Barefootin' the Beaver Brook up Moosilauke

  A weekend came along in which I realized I had no events or commitments, and decided almost on a whim to go test myself against some "real mountains" as a step up from banging around my local parks.  Monadnock and Wachusett and the like are fine and fun, but with all that local conditioning under my belt and my soles, maybe it was time to go tackle some of those bigger elevations before the summer was out.

I loaded up the Prius camping rig and headed north, and already had one particular destination in mind.  A decade-plus prior, I was helping do production for a local tribute band, and some of our crew had decided to do something a little different one weekend and had done a short day trip up to Mt. Moosilauke.  I probably had shoes on for that previous trip, not having attained true pedal enlightment yet, but nonetheless remembered it as being quite rigorous but satisfying and wanted to see it again.  It's also one of the shorter convenient day-hike trips from the Boston area.

In addition, another member of that same crew and long-time friend had recently passed away, so I thought that maybe I would ascend that same route sort of in honor of her and the many things we all had accomplished together.  I'd been mostly barefoot through our various jobs and events too, and while she didn't necessarily agree 100% with the lifestyle, her solid principles would have "defended to the death my right to practice it", to paraphrase the old quote.

[Images are linked to larger copies.]
Tough trail? Bring it on. A short way from the parking lot, I found these signs.  Bring it on, I thought ... tough is what I came out here for!

A very robust bridge over a small creek A little later I crossed a couple of *very* high and robustly built footbridges over what seemed like small creekbeds.  I'm guessing this turns into more of a raging torrent in wet season...

Trail washout Not every path of descending water can be accounted for, as this minor trail washout testifies.

Beaver Brook ascends next to a long cascade The Beaver Brook trail runs next to a long and lovely cascade of small waterfalls for the first half-mile or more, and is just really pretty.  And steep.  The trail here is that pile of jumbled rock to the left.

Wood-block steps set into the rock Some parts are steep slab, which pretty much stays damp all the time.  Sturdy wooden steps have been inset into chiseled-out notches in the rock, to make ascent somewhat easier.  This is looking back down one of the longer sections.  The wood is far more slippery than the rock, though, even on bare soles, but I can feel exactly how slimy conditions underfoot are, and how likely I might be to slip.  That's one of the major benefits of not putting a shoe in the way of all those mechanoreceptors.

The first mile of this trail is a stark reminder that Gravity Sucks!  A definite butt-blaster.

Moss-covered rocks form the trail up Farther up, the trail diverges from the creek and continues being an entertaining mix of rock sizes, all adorned in lovely green moss.  They look like they could almost suddenly come alive, like the rock trolls from that scene in Frozen.

A lady coming down the other way through this stretch possibly gave me the best reaction of the day.  She was picking her way down with the aid of trekking poles, and when she saw me she just stopped dead and put her hands together, still holding the poles, in a kind of "Namaste" gesture toward me.  I exchanged pleasantries and my usual suggestions to google for "barefoot" and "hiking" with her and several other parties along the way, including a few that I overtook and passed going the same way.  Well-conditioned feet are agile and *fast* on the trail, moving less weight around while deftly working the problem.

Postcard-like color looking upward At one point I paused and looked up, and as I described to a friend in a text [*!] a little later, everything was just postcard oversaturated gorgeous.  The crystalline deep-blue sky, the luminous bright green of the trees, the solid grey permanence of the rocks, and the *quiet* of the typical dense-undergrowth woods we see in these areas...  The camera could barely do it all justice, but I took some mild liberties in post to try and recreate what I rembered in my mind.

[* Yes, text.  I finally succumbed to the Borg and got a smartphone, which today was being kept mostly offline but logging the GPS track of my trek up and back.  Much more compact than the tablet I had been doing that on, and on getting a little bit of signal at the summit I could fire off triumphant little messages to friends.]

View eastward from the first open area Looking back the other way from about that same spot, I got a first somewhat open view to the east.  And some pursuit coming up behind me, so it was time to keep scooting...

Squishy mud between the toes! Even though the day was beautiful and dry, there were some muddy bits here and there, and not always easy to step around.  This is one of the other benefits -- mud and water present no problem at all.  Better than being in squishy boots for the rest of the day...

New life growing in an old stump This little vignette of new growth over old almost looked like those artsy little driftwood pieces and plantings that people put on their front lawns.  Except that this one had formed naturally.

Well-worn trail lined with rich moss The trail had finally leveled off a bit, and along the flatter parts was clearly well-worn and still lined with rich pillows of vivid moss.

Bright sunlight actually makes for fairly awful photography, with all the harsh disparity between light and shadow exceeding the dynamic range of most imagers.  Instead of messing around with error-prone "HDR" modes in-camera, for most of these sun-dappled shots I do some amount of selective brightening/darkening in post to even things out a bit. I call it the "de-harshing" technique.  In general that suffices just fine, and allows me to tailor the results more toward what I actually remember seeing.

