text and photography by Ryan Stikeleather
If You Don’t Like The Weather…
Do you like bad weather? Huh, I didn’t hear “Why yes! I love it!” replies. Understandably, most people will do whatever they can to avoid bad weather: watch the evening news, get alerts on their phone, or diagnosing the aches and pains in their eccentric neighbor’s knees—whatever works, right? I get it. It’s not something I’d seek out either. But, now and again, bad weather is a good thing. Bad weather generates amazing clouds for a setting sun. Bad weather gives us snow days from work or school (that’s always fun). Bad weather isn’t bad, only slightly inconvenient for a day or two.
Documenting frequent weather changes, in Colorado, is a full-time job—yes, I know, that's the job of a meteorologist. I’ve gone off to work in the morning, in a short sleeve shirt and shorts, and end up shoveling snow from my driveway when I get home. Colorado has some wacky weather.
It’s not only in Colorado, by the way. From east-to-west you’ll find a local spin of the phrase, “If you don’t like the weather, wait a few minutes and it’ll change.” I’m not suggesting it originated in Colorado, but it’s a well-used phrase. I think I’ve used it twelve times today.
I made my hiking plans for a Friday jaunt in North Cheyenne Cañon. On Monday, the forecast called for partly sunny skies, mid-to-upper 50s— a perfect day for a hike. However, as the week crept closer and closer the weekend, the once optimistic temps disappeared, replaced with a rare weather event—freezing fog. Freezing fog may sound bad, but it sure makes for an interesting hike. Alright freaky weather… challenge accepted!
Just The Facts
- Trail: Mt. Muscoco Trail (route)
- Difficulty: Easy-Moderate (more difficult in snow)
- Elevation Gain: 1,434 ft (profile)
- Distance: 4.38 mi (round-trip)
- Trail Use: Hiking, Trail Running
- Trail Condition: Maintained, and clearly marked
- Bring Your Dog: Yes (but must be on a leash)
- Access: All year round
- Trail Map:Hiking Project
- Entrance fee FREE
- WebsiteFriends of Cheyenne Cañon
How Cold Is Cold?
Here’s a little secret; most people don’t like to hike when the weather is crummy, cold, or otherwise unpleasant. Ok, not a well-kept secret, but one I wanted to take advantage of.
Your milage will vary when it comes to cold exposure. I have a high tolerance for the cold stuff, but, then again, I also think I was a Viking in a past life…so, I’m kind of built for it. But, when it’s super cold, I’d much rather be inside, sitting on the couch, watching a good movie. I wasn’t about to let the frosty chill keep me off the trail, even if I did want to be a lazy couch potato.
19° is considered (by most people) a chilly, if not somewhat frigid, temperature for being outside; and maybe a little too cold for a hike. For me, the biggest factor is wind. If it isn’t windy, the cold doesn’t bother me. Lucky for me, there was almost no wind and the only thing I needed to worry about was getting too hot. Still, know your limits, trust your instincts, and be prepared for the elements…that should keep you comfortable during most hikes.
Two For One
I was pretty much guaranteed to have a secluded hike in the Cañon. I guided my truck up the cañon road, and parked at the Mt. Cutler and Mt. Muscoco trailhead—about a mile and half from the Starsmore Visitor and Nature Center.
Depending on how ambitious you are, you can easily hike Mt. Cutler and Mt. Muscoco in the same day. Mt. Cutler is definitely the easier of the two, but since I hiked that one a few weeks ago, I chose to focus on Mt. Muscoco. If you’d like to read about the first half of this trail, check out my Mt. Cutler post here.
After the quick half mile start to the hike, I reached the Mt. Muscoco trailhead—it’ll be on the right-side of the trail, clearly marked. I wish I could give an enticing description of the views from this vantage point, but the low hanging clouds obstructed everything twenty yards out. It was beautiful, but not epic view friendly.
If you’ve made it to this point without much struggle, you’ll find little change in the amount of effort needed as you continue onward. Within a few minutes you’ll reach a set of stairs (an upgrade added in 2015). The steps were covered in snow and slick in spots, but the spacing is well laid out and made the first little climb up much easier (despite the wintery conditions).
This is the first time I wished I had a pair of crampons, or snow chains, for my boots. I’ve done well to this point, but the extra caution did slow me down.
Surprise! You’re Not There Yet
I’m know the fog-blanket is why I had such a hard time determining where I was on the trail. I wasn’t rewarded with sweeping vistas as I rounded corners, or glorious reveals when I emerged from evergreen tunnels. Instead, I had the closest thing to hiking in a life-sized snow globe; a dreamlike environment of heavy frost (natures powdered sugar) coated on tree branches and pine needles, clinging to blades of dry grass, dusting the trail and rocks with pure white.
This foggy dome calmed and muffled almost all activity. No birds chirped from tree tops. No deer bounded up the hillsides. No…wait a minute…I think I see tracks in the snow. I’m not sure, but it could be from a bob cat. My excitement level just increased significantly. I’m the only one leaving “boot prints”, but some woodland critter is hiking the trail ahead of me. I’ve got to keep my eyes pealed now.
My snowy path eventually reaches a bit of a flat spot. There’s a marker guiding the way to my mountain top destination. and I’m guessing there is a stunning view from this position. The fog refuses to lift, and I don’t think it’s going to anytime soon.
The path descends for a few hundred yards before quickly climbing up again. This next half-mile is the most difficult part of the hike. The elevation gains steadily, and requires more endurance than at any other time. I’ve had it pretty easy to this point, so I’m not worn out or overly tired. It’s a good little workout.
Head In The Clouds
In Time, I reached the last marker which directed me to the summit. Even though the snow and frost lessened the higher I climbed, at times, it was difficult to know where to find the trail. I was pleasantly surprised to find reflectors steering me up the switchbacks, and in the right direction. I did stop once, wondering if I should go up a hill or not, but a quick survey for a red, shiny arrow placed me back on course. Normally, I wouldn’t think this necessary, but it was a nice addition in this weather.
I was still following in the tracks of my private, mountain guide. Possibly only a few yards in the lead, playing hide-and-go-seek around the bends and curves. Well, I never did see more than tracks, and I eventually lost it’s prints as the snow disappeared. If it was a bob cat, it was far better at hiding than me.
I weaved my way around roots and rocks, and finally arrived at my goal; the Mt. Muscoco summit. The temperature was cooler on the top, but not too bad. The hope of climbing out of the cover of swirling fog never arrived. I still enjoyed sitting on tops of large rocks, watching the misty veil break for a fleeting moment, then instantaneously envelop the closer peaks and rocky ledges once more.
I’ll have to hike back up Mt. Muscoco in the spring. I’m sure the views will be worth another trip.
Get A Grip
On the way back down, I learned how valuable traction is to my hiking enjoyment. I never fell—I came very close—but I’m incredibly grateful for having my trekking poles. Trekking poles saved me at least five times from a hard fall on my backside.
So, again, preparation is key to safety and continued enjoyment. Everyone is different, and I know I have the worst balance in the world, but learn from me on this one.
Two days after my snow globe hike, the winds of change swept our idyllic winter scene away. Overnight, the frost and fog evaporated, replaced by highs in 60s and abundant sunshine. That’s Colorado weather for you…wait a few minutes and it’ll change.