Winter in Colorado doesn't mean it's time to put away your hiking (or cycling!) gear, it just means you have to adapt a little.
First, the very (but not necessarily all-inclusive) basics:
- Some places you hiked or biked three seasons of the year aren't accessible in the winter. For example, Rampart Range Road is closed from the Garden of the Gods to Rampart Reservoir. The road to the ever popular Crags Trail is closed just after the Mennonite Camp (and no, you can't park there, either. Respect their property). Also, some roads you may have driven with ease three seasons out of the year are not maintained in the winter, or at the very least see rare or sporadic maintenance. If the road looks sketchy to start, assume that it only gets worse later, because all the smart people just turned around before they got too far in. Getting your car towed in from the back country can be VERY expensive.
- It gets darker earlier. Don't roll your eyes... I said this was going to be "basics." Not only does it get dark around 5:30 this time of the year, but with the sun lower on the horizon, trails on north-facing slopes get dark even earlier. Some may not get any sun for a few months. So, you might start on a nice dry trail only to encounter a trail that is snow- or ice-packed, or at the very least muddy. Until the sun goes down and everything freezes over. Keep this in mind when planning your hike. Either get off the trail early, or make sure you bring some kind of traction devices to put on your feet
- Even though it's usually not horribly cold in these parts during the winter days — certainly not as cold as flat-landers think it gets here — it still gets real cold, real fast when the sun goes down. If there was ever a time to believe in carrying an extra layer (or two or three), this is the time. Break out a bigger backpack in the winter to carry extra layers. Layers don't have to be big and bulky. Even a rain jacket or poncho can provide some warmth by trapping in heat.
- Speaking of staying warm or dry, always wear a moisture-wicking layer as your base. You WILL sweat when out in the winter, and without a moisture wicking layer to pull the sweat away from your skin, you run a real risk of hypothermia when you stop moving for some reason, and all that sweat starts to cool against your skin. Remember: Cotton kills. Don't wear cotton directly on your skin.
- Also, this is the time of year to wear waterproof or water-sealed footwear. You'll be hiking in snow, on ice or through mud, and nothing — nothing — will make you more miserable than wet, frozen feet. Take it up a notch and get insulated hiking boots. Unless you're going to be in sub-zero temps for a long time, you probably don't need big, heavy, clunky snow boots, but some good insulated, water-proof hikers — I like breathable, Gore-Tex boots — coupled with moisture-wicking socks — my favorites are Darn Tough or Smartwool — will help keep the toes toasty. And you'll be less miserable. Trust me on this.
- Cold weather saps batteries even faster than warm weather (something about cold temperatures slowing down electrons. Beats me). So, it's even more important to charge your cell phone, GPS and flashlights before venturing out in the winter. This is a good time to invest in a portable battery pack so you can re-charge on the go, if you need to. Pro tip: Keep your cell phone in an inside jacket pocket where it's close to your core and will stay warm. It will keep its charge longer.
- Really basic basics: Gloves. Hat (with ear protection). Sunglasses. Sunscreen. Flashlight. Food. Water. Maps. Tell someone where you're going and when you expect to be back, and who to call if they have to report you missing.
Other news: The City of Colorado Springs announced that the old summit house on the top of Pikes Peak is now permanently closed, and the new summit house is still a few months from opening. Visitors to the summit will not have any shelter, other than the vehicle they rode in to the top. If you're planning on hiking the Barr or Devils Playground trails to the summit, you'll have to plan really well to have someone there to pick you up when you get there. And, hope that bad weather doesn't close the Pikes Peak Highway to the summit. Seriously, unless you are VERY experienced, unusually well equipped, and well trained in winter survival, you would be well advised to put off your summit hike until at least the opening of the new summit house. Or better yet, wait until summer. The mountain isn't going anywhere.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife announced that on Jan. 1, some of CPW's more heavily visited state parks will be charging an additional $1 per day entry fee. Lake Pueblo, Golden Gate Canyon, Staunton, Castlewood Canyon, Roxborough and Highline State Parks are the latest sites to have the added fee, joining Cherry Creek, Chatfield, Boyd Lake and Eldorado Canyon State Parks, which had already been charging the extra dollar. In the news release announcing the additional fee, CPW explains that the extra revenue is needed to the offset the cost of things like trash collection, extra staff, etc that are a result of higher usage. Holders of yearly state parks passes will not have to pay anything additional, making the purchasing of a year pass an even better deal.
Be Good. Do Good Things.