Tips for Winter Hiking in the Colorado Backcountry by Zach Cherry

Posted by: admin December 21st, 2017

Tips for Winter Hiking in the Colorado Backcountry by Zach Cherry:

Colorado is a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts year-round.  Summit County has an extensive trail network for hikers that includes county rec paths, short day hikes, and the Continental Divide/Colorado Trail.  We have some helpful tips that can make the most out of your hiking experience.

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Leave No Trace Principles:

Travel and camp on durable surfaces- minimize erosion of plants and earth
Dispose of waste properly- dig a 6-8” deep/wide cathole 200 yds away from water, trails, and campsites for poop.

TP can go in the hole, cover with dirt and rocks.  Tampons/pads must be packed out.
Leave what you find: don’t pick the wildflowers.  Once you pick a wildflower, it dies and ceases to be what you found as beautiful.  Alpine vegetation can take up to 100 years to regrow due to the harsh environment.

Don’t build a campfire unless it’s necessary for survival.  We experience very high-risk levels for forest fires here due to the low year-round humidity.  Don’t be the guy who started a wildfire.

Respect wildlife:  do not approach wildlife when you see it.  Observe from a distance and allow them time to move on.  This will keep their stress low and avoid any unsavory encounters.

Be considerate of other visitors:  don’t play music without earbuds, be polite, and say hi to everyone you pass on the trail.  We’re all out there to enjoy nature!

Focus on your footwear:  a properly fitting pair of hiking boots/trail runners is a great investment.  I highly recommend swapping out your stock insoles for a fitted SuperFeet insole that will help your foot articulate naturally through your stride.  Also, a pair of mid-weight merino wool socks combined with merino wool sock liners will take out most of the blister-causing friction.

Pack light:  carry a small day pack/fanny pack if you’re only going out for the day.  Some snacks and 2 L of water is sufficient.  The lighter you pack, the more comfortable your hike will be.

Dress in layers:  the weather in the high Rockies is highly variable and is not predictable by weather agencies. Typical summer weather is bright alpine sunshine with intermittent rain/hail storms that form in the afternoon. Shorts/shell pants with a moisture wicking full sleeve top layer are a great start.  Add a mid-weight fleece and a rain jacket for solid protection.  A wide brim hat is recommended for sun protection as well as a small tube of sunscreen. Wear dark tint sunglasses as well.

Navigational:  most trails are well marked, however, it is wise to obtain a county recreation map or consult with the map posted at trailheads before departing.  A small compass can do wonders even without a map, so bring one if you have it.  I also recommend a headlamp even for daytime hikes.  If you are injured or miss the turnaround time, a headlamp will greatly increase your chances of making it back that night.

Self-defense:  there is an abundance of wildlife in our area, including black bear, mountain lions, moose, elk, and coyotes.  The best defense is maintaining your situational awareness and remaining calm upon any encounters. Colorado is an open carry state, so it is legal to open carry a firearm even without a CO permit.  The State of Colorado also extends carry reciprocity with any state that also recognizes its’ permit.  Bear spray is a good choice for someone who wants protection but is not comfortable with carrying a firearm.  Overall, hiking is a very safe activity, but keep in mind that once you venture into the backcountry you are entirely responsible for your personal safety.  

Tell someone:  let somebody know about your itinerary.  In order for search and rescue to be dispatched, they have to know when you went missing and where.  Communication with a family member or friend can speed up S&R efforts.

Have fun!  Colorado is a beautiful place with a diverse landscape that will inspire your eyes and soul.  Push as hard as you want and take some time to relax at good vistas.  Remember to hike your own hike!

Zach is an employee at Frisco Lodge and an experienced backcountry hiker.  He hiked over 1,000 miles on the Appalachian Trail in 2015 and thru-hiked the 484 mile Colorado Trail with his dog Bear in 2016.