Hiking in the High Country
Hiking’s just walking at a grade.
That’s what I tell myself, each time I feel like the mountain or hillside I have set out to claim as my own is about to make me very sorry for thinking that I’ll be successful ” way too steep a grade is what I’m really thinking.
Then another bend beckons and no matter how weary I am, I keep setting one foot in front of the other to see what I have not yet seen.
Almost always ” in this wonderfully scenic valley ” it’s something spectacular. A light-dotted grove of whispering aspens, a cool and deep green hillside of evergreens, a glistening show of summer snow on a faraway mountain range or something else that is winner for the next postcard with greetings from the Vail Valley.
Hiking isn’t just walking at a grade. Unlike walking around the neighborhood or to the store and back, hiking is a never-ending journey for both body and mind, a tour of discovery at a pace that makes it possible to see the small things or stop to appreciate the majestic grandeur nature has to offer at almost every step.
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And it isn’t comparable to driving somewhere scenic and stepping out of the car to look at it.
The constant stepping becomes a pleasing rhythm to which the mind can contemplate, while the beauty of your surroundings gives all five city-chocked senses a workout. There is so much to see, to smell, to feel. I’ve had my best ideas and greatest thoughts during solitary hikes and I’ve laughed the hardest at original life-born jokes and stories told during hikes with equally relaxed and worn-out companions.
It’s walking at a grade, but walking away from a hike always leaves me refreshed and relaxed.
In my years of hiking I have learned a few things that I am happy to share. Between stumbling back to a parking lot in the pitch-dark and performing minor backcountry surgery on blistering toes, I like to think that each step at a grade has made me smarter.
Smart stepping uphill:
– Hiking is stylishly simple. All it takes is a good pair of comfortable hiking boots or sneakers for shorter outings, a bottle of water, a small backpack to carry a snack and comfortable clothes topped with a hat or some other form of head protection. There is no need for fashion statements, few look striking in pants, socks and sensible shoes, so don’t try. The marmots and the occasional deer don’t care and the fellow hiker completely understands.
– Hiking is the perfect cure for anything. Consider the following. Need a quick getaway to blow off steam? Or a long leisurely adventure with not much to worry about? Looking for a fun adventure with family or friends? Wanting to spend absolutely no money to burn the calories from yesterday’s big dinner? Get on a trail. Regardless of what it is you are looking for you will find it on a hike ” promise.
– Hiking is custom-made for you. Regardless of your aptitude for exercise. As long as you can walk, you can hike. The local hiking inventory ranges from short 1-mile loops for the family to 8-mile ascents to the tops of mountains in excess of 14,000 feet.
– Hiking sets few expectations. Remember that you are at high altitude and that your breathing will be noticeably short at times. Be careful to acclimatize, but really, just listen to yourself. If breathing becomes painful and noisy stop or slow down, if it’s unbearable, take a break, turn around and try again in a few days. There is no other activity that caters to your every wish or whim like hiking. You can dream big and turn around sooner and no one can tell you different.
– Hiking puts you in charge. But first get a map or good directions. Several publications, available at stores or the local libraries, feature local hiking trails or you can simply ask any local for a favorite hike.
Then it’s your call. From which trail to pick to what pace to walk to where to stop and have a snack ” it’s self-guided and that’s wonderfully relaxing in today’s hectic world of long to-do lists.
– Hiking is diverse. The Vail Valley is famous for skiing but these hills are CRAWLING with hiking trails. Short ones, steep ones, long ones, winding ones, easy ones. Not one is like the next. Some feature waterfalls, others wildlife and most magnificent views.
– Hiking is just the right kind of adventure. Watch where you step, keep an eye out for bad weather and lightning (beware: Colorado’s summer climate features frequent thunderstorms in the early afternoon). Never go out without a map and rain gear. Keep track of how long you’ve been going and turn around to make it back to safety before daylight wanes. Wear really comfortable closed shoes and keep your feet dry (bring extra socks and use baby powder if necessary). Be prepared and don’t be sorry later.
– Hiking is just for you. Not much bragging in walking at a grade, but you’ll come back a better person and that’s pretty cool.
A few of my favorite day hikes:
– Short and simple ” Old Vail Pass ” 0.5 miles with an elevation gain of 430 feet. Starts at the base of the old Vail Pass Road and ends at a shallow sandbar along the Black Gore Creek. Ideal for children. Directions: From the East Vail exit of I-70 drive 2.3 miles east on South Frontage Road. Park where the road ends.
– Incredibly scenic ” Lionshead Rock ” 2.2 miles with an elevation gain of 2,068 feet. Starts at the base of Lionshead Rock in Minturn. Drive south on U.S. Highway 24 to Minturn, enter the town and make an immediate left over a bridge. Continue north on Minturn Road to a small parking lot area. The hiking trail begins on the hillside and the hike tops out at the lion-like rock outcropping with a spectacular view of the town below and the Vail Valley to the west.
Start hiking here:
For more hiking trails, visit http://www.ecosports.com for maps and detailed descriptions for hikes for any ability or look for brochures at the various visitors’ centers. Best book on the subject is the “The Vail Hiker” by Mary Ellen Gilliland, available in local book and convenience stores or libraries, or visit the publisher’s Web site at http://www.alpenrosepress.com for weekly featured hikes.
Special Sections Editor Geraldine Haldner has been living in the Vail Valley since 1998. She spends as much time as she can outside of her cubicle running, hiking or rock climbing.