The Thru-Hiker’s Wim Hof Method of Frozen Shoes

Ice Arrives

Surviving the night was a Sisyphean task. The next task— wrestling my frozen solid trail runners onto my feet. I called it the Wim Hof practice of thru-hiking. Submerge your body into ice cold clothes, socks, and shoes. Trust that your body heat will thaw everything eventually. 

Despite the sub freezing temps and howling winds in a rather exposed lean-to shelter, last night had been special. I rolled up to the sheeter (a classic sinage typo) to find several of my trail friends, equally soaked and beat by a particularly strenuous day. It wasn’t just the freezing rain that made it tough. It was the fog that swallowed the trail ten feet ahead and behind. I’d never felt so alone and honestly, scared of being cold and wet. At a particularly low point in the morning, I had desperately pitched my tent right off the trail to try and warm up and get feeling back in my fingers. I called my mom. Shoutout to any parent who gets a call from their kid saying, “I’m cold, wet, alone, and scared” and responds with calmness and rationality. 

At the shelter we once again commiserated as we hung up our soaked items. By 3 pm we were in our sleeping bags trying to get warm. I worried about my feet. They were cold and clammy even inside my dry sleeping socks. Due to poor circulation, I knew once they got cold… they stayed cold. 

3 am. I sat up for probably the fifth time that night. I rubbed my numb feet and mechanically shivered on autopilot. Fuck I’m so cold. The fog had lifted and the sky had cleared, revealing a cruel night. Hazmat suddenly sat up next to me. He slowly rose out of his warm sleeping bag and walked across the shelter. He rustled in his bag and returned, handing me a small package. “Hand warmer?” It was the kindest of gestures. It saved my numb toes but most importantly, it calmed my anxiety and I quickly fell back asleep.

Socks frozen solid

Sunshine Returns

Let’s return to the next morning. After I stomped my feet into frozen shoes. I’ll try to describe how it felt to turn round the mountain and see a trail painted with morning sun. I felt like the bee in the Honey Nut Cheerios commercial (sorry if you were expecting something more poetic).

I welcomed the climb up the mountain. And the view from the top was simply stunning. I yard sale-d my gear on the summit to dry in the early afternoon sun. 

What did I learn from the coldest of nights on trail? Well I learned a few tricks for the following brisk nights. Like tying my puffy around my feet to block the arrow of cold that darts in through the sinched foot box of my quilt. 

But what else did I learn? I don’t know. The trail has its up and downs and the ups almost always come from the kindred spirits that pass by or gather at shelters. Or they come from a peaceful moment where you think you’re alone until you notice a small mouse darting alongside your or an American Goldfinch starting to show its yellow feathers. 

I’m taking a lesson out of something I heard in an audiobook. And that is, that there doesn’t always have to be a lesson. Stop questioning everything and try to just live in the moment. Okay, I’ll try. I’ll put down my spreadsheet. My resupply box will be there when I get there (thanks Gus). The miles will come and the miles will go.

Sunshine. That is all.

Reminder for Mindfulness

The 100 mile mark has come and gone. We celebrated with lunch below an old fire tower. I’m starting to adjust to this new life. Throughout the day I almost let myself drift into a meditative space. But I still get ripped out by thoughts of the “real world” and fake responsibilities trying to trick me into asking what I’m forgetting to do. I find myself falling into a quickened step as if I’m being chased down the trail. I force myself to slow down. I don’t have to be anywhere.

The only place I have to be right now is here, on the trail. Perhaps at the next shelter tonight, meeting up with my new friends. It is the greatest privilege and I’m thankful to get to share it with all y’all.

Kindred spirits gathered around a fire

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Comments 1

  • Jacob : Apr 22nd

    I highly discourage trying to put on frozen shoes. I got frostbite when the air temperature was 25 F doing that even though I was walking all morning. Carry some hand warmers to pre-warm your shoes if they’re wet or at least keep them inside your tent in plastic bag tucked in next to your sleeping bag to prevent them from freezing


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