Barefoot up Mount Monadnock

I was in Jaffrey, New Hampshire, visiting with the in-laws last week, when after all the rains of Hurricane Bertha appeared a glorious sunny day. We decided to take a trek we've done there many times before--to climb the local mountain, an ascent from the parking lot of about 1800 feet. I opted to make this oft- taken climb a new experience--I hit the trail barefoot!

We started out at about 8 a.m. in shady forests. The "white dot" trail, though heavily trod, was very comfortable to the feet, with its clayey soil and scattered leaves and twigs.

In about a mile we came to a spring. Due to mud there was no convenient place for the shod to put both feet and drink from the pipe, but it was of course no problem for me. I planted one foot right in the middle of the stream and drank the icy water with cupped hands. Ever notice how the feet can take a lot more cold than the fingers? My fingers cried for relief from the cold while my foot was perfectly content to remain completely submerged in the icy stream.

After departing the stream the trail began to climb steeply. Stepping over logs and up onto smooth two-foot boulders became the norm. None of the rocks were sharp like west coast rocks, though. New England's mountains are much older, and one can feel the weathered smoothness with every footfall upon her rocks.

From time to time we would come upon mudholes or puddles, and I would go right through the middle of them, being sure to plant my wet or muddy footprints on nice clean slabs of rock when emerging on the other side. "Some dude is doing this thing barefoot, and he's just ahead!" each still-damp footprint proclaimed, to all those following us up the mountain.

After a thousand feet of climbing the trees gave way to fields of yards-wide granite rocks with knee-high tufts of wild blueberry bushes for garnish. The berries were just starting, but those we found were oh so sweet!

Though it was a Thursday, the mountain was popular this day, and many commented on my bare feet. Every comment I got was positive, the most memorable and ardent being from a blond goateed twenty year old, who proclaimed my barefoot ascent of the mountain to be "Awesome!"

As we climbed higher the granite rocks were more exposed to the elements, and my feet could feel the effects of weather upon them. Smoothness gave way to roughness, but the huge slabs were now tilted at steep angles, and the higher friction of the weathered rocks was deeply appreciated.

After traversing hundreds and hundreds of feet of the rough and now quite warm rocks my feet were tiring. They began to burn, and every footfall felt like gravel underneath, except that there were no loose rocks to scoot aside and no poking protrusions to give in a little under your weight, because all these things felt were part of the large granite slabs themselves.

I could now see the top, several hundred feet ahead, with hikers perched on the ridgelines, eating their celebratory lunches. My feet must get me there, I whispered to myself. I have come this far; I am going to conquer this mountain barefoot!

I walked through the clusters of hikers to the top chunk of rock, and I planted two bare feet on its smooth curved surface at its highest point. I had climbed Mount Monadnock, and I had felt its rocks, mud, and soil all the way! I thought of all the hikers around me who had climbed the mountain without ever touching it, and I felt remorse for what they had missed.

Bill at the summit

Bill Choisser
San Francisco

Prev Top