Serious snowfooting!

    Rambling the Andovers in Ward Reservation, late winter,
    where no shoes brings on the true depth of experience!

[Click on images for larger copies.]

Brandy-new Trustees membership card After joining up with the Massachusetts Trustees of Reservations, I decided to break in my newly-minted membership card at the nearby Ward property that spans generous parts of Andover and North Andover.  The card simply has a member number printed on it, which one enters into the somewhat hard-to-use keyboard, then confirmed by zip code, and poof!  A free parking pass for the afternoon.

The Trustees' move to install these at some properties has met with public controversy over time.  This one has been in place for a couple of years now; it appears to be one of these units.  It sits completely naked in whatever the weather throws at it, as well as facing south into the full blast of solar ultraviolet, which makes me wonder how such machines would hold up over the long haul.  So I asked!  The tech-support guys at Ventek say that all the vulnerable hardware like keypads and card-readers are specifically ruggedized and include water drainage paths where needed, and that the machines actually hold up quite well.

GPS track around Ward Here's the day's GPS track around the place, a counter-clockwise trip.  Parking is at the lower left, off the road with the houses.  The typical destination most people aim for from there is the top of Holt Hill, where the Solstice Stones are, but with all afternoon ahead of me I wanted to see if I could get over to the other viewpoint at Boston Hill to the east.  I figured I'd evaluate how I was feeling by then to govern how large a loop to make up toward the north on the way back.  I'd never been out around the rest of the Reservation before, so I wasn't sure what I'd find.

[Note that OpenStreetMap shows elevations in *meters*, not feet]

  The area had just been through a rapid series of late-winter Nor'easters, and there was still plenty of snow on the ground.  The path down away from parking was well-trodden and firmly packed, so I wasn't sinking in along that, but other areas were still rather deep.  Along the first leg up to Holt I caught up with a small group of kids and a dog shepherded by a couple of moms or teachers or something, who were not unexpectedly amazed by my lack of footwear and had no idea that barefoot hiking is "a thing".  Especially in these conditions!  I think I easily convinced them to look up the wealth of online info about it.  Like my other recent days out, temps were in the high forties F and I was doing just fine; in fact as we ascended I was already getting too warm under my jacket.  The conceptual trail sort of disappears toward the top of the hill as it's just a big open expanse of field, so that had me in untouched snowpack well above the ankles at times.

I bade the group a fun rest-of-their-day and struck out along the Graham trail, which was also reasonably well traveled and pretty easy going down into the thicker woods.  There was a *lot* of stuff down from storms, and like on other hikes around this time I kept stopping to throw or drag stuff off the trails.  The Trustees folks probably hadn't really been out here yet after the most recent storms; there's only so much that crews can get done in a week before the next smackeroo comes along!  A lot of it was larger than I could lift or push, and would need tools.

A boingy-log! Along the straight section that follows an old stone wall toward intersection 11, I found a boingy-log!  Held down at the root end and wedged up by the wall, it just stuck out into free space and was still green enough to not break when I stood on it and bounced.  There's an obvious little wiggle on the track where I backed off to place the camera and then hop back up -- a little dicey because it could freely move side to side as well as up and down.

This was some of the deeper snow -- it had sort of accumulated in the trail gully next to the wall, and was mid-calf in places.  Where the wall turns left at "11" I lost the actual trail and wound up following next to the wall for a while longer; this was deeper and wilder with more uneven terrain under the snow.  Slowish going, but I could see ahead where the next trail to the top of the hill came in and just angle upwards toward it through fairly clear space.

View from Boston Hill Boston Hill is aptly named, I suppose, although you see about the same thing from Holt.  The city is about 20 miles due south.  One nice thing about the snow being here was that in the shutter delay time I had just run out across a field full of thorny growth, but wasn't actually stepping hard on any of it.  I could tell that this area would be a lot more foot-hostile once the snow was gone.

Lots of storm damage I decided to go up and return via the intriguingly-wiggly "Judy Family" trail, which may have been a poor choice.  Few people had been through here so most of the snow was still soft and deep, and the trail had been *obliterated* in many spots from the storm droppings.  Through some of it I could still see trail markers [arrow], but there aren't really enough of them to guide through all its little twists and turns and I lost and found the actual trail quite a few times.  The best indicator seemed to be the recent tracks of a single person with a dog, but it was clear that *they* were a bit lost sometimes too.  It was pretty hopeless to try and clear too much along here; a lot of it was still buried and weighed down by snow and larger than I could handle, and with pounding through the consistently deep snow over wild ground my feet were actually getting a bit colder than I wanted.

Toe check: still pink? Toe check: still fairly pink, so still good.  But there may have been just a hint of whitish around the edges, which made me think I should get back to the car with due dispatch or at least get out of this deep stuff as soon as I could figure out how.  I was about at where I've added a little red arrow to my paper map here.  Snow is an insulator, and the stuff at the bottom of a deep pack could conceivably still be below 32F and protected from the warm day.  I stopped in clear patches to wrap my hands around my toes a couple of times, just to make sure nothing untoward was going on.  Never mind "fat-pad thermal delta" here -- my feet were immersed top to bottom in whatever this was throwing at me.
Toward the end of Judy I completely lost where the actual trail was supposed to be and basically bushwhacked my way out onto Bay Circuit, which was fairly obvious because I was back onto the better-packed stuff.  Now I was able to steam right along and not have too much cold stuff on top of my feet, and was feeling a better "glow" again by the time I came out to the road.  But it was sorta time to head home and relax anyway, having happily put 4 and a bit more tough miles on these and now looking forward to the delightful tingle of recovery that evening.

I was actually less worried about my feet and more about being completely covered in ticks at this point, with all that pushing through underbrush and bent-over small trees I'd been doing.  Even in chilly weather with snow on the ground, our New England ticks are hanging out there waiting for a host!  It only has to be a bit above freezing, and they start climbing to their "questing" vantage points.  In previous outings the same winter I had already picked up *two* deer ticks -- the mature ones, that apparently can overwinter just fine.  But this time out the DEET on the skin and permethrin on the pants must have been doing their job, because a careful check when I got home came up negative.

Obviously this kind of jaunt isn't everyone's cup of tea, and probably goes beyond what many barefooters would freely tackle.  But really, it had only taken me this one winter to become quite accustomed to being on snow for substantial lengths of time in reasonable ambient temps.  As I keep reassuring people, this is how Nature *wants* our feet to be -- handily robust against all but the most extreme conditions like deeper frostbite-level cold or deliberately prickly plants.  What most people don't realize is how all those supposed hazards of *human* origin are quite a bit less so than what we can often find in nature.  But even that is what humans originally grew up with, and we managed to survive and even enjoy walking long before footwear existed.

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