New Boot Challenge

Mount Hood Wilderness, Oregon
~5 miles, elevation gain ?

I should be sitting in Spider Meadows.  Instead, I am settling into a rare space of perfect, inner calm, watching the mountain in front of me. September has been all about being flexible.

chillin' at the Zig Zag overlook

School held orientation for all us newbies last week, during which time they very politely handed us a colossal list of things to accomplish prior to go-time on the 26th. This is why I am currently not sitting in Spider Meadows, checking a dream loop in the Glacier Peak Wilderness off the Backpacker's Lifetime Bucket List. {Sigh}

Still, the professors strongly recommended to "do what gives you renewal and joy" before school claims the next fifteen months of my life.

The eight blisters the Jefferson Wilderness gifted me with two weeks ago are still healing. To summarize my feet as succinctly possible, blisters are the bane of my existence. Professional boot-fitters scratch their heads and furrow their brows at my feet. Basically, I have platypus feet: wide at the front, narrow at the back, and, depending on the shoe, I fit anything from 7.5 to a 9. Blisters multiply like gremlins in water, cropping up anywhere from the usual heel spot and the balls of my feet  to the extreme sides of my heels, pinky toes, top of my big toe, you name it. Several years ago I just threw in the towel and started hiking in running shoes; they have been the best match so far. However, this leaves me with little to no traction on our ubiquitous Northwest scree and dancing around mud holes and creeks like an unemployed (and much less graceful) Cirque du Soleil acrobat.

After Jefferson, I purchased a pair of Salewa Mountain Trainers. Last year, Backpacker Magazine reviewed Salewa and gave strong accolades to their 'blister-free guarantee'. Um? Blister-free? Although I have no intention of completely giving up lightweight trail runners, I do need a pair of waterproof boots for snowshoeing and the occasional drenched day.

So, I tossed Rocky and my new Salewas in the car for a challenge hike.

I haven't been to Paradise Park since 2002, which is downright silly, since the wildflower meadows there are some of the most prolific on Mount Hood. Heading out from Timberline, Rocky and I immediately entered the low-lying clouds snuggling with the mountain on our way down the trail. Surprisingly, the Salewas felt like nice, comfy gloves on my feet. Heavy gloves, but still warm and comfortable. I had been extremely pleased with the fit in the store, but getting them out on the trail was another thing entirely. I felt like a giant as I stomped with impunity through trail mud and creeks left over from the recent rains. Ah, Gore-Tex.

a fog-shrouded Little Zig Zag Canyon

Upon reaching the gaping slash that is (the big) Zig Zag Canyon, the clouds suddenly dissipated, Mount Hood emerging from the gloom. Across the canyon I could just make out the fields and fields of purple lupine gracing the fields of Paradise Park. 

Dropping into Zig Zag Canyon is always fun. Basically, the trail drops straight down on well-graded switchbacks through dense forest, spits you out at the Zig Zag River, and then asks you to regain all of that lost elevation on your way up to Paradise. The best part? You get to do it all over again in reverse  on your way out, when you're already tired.

True to form, my feet started doing strange things on the downward plunge into Zig Zag. Damn. I pulled off the Salewas while Rocky lounged by the river; hot spots, but no blisters yet. I eyeballed the climb out of Zig Zag, longing for the meadows of Paradise. The loop was only about another five miles total, but I wasn't sure if I wanted to pulverize my feet quite so much, blister-free guarantee or not. So, Rocky and I turned around, trekking back out of Zig Zag to Timberline, my backyard mountain playground showing a different face entirely in the long fall sunlight gracing the trail on our return.

Verdict? Blisters. Two of them. Clearly my feet need to be lab monkey boot testers for companies with blister guarantees. The search continues.