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9 DONTs of Colorado Mountain Hiking (and Mountain Biking)

 

We are in the midst of our fabulous Colorado Hiking and Mountain Biking season and the visitors to our forests (that’s us!) are winding our way onto trails, around lakes, across streams, and poised on mountaintops to enjoy the great outdoors and stunning scenery we are so lucky to experience. Especially on weekends the most popular trails can be busy, and sometimes venturing out on well-marked trails gives the false sense of security that we can be cavalier in our preparation. Don’t be cavalier. Some simple preparation tips and habits will keep you safe and comfortable, and make the experience better for all involved. Knowledge is power, so here’s hoping these few reminders will help you enjoy Colorado’s natural beauty.

 

 

 

1. Don’t Forget a Map

 

And know how to read it. In and around Breckenridge, Frisco, Dillon and Silverthorne, the Friends of the Dillon Ranger District provide great maps and resources. Stop by a ranger station (Silverthorne on Highway 9 across from Target) to get hiking recommendations and the all-important map. The thing is, there are many, many trails throughout the mountains and it’s surprising how many times they criss-cross and can get very easily get us turned around. I often get myself on a trail that looks great but isn’t the one I originally intended and unfortunately this can get me to a trailhead I didn’t start off on (read my car is somewhere else). The best practice (really) is that each time you come to an “intersection” of trails, pull out your map and know for certain you are taking the trail you are intending. Signs can really help but they aren’t always there and social trails (non maintained and sometimes not on the maps) pop up and can send you in a direction you didn’t intend. Bring a map. Really. Getting lost is no fun and can be dangerous – a compass is helpful too. Search the area you are hiking on your phone and keep the website map page open as another option.

 

2. Don’t Venture Out Without Telling Someone Where You Are

 

This is kind of fundamental even if it seems a bit silly and overkill when you are on a morning or afternoon stroll onto a trail, but it’s a smart practice. Many people leave a note on their car of where they are heading and when they intend to be back, especially if they’re backpacking overnight or for several days. Often there are sign-in sheets at trailheads – sign in. I take a photo of the trail head marker on my cell phone that loads up to iTunes. If you get yourself into trouble, how will anyone find you? It happens up here – all the time. We don’t like to think about twisting an ankle, tumbling off a cliff, or running into wildlife but you just never know. It is the forest after all, not a city park. Text a family member, post to Facebook – just put it out there where you’re going.

 

 

3. Don’t Neglect to Check the Weather and Bring Raingear and Layers

 

We are in monsoon season now that we are into July. Mornings can be bright and sunny without a cloud in the sky. You’re thinking sunscreen and shorts. By afternoon you could be on a mountaintop with dark clouds, wind, cold and pelting rain or hail. Preparation is key – you don’t want to be wet and I personally hate being cold. Lightening in the afternoons is a common occurrence, especially above timberline. The rule is to be off the summit of a mountain before noon. Even on a casual hike, the weather can change quickly and the temperatures drop dramatically after sunset. Pack a rain jacket with a hood or at least one of those little packable rain ponchos. I like to have a hoody or fleece jacket but if you don’t get cold and don’t want the bulk opt for the rain gear at a minimum.


4. Don’t wear Flip Flops or other slippery footwear

 

It’s the number one sign of a rookie – open toed shoes or footwear with slick bottoms like Keds or sandals. You can get away with a good athletic shoe if it has a good tread. Imagine walking on wet rocks on a steep hill – it’s just not feasible to safely navigate if you can’t get a grip and your feet are sliding around. Think of your hiking shoes or boots as your most important trail gear. Of course if you’re mountain biking you’ll likely be wearing clip in biking shoes and your tires become your contact with the trail. Rebel Sports does a fantastic job of getting you in the right gear for your size and athletic ability plus they’ll provide recommendations on trails. I like to hike with poles as extra support that takes a lot of pressure off the knees and provide stability, especially on the trail trek back down the mountain. Extra credit for ankle support – twisted ankles are one of the most common hiking mishaps. Good socks are important too...

 

 

5. Don’t Forget the Insect Repellant and Sunscreen

 

The sun is incredibly strong at altitude – we just have less atmosphere here to filter the sun. In fact, our incidence of skin cancer is really high in our mountain corridor. Even if you think you don’t need it, wear sunscreen – please. I see tourists from lower altitudes all the time with wicked burns and it can really put a damper on a vacation. And although we don’t have the level of bugs more humid low altitude climates do, the standing rain water does breed some nasty mosquitoes. Late afternoon into evening they really get buzzing and some insect spray or at a minimum repellant bracelets are mandatory. Ankles, elbows, the back of your neck (I know, yuck), and any exposed skin needs a spray – they have been known to bite through clothes so I usually give the arms and legs a spray before heading out. Natural sunscreen and insect repellant choices (plus great snacks!) are easy to come by at Whole Foods in Frisco before you venture out.

