I have been hiking pretty solid for about a year now so I feel like I am completely and expertly qualified to discuss the amazing seasons we have here in the mountains of Colorado. I think these are going to work for most hiking locations as well. Everyone knows the 4 major seasons but did you know there are really 12? I present to you now: The Hiking Seasons.
We all have that one friend who loves to hike so much that they completely ignore sanity. For me the Frostbite season comes late in what the “normy’s” call fall and early “normy” winter. These are usually the days where the temperature in the city is in the fifties but your friend decides to hike to some mountain peak where it is negative ten degrees. Of course because it is early in the season you don’t pack nearly enough layers and about the third step feel like your skin has frozen to the bones. Also, I’m that one friend.
Let it go, Let it go! I can’t continue that without paying copyright but you all know the Frozen season. This is where the streams are frozen, snow covers every inch of landscape. Pretty much every hike looks the same because it is just a blanket of white everywhere you go. Fun game: touch a tree in the dead of winter. They all feel like plastic. It is kind of cool.
I actually think this is one of the best times to hike. The trails aren’t as crowded and snow on the ground gives the woods a special kind of quiet feeling. It really is a magical time but lets not tell anyone.
Ahh the sunny cloudless days that look like summer but feel like winter. Usually more towards Spring, these bring people back to the trail and the trail gets busy again. These are the fun days when your body is sweating under the sun while the hairs inside your nose, and on men’s beards, are completely frozen solid. It is such an odd feeling to get a sunburn in 10 degree’s but also some of the best hiking around.
When the “normy” spring comes so do the fair weather hikers. More people hit the trails and the once snow covered paths now reveal the mud underneath. The start of this season is the Frozen Mud season. This is also known as the ankle breaking time. The mud is typically solid ice in the morning to the point of needing spikes. As the sun warms the mud throughout the day, a portion of the mud softens just enough to get these horrific grooves and potholes before refreezing for the night.
The next morning those crazy grooves will do their best job of trying to turn your ankle about 90 degrees in the wrong direction before slowing repeating their process.
Oh Dear Lord
This is the worst season for me. Oh Dear Lord occurs where the snow is melting off and running down the trail to make the path turn into a slip ‘n slide. Hiking on snow, ice, dirt, or rocks is pretty simple if you have the right gear. Trying to walk up a 10 degree incline of solid mud might be one of the circles of hell. What is impressive about the solid mud hiking stage of Oh Dear Lord is how quickly one can go from standing upright to lying flat on the back after the unintentional slide down a trail of mud.
Spring also brings out the traffic to the trails. Usually later in the spring when all of the snow has melted. All of the hikers, bikers and weekend warriors who hibernated with the bears have made their way back to the great outdoors. A trail that had twenty open parking places last week is now completely full at 6 am. The once quiet outdoors is now alive with the ringing bells of mountain bikes and the laughs and cries of the children who are
forced lucky enough to be brought by their parents. Rush Hour can be fun but most hardcore hikers, like the moose and elk, retreat to the higher elevations to weather this storm.
The best part of the summer hiking period is that you never have to bring a watch because you know at 1pm everyday a storm will come to ruin your hike. This is also the time of year where sleep is somehow no longer needed. To make it to the summit by noon you won’t think twice about waking up at 2 am on Saturday to make your way to the trailhead. Then by Thursday you finally will feel rested before starting the cycle again each weekend.
The middle of the summers comes the Scorch season. No matter how much water you have you will run out. Your clothes will weigh 10 pounds more by the end of the hike than the start of the hike and that one tiny spot on your triceps where you missed the sunscreen will now be a bright red spot of sun-burnt flesh. The Scorch is where you see most of the trail runners. Like somehow they aren’t getting enough of a workout by running a trail so they have to do it in 100 degree heat. The Scorch is also the best time to make it to the highest elevations. Nothing like a 40 degree difference from trailhead to summit to keep you on your toes in the heat of the summer.
Every year we hope the winter snow was enough to avoid the summer fires and every year we are disappointed. Wildfires are horrible but the worst part of the wildfire season is they don’t even have to be burning in our state. Fires in Utah or California can have the same effect. During wildfire season you will have a constant craving for smores as you hike. Also, the “clean” mountain air will make you cough and wheeze and your eyes turn a shade of red you haven’t seen since college.
Every time I hear the term “Leaf Peepers” in the Fall, I giggle and then cry a bit inside. This is the season where everyone and their brothers head to the mountains to look at the changing of the leaves. The good news is they usually don’t hike. Or if they do hike it is just a mile or so up the trail. The bad news is that every road to the high country is full of the minivans full of people who think 10mph is a proper speed to drive up a hill.
Around the time of mid fall the closet comes into focus. These are the days that are in the single digit temperatures in the morning and warm up to about 70 degree’s in the afternoon. The backpack that used to carry water, snacks and bug spray has quickly become a makeshift clothes hamper. From t-shirts to hard shells every piece of hiking clothing you own has made it to your pack in attempt to beat mother nature at her own game. You seldom win but the late fall hiking is beautiful.
The Wait is summed up with these words: “Weather might be better tomorrow”. This is the pre-hibernation stage of hiking. Winter is coming and there are only a few days where the weather is good enough to make the hike enjoyable. The true blood hikers still get out and enjoy the low crowds on the questionable weather days. The average hiker on the other hand spends a lot of time staring at the clouds and thinking that “tomorrow might be a better day” before heading to the post hike brunch…without the hike.
Wrapping up the Hiking Seasons
So there is my take on the hiking seasons. Hopefully you enjoyed it a bit or connected in some way. I guess the main take away I was going for was that you CAN hike in all seasons and each season is enjoyable. Make sure that you are prepared each time though. Hiking in the snow and ice without spikes can be brutal. Nobody likes to be freezing cold when they hike so make sure you have plenty of layers. But when you are properly prepared, you can enjoy hiking anytime…or just find a nice place near the trail to sip coffee for a few hours and nobody will know the difference!
More from the Fatman
If you liked this post you may enjoy other gems such as “Screw it, I’m Trying”, “Hiking alone is not lonely Hiking”, or “Bad Days and Bidets: Just wash it off”. Those and more can be found on my Fatman’s Ramblings page.
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