Clear of the treeline After a little more up and down and up again, I popped out of a fairly sharp edge of treeline onto the bald hilltop that the word "Moosilauke" refers to.  The trail itself is pretty obvious, so I assume the numerous cairns are mostly for the benefit of winter hikers.

Party on the summit! Ahead, it looked like a total *party* on the summit, with lots of people hanging out!  This explained all the rest of the cars packed into the parking lot down below.

Shooting against the light here, arrgh ... same grass, almost *no* color rendition.

Lineup for photos around summit sign Going around to the sunward side of all this, I could get a better view of what was going on.  It seemed like people were basically lining up to do their "we made it" shots of themselves standing around the summit sign.

On the summit, with well-worked feet Some kind soul was willing to take my camera and do that for me too, so here's the canonical "money shot" with the feet that brought me up here in all their mudded-up glory.  I apparently impressed quite a few people, and had several fun conversations about it.  More than one person mentioned Monadnock, where barefooting one's way up and down is apparently much more of "a thing".

Helicopter rising out of the valley A great amount of noise suddenly started up behind us, as a helicopter ascended out of the valley and was coming across basically level with everyone standing up here.  Every camera and phone whipped around to try and capture this... in the bright sun I couldn't see my display well enough to figure out where I was pointing, so the craft wound up just *barely* in the shot.

  I hung out for a while but didn't want to spend too long in the unsheltered sunlight, and started heading back down.  Even with the uneven terrain, down is generally easier than up since we're not having to lift the weight too, but now the stress dynamics all shifts to the knees.  I don't yet feel the need for poles, although playing around with a stick down a stretch on the Greylock trip illustrated some of the benefits of bring the arms into play.  Occasionally I'd hook a small tree on the way by to ease a step or two, but for the most part it was the usual mountain-goat hop.

This is aided quite a bit by making sure to stretch the IT bands in particular before a descent, and before the whole trip for that matter.  Appropriate stretches with the unweighted foot crossed over behind the weighted leg and leaning the body up and away from all that can be looked up on youtube and the like; I do those freestanding with the pelvis kept straight and aligned forward, and then sort of "collapse" down and forward to reach down and out to the free foot.  It definitely has an effect on all that fascia on the outside just above the knees, the part that starts hurting if it's left tight and under repetitive strain.

The other problem when tired, for shod and unshod alike, is not lifting the feet quite high enough to clear whatever you just stepped over.  I've gotten used to banging a toe or the front ball against small obstacles once in a while, and it doesn't really bother me much anymore and just serves as a reminder to arc a path more like a dog does with its front paws.  The main thing to never do is slide against a surface *under load*.  Minor slips are actually very rare when bare, with all the sensory feedback helping with instant gait and stance adjustments.

A steep, wet descent And as I wound my way down through the deeper woods lower down, the moisture returned.  But even on this slick-looking stuff my grip was quite solid.  I bounced my way down past a Russian couple who had paused before a steeper pitch; she looked at me and just went silently saucer-eyed.

Waterfall on low ISO and long exposure Waterfall on high ISO and short exposure  
ISO 125 ISO 1600  
Another photography lesson!  Same waterfall, same aperture, same EV, and playing with the balance between ISO sensitivity and shutter speed.  Most people seem to shoot waterfalls in the long-exposure mode, with the water forming sort of a solid swath with no visible drops.  I think I'm more partial to the fast mode to catch more splash detail, even if the drops are still a little motion-blurred.

The funny thing is that the "soft waterfall" crowd will then go out to catch surf breaking against rocks and insist that *every* droplet be distinctly frozen in time, or there's no artistic value.  Fortunately, there's usually more light out there which helps make it work.

A place to wash the mud off Easy access to the cascades near the bottom provided a convenient opportunity to wash all the mud off.

At this point my knees and quads were what were complaining at me; my feet were fine.  The signs were right; it *is* a tough trail, but I did okay on it.

Back at the car: hill conquered! Still quite a few cars in the lot when I got down, so presumably more of those folks up top were still headed down.  It was now time to go find a campground for the night, and given how I was feeling I tentatively planned for something a little less 4K-like the next day.

Mt. Monadnock off to the west After a pleasant rest at a quaint [read: appropriately ratty] campground I was up and out fairly early, seeking coffee options as there was no camp store and I hadn't packed the "wilderness coffee kit".  I wound up on a minor backroad adventure finding my way to the trailhead for North Pack Monadnock, which I'd heard about but never seen.  It is also quite pretty with friendly slabs, and has a nice symmetric, Mt-Fuji-esque view of the "real Monadnock" off to the west.  I'm guessing that with powerful binoculars, you could spot the crowds on top of *that* from this vantage point about 12 miles away.

_H*   180918

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