My 3rdwinter outing on the Colorado Trail confirmed what the 1st2 suggested – the lowest, easiest stretches of the CT are muchmore attractive in winter.
I hiked the southern half of segment 2 roundtrip January 12 and it was gorgeous. I’ve covered that stretch at least a dozen times previously and its fine, but not why people come from all over the world to hike in Colorado. In summer it’s a waterless stretch through a largely burned down area and it’s often dusty. For most CT thru-hikers its just another warm up segment before getting to the good stuff. But in winter I feel like I’ve just experienced the area for the first time.
The contrast between the bright white of fresh snow and the greys, browns and greens of various rocks, trees and hillsides was special. Sunset accentuated elements of the contrast in myriad subtle ways. Navigating compelled attention. At best there were hints of the trail where the snow dipped an inch or two or there seemed to be a narrow gap between ground foliage. At worst there were areas with no sign whatsoever of any trail and these would have been difficult if memory didn’t serve.
For any CT segment hiker, I’d recommend the northernmost 70 miles be done outside of summer – avoid the heat and experience this area at it’s most beautiful. And if you seek solitude, that’s another fringe benefit. On a summer Saturday segment 2 is full of hikers and mountain bikers. I’m glad to see them all – the more the merrier! But if you want a quieter outing with more time to introspect, winter can’t be beat. Last Saturday I saw only 4 people all day – a couple snow shoeing into segment 3 and two guys going one-way through segment 2. All knew what they were doing and were having a great time.
But you have topayfor the views and the solitude with a lot more work, right? By the mile, yes; by the hour, no.
There’s no way around the fact that breaking trail through fresh powder right after a winter storm I averaged 1.4 miles per hour last Saturday, including rest stops – less than 1/2 of what I’d average in this terrain in summer. But who cares? – it isn’t a race. I’m outside to enjoy myself, to connect with nature, and occasionally even glimpse the infinite. Miles covered and feet lost and gained are, ultimately, unimportant.
My physical effort was moderate each of the 8 hours I hiked last Saturday, just as it is virtually every hour of every hike. My heart and respiratory rates never spiked, I never overheated, I ate and drank ahead of hunger and thirst. This is how I wantit to be so that I can enjoy every moment of every outing; this is how it hasto be so that every outing is safe.
So, once you’ve developed the requisite skills, acquired the minimum necessary gear, and learned to avoid potential avalanche zones, come out and enjoy the winter. Some stretches may take twice as long to traverse but you may find that they are manytimes twice as stunning and stimulating.
Demetri CoupounasFounder & CEO
My Trail Company, PBC