On Tuesday morning, I biked up to the Gregory Canyon trailhead in the Chatauqua park area, and I walked up to Saddle Rock along its eponymous trail. The rock is at 7000 feet, and I climbed 1200 feet to get there over 2 km. This puts it over my distance for the Sanitas Valley trail, and it is definitely much steeper. I took my time and enjoyed myself, taking an extended break up on the rock with a view of the continental divide.
The trail was much easier on my feet than I expected. A big part of this seemed to be a relatively soft covering of dirt and decaying pine needles. I suppose this make sense, because the trail is almost all forested. The other trails I have been on so far in the Settlers’ Park and Mount Sanitas areas are in more open, meadow like areas, and they tend to be covered with grittier dirt and sharp gravel. It could also be that my feet really are getting just that rugged and able to cope with the trail. In any case, I took my first few breaks due to being winded from the steep climb, long before I felt any sort of soreness in my feet. When I did start feeling my feet toward the end, it was just the sort of workout soreness from muscles being used well, with nothing that seemed amiss.
I noticed the steepness of the trail most on the way down. Climbing up seems to be easy, because my legs are just lifting my body, footholds are easy to find, and I never gain much momentum. Climbing down involves a combined challenge of braking myself against the momentum gained from gravity, searching for footholds that are further away from my eyes, having to place my feet on spots that are sloped away from me and not toward me, and what seems to be a more challenging motion for my muscles and posture. Because of the difficultly, I took the walk down slowly enough to be passed my multiple other hikers, although most of them seemed to be moving only a bit faster than I was. There were a few cool moments when I placed my foot on a downward slope, and I felt my muscles tense and involuntarily twitch back and forth a bit to find the best hold. This happened without any conscious effort at all, and the effect felt like my feet were really gripping the rock like hands would, not just standing passively like hooves. I love watching how letting my body move the way it is supposed to engages my autonomic nervous system and my full set of muscles. My motion feels much stronger and more effective in those moments than it ever has when walking in shoes.