Mount Washington Climbing Trip Report – plus my hypotheses for not fatiguing quickly on a long hike

Last weekend, somebody thought it would be a good idea to randomly climb the largest mountain in the Northeast United States, home of some of the worlds harshest weather conditions, all on a whim. The idea didn’t even come up until the night before (July 4th party), about eight hours prior to our departure. I’m all for spontaneity!

group shot

Mt. Washington (6288′), and the entire Presidential Range of the White Mountains, are known not only for some of the worlds harshest weather conditions (Mt. Washington holds the world record for highest wind speed ever recorded on Earth at 231 mph), but for rapid changes in weather, and we experienced a taste of that on our trip. Most of our trip was covered in dense fog, visibility at about 25 feet. But there were a few moments when the clouds cleared up, and we got a majestic view of the surrounding lands and the deep blue sky.

our view

The wind was heavy, between 40-75 mph that day, and the temperature on top was about 40 F, with a wind chill much lower.

john barefootThere were 7 of us climbing (8 with the dog), and we all enjoyed the trip immensely. We saw waterfalls, a beautiful river, and more rocks than I’d like to remember. Best of all, I got to do the entire ascent barefoot (I wore shoes on the way back down). Obviously, this drew a LOT of attention. I get enough attention from going barefoot just walking my dog in my neighborhood, and climbing Mt. Washington without shoes turned more than a few heads. I probably received between 20-30 comments about going barefoot, and a few people were really interested in why I was doing it. One of the forest rangers asked me about it and told me that he knows some people that have done the ENTIRE Appalachian mountain trail barefoot – crazy!!! Someone even called me their hero. The novelty went away pretty quickly, but I’m glad to have challenged some people’s perceptions about physical living.

The other highlight of the day was that this was our pup’s first mountain hike. Ronin is 11 months old now and about done growing up, so his body is ready for more strenuous work. With only one moment of hesitation all day, Ronin climbed every section of that mountain, with some human help in the difficult areas. Actually, I think he climbed the whole mountain twice with all the running back and forth to check on us throughout the day. He did very well, and made his momma and dad proud :)

John and Ronin

Ronin ate about double his normal food intake that day – most of it on the peak of the mountain. I’ve never seen him eat so much or so fast (he’s a picky eater!) Some of his claws did start bleeding on the way down, we had just trimmed them, and it seems he filed them down a little too far on the rocky terrain. He didn’t complain a bit though. After climbing back into the car, he was out like a light for the 3 hour car ride home – during which we saw a beautiful moose buck.

As it turns out, our trip could have been quite different because the SAME exact day we climbed, a body was discovered on the SAME trail we hiked, at around the SAME time we were hiking at that spot. There was a notice at the bottom of the mountain with a picture of a Canadian man who had gone missing on his day hike last month. Anyways, this body was found very close to where we were hiking. We took the Tuckerman Ravine trail up until it branches off to the Lion’s Head trail. We used the same route on the way back down. This is exactly where the body was found – we walked right by it (local news article here).

The body was found somewhere around here, in the very rocky terrain of the Lions Head Trail…

john resting

It’s ironic because this was one of the least fatiguing trips I’ve ever taken. It’s ironic because this was Mt. Washington – one of the most difficult climbs within driving distance. I’m not exactly sure why this is, but here are my hypotheses:

1) I’m in fairly good condition for hiking this summer since I’ve been taking more walks lately (first summer having a dog to walk with).

2) I decided before leaving that I wouldn’t rush the climb, I wanted to enjoy every step, even if that meant lagging behind a bit. I wanted to slow life down for a day, to forget about timing and schedules, and just experience the mountain for a day. I’ve done too many hikes where it felt like a race to the top, and these are always the ones where I’m exhausted every step of the way. I think the purposeful peacefulness of this hike is what really contributed to my energy levels and enthusiasm.

3) The other possibility is something along the lines of barefoot magic. Taking off your shoes DEFINITELY changes the way you walk, but does it also contribute to better movement efficiency and energy allocation? I’m fairly certain it does. I found that I wasn’t just using my legs and feet to walk. I was using my entire body to walk, if that makes any sense. It was a completely different gait. “Walk ‘with’ the mountain, until you walk ‘as’ the mountain.” comes to mind.

No doubt, it was a combination of the three main reasons above that I enjoyed the walk so much, barely noticing any fatigue.

At the top, everyone was smiles. Ronin received a lot of compliments, and I had a picture taken with some Japanese tourists who liked Ronin and my bare feet :)

group shot top

It was a great trip, enjoyed by all!

