Two fresh inches of heavy, wet snow.
That is what was melting into slush at the finish line of the Black Canyon Ascent when the starter’s pistol fired six miles away and 2,000 feet lower in elevation.
The runners and walkers, adults and children, fast and slow, had awakened at dawn in cold, rainy Montrose and decided to follow through with their intent to be in this outdoor event.
How does someone “gear up” to stay safely warm for such a run, walk, or hike in a low temperature on a rainy or snowy day? The answer to that question is: deliberately and thoughtfully, with a fistful of adventurous spirit thrown in for good measure.
This year’s record-setting number of avalanches and deep snows are expected to linger on the Rocky Mountains’ mining roads and hiking trails. Some few of these snows will certainly not even melt out this year, but will still be present up high when September’s snows begin to fall.
The immense amount of snow, several feet deep, that does begin melting soon and quickly will create more than the usual amount of cold water runoff to be run through and hiked through this summer.
Therefore, the materials and techniques used by this runner the day of the Black Canyon Ascent are offered below. Let us divide them into the two categories of “Low cost” and “No cost.”
In addition to the usual rain jacket, poly gloves and stocking cap, a run or hike in inevitably wet shoes can be eased by wearing a pair of toe socks. These are made with separate spaces for each individual toe. Blisters in wet socks may be avoided by wearing these, which are available in the outdoor equipment stores which particularly cater to the self-propelled foot traveler.
Head up that wet trail with a second dry pair of toe socks in your coat pocket or belt-pack, in a closed plastic bag. You may have a chance to switch to them at the turnaround point, even though your shoes will eventually dampen or soak the new pair, too.
Get a pair of mini-gaiters for your running shoes. This simple fabric device has an elastic collar to keep rocks and pebbles out of the shoe. It coincidentally decreases the rate of soaking of rainwater and splashed slush that makes its way through your shoe’s uppers onto your foot.
Do you know to what clothing item the term “neck gaiter” refers? It is the commonly available, cylindrical elastic fabric device that can double as a skier’s partial facemask, or roll up as a warm headband, or fold and twist into a stocking cap, or wrap around the fingers and glove of one hand that is on the windward side of your trail.
This item costs just a few dollars, weighs about an ounce, takes up almost no room in a raincoat pocket, and can easily become any of the apparel items listed above.
Technique tips cost nothing other than planning time, but can be critical in avoiding hypothermia during the cool, wet outings that this June and July will bring us.
Most running shoes and the boots called “light hikers” are made with mesh uppers (tops) to decrease weight. That mesh lets in water, of course, especially if one leaves the trail even briefly to walk through damp grass. So don’t if you don’t have to!
Keep a move on when you must run through shallow rivulets and puddles. A faster gait can deny the splashed water the time it needs to fall back toward and into the sides of your shoe.
Conversely, don’t bother trying to keep them dry. My friends, patients and acquaintances who are endurance runners (distances greater than a marathon) tell me that it is common practice during such events to just plan on running right straight through any creeks.
Even in the early miles of an event or of a training run, if the watercourse is less than knee deep and the current is definitely not brisk, they just will not spend time looking for a fallen log on which to cross, or to rearrange large stones on which to step.
That particular technique, however, should only (if ever) be used by someone with a great deal of high-altitude foot travel experience, due to the risks and high consequences of misjudging a mountain creek’s depth, speed, or coldness. Being low on calories during a run or a fast hike of multiple hours duration can hinder clear thinking, also.
Hindrance of clear thinking? More than a few readers are probably already doubting the existence of clear thinking in someone who is purposefully setting out on a mountain run or high-altitude hike when one knows that there will be water pooling on or snowmelt gushing along the chosen mining road or trail.
John T. Unger is a Diplomate of the American Chiropractic Board of Sports Physicians, with over twenty-five years of practice in Montrose. He tolerates wet feet when running at altitude, but only if he must. Ideas for future columns are welcomed at sportsdocunger.com.