The beginning of the end of our hiking boots began in the spring of 1996. For our monthly hike we had decided to hike all five of the mountains that define the backdrop of Boulder. Mount Sanitas at 6863 feet, Flagstaff at 6820, Green Mountain at 8144, Bear Peak at 8461 and South Boulder Peak at 8549. We named this hike of some 14+ miles and 6000 feet of gain (and loss) the Boulder Grand Traverse. We considered this hike the ultimate in telling us how good our spring training had been. (I will include a full detail of this hike sometime this year -- Doug plans to take pictures this year and I'll dictate thoughts.)
The hike had another purpose as well. In February I had managed to dislocate my big left toe. I would like to tell you it happened while running down the rugged Big Blue Stem trail in the south Boulder foothills, but it was the result of a night walk to the neighbor's house next door (the rest of the story is secret). The result was a weakened ankle that required a brace for both running and hiking. My brace, from FeelGood, is shown in the picture above. I wanted to see how the brace and the hiking boot would work together.
The results from the '96 Grand Traverse were some very sore toes, some new blisters and one lost toenail. The right foot also did not escape -- one new blister. This is a strenuous hike over a wide variety of trail conditions. It is the ultimate test of shoe and conditioning. Since I was scheduled for a trip to the Canyon in a couple of weeks, I worked on different lacing schemes. Even then the trip down to the Bright Angel trail was quite painful.
Doug became the first to use running shoes in the Canyon. He and Ellen took a raft trip in August 1996 and, due to weight limitations, decided to not take hiking boots. They hiked down to the Colorado river for pick up at the beach in the Phantom Ranch area. Since this was a corridor trail, Doug felt he would have no problems;he did not. We should have learned then from his experience, but boots and hiking were still the ways things were done.
We move ahead to the '97 Grand Traverse. It had to be the boots and the ankle brace, so I bought a new pair of boots, 1/2 size larger. Doug stayed with his boots, since he only had minor problems ("normal" blisters and hot spots). The results: few blisters, but nothing like last year. I did have some problems with the right boot that needed to be solved quickly, since we had a major Canyon hike coming up. I found it necessary to add a brace to the right foot as well. Ether these boots were not breaking in properly or this 1/2 size larger was only needed if one had a brace to wear.
Beginning in 1997, we also followed Colin Fletcher advice found in his The Complete Walker III on care of feet. We both applied rubbing alcohol to our feet daily, for a couple of weeks prior to leaving. In the final week we also applied tincture of benzoin, which smells just like the tough skin I used to use in high school sports. We also followed his advice and carried small bottles of each on the Canyon hike. We each did better than on past hikes, but still had a few hot spots.
Then the article -- "The Ray Way" in the February issue of BACKPACKER Magazine. Then The Pacific Crest Trail Hiker's Handbook , also by Ray Jardine our was acquired. After reading his chapter on footwear, we were sold on trying our running shoes on a hike. Naturally, why not test the shoes on the Boulder Grand Traverse. As trail runners, we both had good trail shoes. For this hike we would wear our Adidas Trail Response shoes. Since I still needed the brace for my left foot, I decided to wear the right brace as well. Doug does not wear an ankle brace but did, as normal, wear his knee brace on downhill sections (purchased from FeelGood, naturally. We do not get a discount for saying this, we just believe in their products.) The results were outstanding. We were both blisters-free after 10 hours, 14+ miles and 6000 feet of altitude gain. And, yes Ray, we were faster. We cut 1 hour 15 minutes off our previous years Grand Traverse Hike. (Please note: we don't and nver will hike for speed).
We have now worn running shoes on all our hikes, including two trips to the Grand Canyon in 1998. As can be seen from the picture above, I even wore my semi-trail Nike's on the fall extended trip, with no problems. Well, almost no problems -- on the spring trip I wore my Trail Response shoes. For some reason, they still smell like mule urine. I tried to be soooo careful.
So, it's a no-brainer in our minds. The WINNER is ----- RUNNING SHOES!
Will we ever go back to boots? NO! ...Well, maybe, if we had major snow fields to negotiate. But, even then, with good waterproofing spray and gaiters, we would be tempted to stick with the running shoes.
[Footnote 1: I do, however, wear my boots when I mow my lawn and, on snowy winter days, I wear them to work.]
[Footnote 2: We should acknowledge that we both use orthopedic inserts in our shoes, which add some cushioning to the soles. This comes in handy on very rocky trails and boulder fields. Over-the-counter insoles, which would serve the same purpose, are available for $5-6 per pair.]