Colorado Trail Winter Post-Holing

Posted by Demetri Coupounas on

Yesterday I had an awesome work out!  (But I could’ve had a better hike.)

The snow at the trailhead starting the Northern half of Colorado Trail segment 4 was well-trodden, so I left my gators and snowshoes in my Subaru and off I went.  First few miles were great – I saw a few hikers, whose loads suggested they’d spent the night, packed down the trail well.  But after I reached their turnaround point it was knee-deep post-holing the rest of the way.  My mood was unaffected but my pace was decimated.  The next 3 miles of uphill slog took over 3 hours and felt more like a mountaineering trip than a hike.

In Summer, you see lots of people in the first few miles starting out from many Colorado Trailheads, then the further out you hike, the fewer people you see. It’s the same dynamic in Winter except that you typically go from seeing a few people to seeing none.  Consequently, the snow usually looks well-packed at the parking lot, and it is the first few miles.  Then, more often than not, the tracks end and it’s just you and the deep snow.  If you brought your snow shoes, you put them on. If you didn’t, Doh!

Some would’ve turned around where the tracks stopped, but I had lots of food and water in my backpack and there were many hours of daylight left, so I hiked on at the slower pace.  I doubted I’d get to my planned turn around point, but I was eager to get as far as made sense to reduce the extra-long hike I’d have from the other direction next week.  I didn’t and I did.  I ended up heading in for 4 hours and 40 minutes and out for just 3:10; not only was out mostly downhill, it was also with the benefit of having broken my own trail.

I’ve found there’s an art to that too by the way.  Knowing that I’ll be heading back down the same trail I headed up, I compromise between the ideal stride heading up and what will be the best foot placements going down to optimize hiking in both directions.  First, I take the very easiest path I can.  For instance, in some places, the snow was hip deep in the center of the trail but thinner near the Northern edge which got more Sun.  I hugged the Northern edge in those areas. Second, everywhere deep post holing was unavoidable, I made my stride just a little longer going uphill than I felt like at the time.  This paid off on the way back when I was a little closer to the ideal longer stride I’d prefer heading down.  The difference is subtle though – it’s no good burning yourself out on the way up. Third, in the occasional areas where I was breaking trail going downhill, I shortened my stride a lot so I could take advantage of every foot hole on the way back later.

I’m looking forward to hitting the same segment from the other side soon, with snowshoes on my feet and hamstring muscles that much stronger for yesterday’s spirited effort!

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