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May Hiking trip

FAQ and threads for those just starting to hike the Colorado 14ers.
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May Hiking trip

Postby kthwilson » Mon Feb 25, 2013 9:09 am

Hello everyone
I’m new on this forum, but I’ve been a fan of the site for a while now. I’ve got a trip in the planning phase right now, but there are a few questions that I haven’t seen answers to yet.
I’m planning to hit up Colorado in May, likely the second week of the month (basically the only time we have time to go). I’m going with a friend of mine, and we’re both in college at the moment, so money’s a little tight. We’d like to spend 7-10 days taking in as much as we can of the mountains. I’m thinking of doing an initial 2 day hike, then spend a night in a hotel, then do part of the Colorado trail loop, and finishing it off with hopefully a 2 day 14er hike (but this is very flexible).
Here are my concerns:
Is it possible to do much hiking in early/mid May with minimal snow equipment? We don’t want to be snowshoeing/skiing (ideally limiting our snow gear to just microspikes or crampons), and, as this is our first major hiking trip, we don’t want to throw in snow equipment (we’ve done some smaller stuff before though). Additionally, we’d be flying into Denver, but neither of us is old enough to rent a car. Any ideas on how to get around that?
Also, which hikes would be best at that time of year? I’ve seen that Quandry can be promising in May, and I’ve also seen some good stuff about Lindsey and Democrat. Windom peak maybe?
Any help in organizing an affordable, doable trip is greatly appreciated! Thanks!

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Re: May Hiking trip

Postby peter303 » Mon Feb 25, 2013 10:01 am

In most years (with 2012 drought the exception) the mountains above treeline are still pretty snowpacked all of May. The seasonal passes and high country campgrounds open around May 24 in average years.

One idea is Rocky Mountain Park with lower campgrounds open all year. You can hike or bike along the not -yet-opened Trail Ridge Roads depending on snow/ice there and snowplow operations. Fantastic views there.
Ditto Mt Evans and Pikes Peaks roads. You can go to the snow closure gats and perhaps hike beyond them.

An area called Lost Creek Wilderness has mountain formations at lower altitude 11K - 12K and opens earlier than some of the 14K areas.

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Re: May Hiking trip

Postby Jim Davies » Mon Feb 25, 2013 10:05 am

You'll probably be fine if you stay below 11,000'. Above that you'll be dealing with snow, probably.

Lost Creek Wilderness might be a good choice for that time of year. It's also close to Denver. You can easily put together multi-day loops of almost any length. Take a look at summitpost, Roach's book, and the National Geographic map. Transportation options and cell phone coverage will be spotty.

Another possibility would be to set up a "basecamp" somewhere like Frisco and hike trails from there. The transportation to there would be easier to arrange, and there's a free shuttle bus that runs around the whole area. There's a hostel somewhere in that area, search the forum here and you can probably find some comments on it.

14ers are snow climbs that time of year, mostly. You should probably have ice axes for safety. Quandary is a good choice for trailhead access, Lindsey and Windom are going to be hard to get to, Democrat is in the middle but usually accessible.

Check out the trip reports on this site and select by month to see examples. Keep in mind that 2012 was a very low snow year, 2011 was very high, and this year is trending more like 2012 but that could change.

You can't hike along the Pikes Peak Highway. One option for a 2-3 day hike would be to take the Barr Trail and stay in Barr Camp, maybe hiking higher on the mountain if conditions allow.
Some people are afraid of heights. Not me, I'm afraid of widths. -- Steven Wright

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Re: May Hiking trip

Postby Vermont Mike » Mon Feb 25, 2013 11:32 am

I'm assuming since you're in college that you're both 18. Check with all of the different car rental companies; some will rent to 18+ albeit at a higher rate (which you can offset by using the car to car camp!). I would suggest (if you find transportation) what others have recommended regarding the Lost Creek Wilderness. Bison Peak is a great 12,000' peak to climb and will give you a great taste of Colorado with excellent views, rock formations etc. After climbing Bison you could drive to the Goose Creek trailhead and backpack in a mile or 2 and set up camp at one of many great sites. Harmonica Arch would be nearby, as well as a few old cabins and a nice overlook of a hidden valley after squeezing through some giant boulders.

