U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIORBUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT
Welcome to the mountains of southwest Colorado!
This area is one of the most beautiful in Colorado. The majority of it is public land - your land and managed for you by the US Bureau of Land Management and the US Forest Service. The area receives some recreational use during the winter, but the vast majority occurs from June to October, when the snow is disappearing and the roads are passable. During this time, the area is a hiker's paradise, but as with any backcountry adventure, you must be well prepared.
The first consideration is the altitude. Most of the trails start above 9,000 feet and some go above 14,000 feet. For folks who live at lower altitudes, this can cause some serious huffing and puffing - not to mention altitude sickness. It is always best to give yourself some time to acclimate; usually about 24 hours is sufficient. When you do hike, take it easy. There are no prizes for high-speed hiking, but there are many rewards for those who go slow enough to appreciate the scenery and observe the wildlife and wildflowers. If you do notice a headache and/or nausea, it is probably altitude sickness. Take a good rest and see if there is any improvement. If there is none, you should head back downhill and spend more time acclimating. Often a camp midway up the trail will help you acclimate and it will break the hike into more manageable segments.
Weather is another major factor. High mountains tend to foster unpredictable weather. In general, summer days are cool - from 50° to 75° F. It is not unusual to see snow or sleet on the peaks in July or September. Nights are cold and, depending on the altitude, can be below freezing. Afternoon thundershowers accompanied by wind are common during the summer. Be prepared for changing weather. Carry several layers of clothing, including good rain gear, on all hikes. Windproof clothing is helpful on the high peaks.
It is usually best to start hiking early, especially on climbs to major peaks so you can make the summit and head back down before the afternoon thundershowers roll in. Plan to be off the peaks by 1:00 pm if you can. There are few things scarier than dodging lightning bolts on a barren rocky peak. If you do get caught, find shelter between large rocks away from the summit and make sure you stay low to the ground, as lightning is attracted to the highest features in a landscape.
Along with making breathing difficult, the thin air at high altitude blocks less ultraviolet light and makes it much easier to get sunburned. Carry an appropriate sunscreen and sunglasses, especially if you are hiking on snow.
Take enough water for your hike. Because of the cool temperatures, the tendency is not to drink much on hiking trips, but the dry air and strenuous exercise can dehydrate a person very quickly, which can cause headaches & fatigue and contribute to hypothermia. So sip your water often even if you don't feel thirsty. Although the clear water in Colorado's mountain streams appears potable, be safe and don't drink it! Two factors are responsible for the unhealthy water in the mountains - the first is potential mineral contamination from old mine operations or natural sources, and the second is bacterial and protozoa contamination such as giardia. Bacterial/protozoan contamination can occur in clear, cold streams and lakes. It is spread by fecal contamination of water systems by humans and many species of animals & livestock and can make you extremely sick. Boiling water for 5 to 10 minutes, or using a good quality water filter are the only reliable ways of avoiding these problems. So, bring your own water or be prepared to boil or filter stream water.
Some trails are clearly marked, others are not. You should have topographic maps of the area where you are planning to hike and know how to read them.
Whether you are hiking alone or in a group, it is always a good idea to check in with the local BLM office in Gunnison or at the Lake City Visitor Center to let us know your plans and to get current trail information. Free trail brochures are available.
Leave No Trace
As much as possible, BLM encourages Leave No Trace camping, which means that you try to leave the backcountry as unmarred and undisturbed as possible. Most impacts from backcountry use are centered around campsites. Here are a few tips to help lessen your camping impacts.
The backcountry is getting more and more use these days and it is starting to show the scars and impacts of that use. In order to preserve the natural beauty we have come to enjoy, we must all take an active part in the protection of these areas. By seeking to reduce the impact of our recreational use, we ensure that these areas will remain in their present state for our future use and the enjoyment of generations to come.
These are your lands - we need your help to protect them.
Created by the Bureau of Land Management, Colorado
Last modified: January 6, 2011