Cold Feet

  Hiker, barefoot, in winter, frozen lake, Mt. Sanford, Wrangell - St. Elias National Park, Alaska.

Hey Folks,

Life has a way, all too often, of providing us with little (or large) lessons on what we need to work on. Communication is something that all of us frequently do poorly, and here’s a good example of that, and how it can mess up your day. I’m usually pretty good about seeking advice from those who know better than me (my father will disagree, I’m sure). So when I first came to AK, I asked my good and trusted friend Ron Niebrugge for some advice. One of the questions was what might be the best mode of travel for me to get around the woods in winter; the deep powdery snow of the north makes walking a chore. I’d thought skiing was a great option, but Ron said it didn’t work so well when you’re trying to take photos (he’s correct). So, I asked casually enough, ‘what should I wear if not skis?”

Ron said, “What you wear is no shoes”.

“Really?”, I replied. “That seems kinda weird. Are you sure?”

“Sure”, he says. “The best thing for getting around in the snow is no shoes”.

Weird as that seemed to me, I figured I’d give it a try. I mean, he’s one of the most famous photographers I know, and has lived in Alaska since his family moved here when was a small child, back in the last days of the 13th century. So, this winter I gave it a whirl.

  Walking, barefoot, thru waist deep powder snow, near Mt Sanford, in winter, Wrangell - St. Elias National Park, Alaska.

As you can see, it didn’t work so well. I sank up to my waist, and post holing thru soft snow 3′ deep is too hard for me. And I can’t tell you how cold my feet were. I’d read about how insulating soft powdery snow can be – how animals bury under and stay warm, how beavers dens, and bear dens, have been tested and temperatures recorded to be, on average, around 32deg F even when the ambient temperatures outside were 50 below zero. I was more than mildly surprised, of course, how quickly my toes felt like they were 50 below zero. I was, I’m ashamed to admit, also surprised that this wearing ‘no shoes’ business was a bunch of hogswallop. I really trusted Ron and now I felt he’d deceived me. Either for a laugh or to stifle competition (which, I think, is a felony). So I did a little more research. Well, wouldn’t ya know it? All this time I was thinking Ron had misled me, and it turns out we simply had a bad phone connection. What he said, apparently, was ‘The best thing is SNOW shoes’.

Hiker with snowshoes, winter, Wrangell - St. Elias National Park, Alaska.

So, I looked around, and got me some snow shoes. Big difference. Thanks Ron for the advice, and thanks ‘life’, for the reminder lesson to communicate clearly.

snowshoeing the boreal forest, Wrangell - St. Elias National Park, Alaska.



9 thoughts on “Cold Feet

  1. Ron Niebrugge

    No, your connection was fine, I really did say no shoes. LOL. I really think you should give no shoes more time. 🙂

    Tell the truth – are you really bare foot in that waste deep photo?

    I know I’m old and have lived here a long time, but since the 13th century! No wonder my knees get sore!

    Funny stuff buddy!

  2. Michael E. Gordon

    You’re sharper than a marble, Carl! 🙂

    In looking at your photos, it looks like you’ve lost some weight, no? Lots of snowplay can do that to you.

    I’m seeing/hearing the Frisell Disfarmer project tomorrow night! Cannot wait!

  3. Carl D Post author

    Hey Ron,

    Truth be told .. swear on my life – YES .. no shoes .. and dude, that was CRAZY cold .. I couldn’t believe how cold it was .. way worse than I expected. I didn’t cry, but dude, don’t EVER do that, no matter how funny you think it might be.

    Hey Pete,

    It was definitely a ‘new high’ .. in a way. 🙂

    Hey Michael,

    Lost weight? I think it’s my slick eVent jacket, and my black marmot pants.. Black is slimming, ya know?

    Can’t wait to hear what you think of the Disfarmer Project show … Frisell is a amazing.

    Thanks folks,



  4. Neil Donohue

    I can’t really disagree with you Carl because I’ve never heard you admit that anyone knew more than you did.
    At least if you go barefoot then you won’t feel the pain of gout, and I can’t see any sign of redness or swelling in those ankles so it must be working. I’d say keep it up.

    And yes I thought you had lost a bit of weight too.

  5. Mark

    Didn’t he tell you how tasty the buckles are on those snow shoes at -50? Worth a lick or two to see if you like it. 🙂

  6. Carl D Post author

    Hey Dad,

    Nope – no gout returns, so far .. thank heavens. As for your first comment, all I will say is that many people, including some who post on this blog, know many more things than I do. You’re just not one of them. 🙂 Love ya.

    Hey Mark,

    I’m beginning to think you folks are out to do me harm. 🙂



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