Things to Know About Colorado Hiking...for Newbies.
April 25, 2019
by Heather Bost
My guess if you are searching on this website you have a niche for traveling. Well so does this Florida girl. I have made it a goal to put some epic hikes under my belt from Europe to the United States, Colorado is definitely one of my favorite places to explore thus far. The mountains are very accessible from pretty much anywhere in the state and are welcoming to kids, dogs, and beginner hikers as well as expert hikers. With any love affair, there are definitely some tips and tricks I wish I knew from the start. So I would like to give you just a few from my own experience that I hope will help you either excel at or begin your next hiking expedition.
#1. Be ready for climate change.
Like Florida, Colorado is extremely bipolar in climate. Florida is all over the place with their rain Colorado is with their snow. As I was preparing for my next hike, keep in mind it was in Spring, light breathable gear is what I thought would get the job done. I packed up the bag with some goods; protein, carbs, and some fruit. Got in the Jeep and headed to the mountains. That day my goal was going to be South Mesa Trailhead in Boulder. Being a beginner with my very fresh and flimsy sea legs, reviews made this seem very doable.
Going to bed the temperature was 70 degrees out and pulling up to this trailhead all the sudden it was about 20 degrees out. I know what your thinking why did you not check the weather but hey like I said I was new at this and in my head driving forty-five minutes in no way could the temperature could be that different. So tip number one always be ready with warm clothes. It is much better to have to take layers off and squeeze them in your bag than to have none to put on and freeze your hiney off. Although once you get your blood flowing you do get a little warmer but keep in mind the higher you go the higher the winds and cooler the temperature can be based on elevation.
On this particular trail it started in the twenties and as we got into the hike began to snow quite heavily. On the way down however it was hot and sunny. So we took off layers and simply tied them around our waist. So just anticipate being flexible with the strange weather and learn from me check the weather in that city. Heavy snow can make a hike a little more challenging without the right gear.
#2. Altitude sickness is no joke.
I always thought people we exaggerating about the whole altitude sickness. Nope, they are definitely not. Florida is at a whopping 345 feet above sea level. Where Colorado is the “Mile High” city. I flew in town to do some hiking and this time it was at Rocky Mountain National Park. I brought 2 liters of water, snacks, and this time dressed accordingly. It was much hotter at this time and when we reached the peak we ran out of water. Not my brightest moment. This can quickly turn a hike into not the best experience.
Finally making it back to the car, went to the nearest gas station and gulped down some water. That evening I became very ill and stayed sick for the rest of my trip, was not fun. Be aware of the altitude changes. Allow yourself a day or two in the new place to get somewhat adjusted. Stay away from strenuous exercise the first day, learn from me. Drink tons of water! It is better to pack too much than to run out.
Slow and steady wins the race. You set the pace on a hike, you are not competing with everyone around you! Take your time and take breaks when needed.
#3. Protect yourself from the sun!
I try to be minimal when I hike. Who wants to be uncomfortable and loaded with heavy stuff? No one, especially when you are about to take on miles and miles of tracking it through whatever terrain you choose that day. This adventure I was about to do my first 14er and again it was in the Springtime. I wanted to conquer Bierstadt trailhead which is in Georgetown. This time I checked the trail website for any weather conditions and problems to be ready for and packed about four liters of water to split between two people. I was dressed ready for snow and felt confident about the adventure ahead. Did not prepare for snow burn.
About 2 miles before the trailhead entrance the roads were closed. Apparently, the signs said they do not maintain the roads during this time of year. So we got prepared to hike to the hike. No big deal. Tons of snow but the weather was bright and beautiful, like really bright. Once we got to the trailhead the winds picked up pretty bad. I knew my face was at risk was feeling some burn coming on. I removed a layer of clothes and wrapped it around my face for protection, not sure why I did not grab a beanie or sunscreen. The only thing exposed to the sun were my eyes.
We got to about 1,300 feet of elevation and I made the call to turn back around. We had no snowshoes which could have saved us tons of energy. Almost every step you took you fell feet into the snow. I did not like the feeling that I was one step from plunging to who knows what underneath me. We turned back. Hiked only about 5 hours and about 6 miles.
Later on that evening, I could tell I messed up. The sliver of my face that was exposed to the sun was in a great amount of pain. I am from Florida I know what a sunburn feels like but snow burn in my eyes? This was new for me. I continued to hydrate and laid down to rest my eyes. I awoke in the middle of the night and could barely open my eyes they hurt so much. Turns out that for my blue eyed light skin self that eye protection while hiking is a must. Snow burn is a thing, who would have known. But now I know. Sunglasses will always be with me on a hike like this. Being at a higher altitude the sun is more intense so always be mindful to wear sunscreen and cover up what you can! Not to mention sunglasses, they would have totally saved me some pain!
I want to leave you with a list of what to have packed with you for your next hike in Colorado. As a beginner trying challenging hikes. Not the bunny slopes but some that require gear and thoughtful packing. For hikes in the late winter or early spring here is my backpack:
-Over 2 liters of water
-Fruit for quick sugar spikes
-Protein ( I have jerky) or protein bars
-Face protection – glasses, hats, scarfs
-Layers (easy to take off)
-Not a must but I keep a little pocket knife and GPS just in case
Hiking is all about learning as you go. The list grows as you figure what you would have wanted on the trail. Challenge yourself but the list of tips I gave you are some things I would put into consideration before jumping on the trail, it can make all the difference. Get out there and go see some of the beauty! Be safe and happy hiking!
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April 26, 2019