Update: Check out my 2nd Mt. Washington hike here: Climbing Mount Washington – Barefoot & Fasted.

To your health and success,

Fitness Professional

P.S. If anyone’s in New England and is up for a day/weekend hike, hit me up!


10 Responses

  1. Looks like a fun trip! I have got this one in my sights (along with Mt Katahdin) for the future when the kids are a little older and they can join me.

  2. I’d like to do Mt. Katahdin, too. Maybe this year…

  3. Hmmm… well, if you do decide to do it this year, let me know when you are planning on heading there… depending on the circumstances, maybe I could join you.

  4. dubbahdee

    About a month ago, I added barefoot running to my training. It’s been fascinating to feel my lower legs and feet get stronger. I’m also watching the soles of my feet, starting slow to build them up. I have been pondering barefoot hiking and will likely be doing some long woods walks and testing the hiking out on Mt Major.
    I have noticed that I seem to run a bit faster and easier without shoes. A good pace for a mile with shoes would be 8.5 mins. I seem to be doing a 7.5 min pace unshod. Of course, at this point, I’m only running 2 miles at a time. We’ll see if the pace stays around there. Most remarkable though is that I don’t feel as though I am pushing or rushing — similar to your observation about not being tired. The gait is definitely different and I think more natural and that may well attribute to the efficiency.
    Nice job. Washington is a GREAT hike. I will be following your blog.

  5. Will do, Damien.

    Thanks for your comment dubbahdee. Barefoot running does seem slightly less tiresome, similar to hiking. It’s a different gait, and I’m starting to think it’s naturally much more efficient. I haven’t been able to increase my pace much over shod running though. I think I’m at about a 8.5 minute pace barefoot. I’ve held that for 4 miles at most.

    I think part of it is due to my feet not being completely toughened up yet, so I’ve progressed very slowly into barefoot running this year. I can’t run any faster than my feet can handle without severe pain, and this is acting like a natural gauge for my running progress.

    I don’t think I’ll ever go back to shod running, at least not in the warmer months.

  6. Up all the way barefoot! That’s great John. I really enjoy getting out for hikes as well and just this last winter started going up with vibram’s. When hiking on the snow, you don’t feel your toes for about 20 min, but then the heat kicks in. Eventually will have to give it a try (mind you not in the snow) straight up barefoot.

    As to theories on not fatiguing, seeing as their is a common thread in the physical activity undergone and the training we share, thought you might like to add this to your database of results:)

  7. Philip Keighley

    Hi John. Inspired by your article I climbed Mt. Washington barefoot! I’ve been training for this my whole life by not wearing shoes whenever possible and I have to agree this is the most efficient means of travel. If you decide to do any more hikes like this, I’m in Southern Bristol County and would be happy to join!

    • Hey Philip,

      Awesome accomplishment! I wish you had posted this earlier since I hiked Mt. Washington again yesterday, and even got some of my hiking buddies to go barefoot for awhile, too. If you look in the right sidebar for the Facebook and Twitter buttons, that’s how I announce upcoming trips. Would love to meet you for a hike at some point!

  8. Yesterday, my boyfriend decided he wanted to hike to the summit of Mt. Washington.
    We are not hikers by any means, nor in shape. I went out and bought boots, which was a bad idea, I knew, from the beginning.

    I had blisters within the first 15 minutes and was miserable. There was no chance of me making it much further with that pain.
    So, off they came. At the half-way point, I was a bit tired…and was hoping to head down, but my boyfriend convinced me otherwise. Up we went, the rest of the way.
    We took Tuckerman’s Ravine Trail the whole way.
    Not knowing anything about the trail, the boulder field at the top was completing unexpected, and a bit hard on my feet between the wind gusts and all that quartz on the rocks. I was utterly exhausted. But all the comments from people really helped. Between the amazement at my bare feet, and the “you’re almost there”s we made it to the top. Not quickly by any means, but for non-hikers, and barefooted, I think our 6 hours is reasonable. We weren’t rushing, and took our breaks.

    I definitely agree with you that walking barefoot is completely different. I felt much more stable and grounded with no shoes. Much more sure of where I was walking on those big boulders. Also, the way the toes help with balance and grip, it was awesome, and I’m proud of myself!

    • That is an AWESOME story, Nicole – thanks for sharing. And congratulations on your first successful ascent up the East Coast’s tallest summit! Now, you can climb anything on this side of the country :)

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