 

6. Don’t Pick Wildflowers, Deface Trees, Toss Trash . . .

 

Leave NO Trace. None. Seriously. If you bring your dog, bring waste bags and take them with you. Colorado's wildflowers are amazing, beautiful, and smell great – they need to remain in the forest for others to enjoy. Plus, their seeds fall and reproduce wildflowers for next season so picking them reduces the future wildflowers. Just enjoy them – take some photos, smell them, admire them. Just leave them alone. (The state flower Columbine is illegal to pick for more incentive to leave them alone). It should go without saying that ANY cans, tissues, cigarettes, wrappers, fruit peels or anything else you take into the forest needs to come out with you. Take a baggie to put anything unsavory in your pack or pocket. And the biggie – carving trees, writing on rocks or any other kind of defacement of the forest is just wrong. Don’t do it.

 

 

7. Don’t Forget to Watch for and Respect Wildlife

 

The recent web story about a Canadian couple who loaded a baby bison into their SUV because they were worried it “was cold” forcing the animal to be destroyed (killed) because it was rejected by the herd was about the saddest wildlife story I’ve heard in a while. Don’t be that couple. Wildlife needs to remain wild for the ecosystem to work properly. Don’t feed the animals or leave food or trash (see above). They need to eat what is natural for them. On the other hand, you’ll want to remain aware of the signs of wildlife because it is an honor and treat to see these amazing animals in their natural habitat. The odds of seeing a bear or mountain lion is low – but it does happen. More often you’ll see fox, squirrel, chipmunk, marmot, amazing birds including eagles and osprey, deer or elk. On occasion you might see moose – which are super cool but SUPER huge. And super dangerous. They don’t look dangerous – think large goofy looking horse-esque animals of Rocky and Bullwinkle fame. But don’t let them fool you – they are statistically one of the most dangerous animals in our forest and have made a tremendous come back in recent years. Surprising them is bad – they have lousy eyesight and they will trample dogs and people in their way. If you see them, turn around and go the other way. Don’t pose for a picture with them – snap a shot when they are well out of range. . . they can run fast. And a fed bear is a dead bear. Again, no feeding the wildlife.

 

8. Don’t Drink the Water

 

The cold streams, the mountain lakes – it looks oh so refreshing. Pack in your water because the odds of getting ill from drinking this water is high. Giardia in particular is a parasite that lives in our mountain streams and lakes that comes from beavers upstream. It causes diarrhea, nausea and fatigue among other nasty symptoms and can last a long time so it’s dangerous to drink the water out on the trail. Pick up a reusable bottle or two or your camelback and fill them up before getting on the trail. Alternatively, there are filters like the Hiker PRO Filter from local specialty shops like Wilderness Sports in Dillon which are great to kill any nasty stuff that will make you sick. They also stock backpacks, hiking boots, hiking and biking socks, rain gear, hiking poles, and rental mountain bikes.

 

9. Don’t Put Yourself at Risk Snapping Cool Photos

 

Sad and cautionary tales continue with people falling off cliffs while trying to get that great picture for Facebook or Instagram. A hiker fell off a 500-foot cliff in East Oahu, an EMT fell to her death in the Adirondacks, a German tourist fell to his death while posing for a selfie atop Machu Picchu in Peru, and the Grand Canyon “boasts” 700 selfie deaths . I get it. I am a fan of that fantastic shot that makes you smile when you see it, and your friends amazed at your awesome adventures. Don’t be that guy or gal. There are plenty of vistas and backdrops that are safe for a great picture. Don’t sneak under barriers (they are there for a reason), go out too far on a boulder or cliff, or stand on a rock in the middle of a fast rushing river. Rocks and gravel can be much slicker than you expect. It’s easy to lose your balance, especially when looking out at a steep horizon – vertigo can kick in when you least expect it. Forest trails are not set up as safe zones like an amusement park or urban park – you are really on your own to use your best judgement and keep yourself safe. Be especially cautious when doing a “jump” photo to be sure you don’t slip and fall – even if it’s just twisting your ankle when jumping off a small rock onto some dirt. It can be a long hike down with a bum ankle. True Confession: I fell into a rushing Spring stream here in Silverthorne and went over a (luckily only 4 foot) waterfall while trying to get my dog out of a whirlpool . . . we were both very close to getting caught under a log and then going over a 20 foot fall. That particular fall had nothing to do with a photo but it was a serious wake-up call nonetheless.

 

 

OK – let’s be safe out there. Stay aware, use the buddy system, and have a marvelous time respecting and enjoying the richness and wonder of these Colorado mountains. Namaste’ my friends.

July 09, 2016 at 04:08 PM
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