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Re: May Hiking trip

Postby Jim Davies » Mon Feb 25, 2013 2:07 pm

You could also make a loop starting and ending at Goose Creek TH, including Bison and McCurdy. Probably about ~35 miles if you did both, and you get some of the wildest sub-alpine scenery in the Front Range.
Some people are afraid of heights. Not me, I'm afraid of widths. -- Steven Wright

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Re: May Hiking trip

Postby kthwilson » Mon Feb 25, 2013 3:04 pm

Thank you all for your advice so far!
Lost Creek Wilderness and Bison/Goose Creek definitely look promising, and looks to be a good starting point for our trip. Getting there might be an issue though; I've been checking out the rental car situation, and it seems that the fees for 18 year olds are ridiculous in the few instances where they'll even rent to someone my age-up to $100 per day surcharge. I was thinking about taking a bus with Greyound from Denver to Fairplay to get to LCW area, and I know greyhound has buses running from Denver to the Frisco area too for $15 or so. Jim, would the loop you mentioned be doable in 2 long days, or would 3 days be more prudent? Staying in the Frisco/Breck area for a few days would be pretty good (I found a hostel for $30 a night). I've only ever been skiing in the area; what other good hikes are in the area beyond Quandary? Are there any good overnight trips there?
If we end up going beyond the treeline into some higher terrain, would we need any equipment beyond microspikes/crampons and maybe an ice axe?
Thanks again for all your help!

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Re: May Hiking trip

Postby Jim Davies » Mon Feb 25, 2013 3:36 pm

The loop I was thinking of would be a lot for even 3 days, unless you're really fast. (That would be Goose Creek TH to Lake Park trail to Brookside-McCurdy trail past Bison and down to Lost Park, then the Wigwam and Goose Creek trails back to the trailhead). Looking at a map, it looks like it's at least 40 miles (longer than I thought offhand).

There's a popular shorter loop (about 25 miles) that cuts down through McCurdy Park to the Goose Creek trail (skipping Bison and McCurdy) that might be doable in two days, although if you're coming from lower elevations you might find three days more reasonable. Bison Peak is about a 5 mile side trip from this loop if you do it as an out-and-back; McCurdy is shorter (2 miles maybe). Here's a discussion of that loop in mid-May from 2010: http://14ers.com/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?t=24614&p=295369

You can check the snowpack amounts for that basin (South Platte river) through this web site:
http://www.co.nrcs.usda.gov/snow/snow/watershed/current/daily/maps_graphs/swe_time.html
From this you can see that 2010 had a pretty big spring snow season, which perhaps accounts for the problems described in that thread.

FWIW, we drove to the Goose Creek TH in late March last year without problems (from the south/Tarryall side).
Some people are afraid of heights. Not me, I'm afraid of widths. -- Steven Wright

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Re: May Hiking trip

Postby peter303 » Mon Feb 25, 2013 3:46 pm

Leadville and Aspen are nominally accessible by public transportation too.
I read of a commuter bus ferry workers between cheap-living Leadville and jobs in Summit county. Else if you take the free bus from the Fisco Greyhound stop to the entrance of Copper Mountain ski resort you could try your hitchhiking skills on HWY 82 to Leadville. Theres an interesting hostel in Leadville. Roach book says the Elbert/Massive trailhead is 11 miles from the center of Leadville, a fairly moderate mountain bike ride (rented in Leadville). There are other hikes in Leadville like Mineral Belt and Turquoise Lake.

The Greyhound stop closest to Aspen is at Glenwood Springs, an interesting town with hot springs and cave. There is an hourly bus to Aspen. Then there are buses from Aspen to the Maroon Bells (not until summer), Snowmass, and other places. Aspen does have one small hostel at the St. Moritz. The Maroon Bells is a gorgeous area to hike, but has dangerous avalanche snow parts until it melts in June.

