jaunt, through the dead-quiet woods with "clingy" snow
sugar-frosting everything and *not* melting off because the air temps stayed
right around freezing all day.
A symphony of deeper, slightly crusty snow, muddy patches where it had melted,
puddles with a delicate skin of ice, almost-bare ground under the "shadow" of
hemlock groves, and tracks from all kinds of critters that clearly use the
trails for easy passage too.
Critters also use the trails for transit
Parts of the trail were very winding, with a little more up-and-down elevation
change and rocky slopes than other parts of the park.
Here and there were signs designating spots named after people.
"Emma's Glen" was a lovely little glade even under snow; I'm going to have to
come back in different seasons and see what that whole area looks like.
I was about five miles in as I finished the southern loops and came up
past the graveyard again.
Still no sign of the group or their tracks, but at this point I didn't really
They were likely barreling toward me straight down Thomas Road at that very
moment, maybe having saving the graveyard and cellar-hole for *last* on their
I wanted to do a decent loop instead of grinding all the way back up that
toward where I'd parked, even if that would have increased the chances
So I headed east instead, picked up their trail again, and found that they
had indeed gone up the eastern edge first, along the aptly-named-today
"Mystery Train" according to
Another one I had never been on either, so why not?
The group was clearly too far ahead to catch up with, but what of that;
I'd given up on "the hunt" by now.
"Snow shadow" under hemlock trees
Mystery Train was also quite nice, more of the twisty up-n-down that I enjoy,
and clearly the AMC leader had made some nice choices for his outing.
I wiggled my way along and around, and by the time I came back to the
connection point to Thomas I was actually reasonably tired.
The group's spoor turned south toward the Homestead at that point, as I
Frosted trees in the "Pond Meadow" wetland
I thought about adding another northern loop, but decided against it,
returning out the way I'd come past some of the wetlands.
My feet were still capably holding their own, in a delicate balance
between Cold Induced VasoDilation [CIVD] and the slight numbing effect
on the temperature-equalized soles.
But I'd kept a pretty brisk pace most of the way; my butt was tired
and my knees were complaining a little.
It is a bit more arduous going through snow than on solid ground.
GPS track with waypoints
Boxford is big and a bit wild; definitely bring your navigation tools
when you go there.
My track for the day was over 8 miles, probably a bit longer than the AMC
group had done, but who's to say?
I hiked my own hike, I don't need them other than perhaps as an occasional
indicator of where other good hikes can be had.
But it was fun to try and guess their movements from all the little tidbits
of evidence in the snow.
So here's the hilarious followup: a guy I had not seen previously showed
up for the next regular Wednesday outing in Harold Parker.
We got to chatting, and it turned out he had been on that AMC hike!
He then asked me, before I even mentioned being in Boxford, if I had
been out there the previous Saturday.
I told him I had, and he said "I saw your tracks!" -- which clinched it
that the group had definitely noticed the evidence I left for them.
I explained the whole deal with AMC to him, as he seemed curious, and then
sympathetic that they were being so snooty about footwear choices -- even
for people who clearly don't need or want any.
To that end, I wasn't done with this game.
Chapter 2, which wasn't a winter hike, but still
another -- *doubly!* -- successful round of meeting AMC groups just
long enough to handily demonstrate what feet can do in the woods.