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Re: May Hiking trip

Postby powhound » Mon Feb 25, 2013 9:52 pm

As far as how to get around...a bus from the airport to the general area you are interested in...then hitchhike. Way back in the day, when I was in my late teens/early twenties I went on quite a few backpacks into the mountains that involved hitchhiking long distances across many states and short distances to remote trailheads. First...I am assuming that you and your friend are guys. I wouldn't recommend it if either of you aren't.

I (or with a friend) never had any problem getting around. Especially in mountainous areas where people are more apt to pick up someone with a backpack. Here are a few tips that I always felt helped.

Smile and make eye contact. Clean yourself up. Don't look like a dirtbag or homeless person. Shave. Wear clean clothes. That last one is not as easy as it sounds. When backpacking in the woods for a week, you get mighty grubby. Set aside one set of clean clothes for hitching.

Always bring a hunk of cardboard and fat marker. Make a sign with the destination of where you want to go. Print it large and neat.

Position yourself where the approaching driver can see you from way, way in the distance. This gives them time to start the thought process of whether or not they want to pick up a stranger. Also, make sure there is plenty of space where they can pull off the road safely to pick you up.

Use your good judgement whether to accept the ride. It doesn't happen very often, but over the course of a few thousand miles of hitching, I've turned down a few rides... if things looked sketchy. 98% percent of the time it was a very enjoyable experience. You meet some really cool people and it just adds to the overall adventure.

Now as far as backpacking mid-May...let's just say good luck with that. Two years ago I was skiing 20" of fresh snow with my son at A-Basin on May 21st... his first day of summer break. Just kidding...as others have said, keep it low elevation.

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Re: May Hiking trip

Postby Massholeo » Tue Feb 26, 2013 3:30 pm

As far as a rental car i would suggest contacting a local company, not one at the airport as they have a high utilization and trend to not be as flexible. Speak to a manager and explain the situation. It's possible they would rent to you, having a parent fill out c.c. authorization form and having one of you as an additional driver. Most managers have the ability to make decisions at the branch level (depending on their regional manager, etc). You'll find many have "policies" but may be able to bend rules. That, or a small private company which does not have upper management to answer to. There's likely an additional underage fee, but with some leg work and paperwork finding 4 wheels and a motor is possible. It's been a few years since i managed some rental branches but i believe it's possible.

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Re: May Hiking trip

Postby Presto » Tue Feb 26, 2013 5:16 pm

https://relayrides.com/search?location=denver%2C+co#location=denver,%20co

New concept ... ordinary people rent their car ... insurance is provided by the company that owns relayriders. Doesn't say anything about age requirements under the "how it works" section. My receptionist is going to use this option until she can save enough money to buy a car.
As if none of us have ever come back with a cool, quasi-epic story instead of being victim to tragic rockfall, a fatal stumble, a heart attack, an embolism, a lightning strike, a bear attack, collapsing cornice, some psycho with an axe, a falling tree, carbon monoxide, even falling asleep at the wheel getting to a mountain. If you can't accept the fact that sometimes "s**t happens", then you live with the illusion that your epic genius and profound wilderness intelligence has put you in total and complete control of yourself, your partners, and the mountain. How mystified you'll be when "s**t happens" to you! - FM

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Re: May Hiking trip

Postby kthwilson » Tue Feb 26, 2013 9:03 pm

Presto: thanks for the tip about relay rides. I checked into it, looks like they're open to 21+ only (http://relayrides.zendesk.com/entries/21039596-what-are-the-eligibility-requirements), which is a bummer but much better than most, so I'll definitely keep them in mind for future trips.
I'll definitely get in touch with a couple of local rental places, but I'm not holding out too much hope. The bus/hitch option doesn't seem too bad (we are both guys), especially with the free summit county buses running (and we could probably supplement it with some kind of taxi service if we hang out in the Frisco/Breck area for a few days).
Jim, doing that full loop you mentioned looks pretty awesome, we'll definitely put it on our list.
Not that I'd really mind skiing A-basin instead of hiking, but I'll get the ski part out of my system next week :-D
Given this year's snow, does anyone know what other hikes in the summit county area are likely to be open/accessible without snowshoeing?
Cheers for the advice so far!

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