A day hike in the Rockies is well worth the preparation. The Rockies are home to mountain goats, marmots, pikas, caribou, bluebirds, golden eagles, gloriously clean air and spectacular scenery. In one day you can climb from meadows with bubbling brooks to mountain tops still covered with snow and a few covered with glaciers. Hiking in the Rockies, with many peaks well above 10,000 feet, is not the same, however, as walking out your front door in the middle of suburbia and taking a stroll through your neighborhood. There are 5 essential tips you will want to keep in mind.
1) Know the weather and prepare for it. It can be a hot and sunny day in the valley and be 30 degrees colder (or more) on top of a mountain. A windbreaker and some warm layers are crucial for any hike above 8,000 feet. A wool hat will help your body to regulate its temperature more efficiently because the majority of heat loss occurs through the top of your head. Storms come up VERY quickly on top of mountains. Even in the middle of the summer these storms can include snow, hail, rain, thunder and lightning. If you will be above tree line for any portion of your hike you should have weatherproof rain gear and a way to keep valuables in your backpack dry (simple zip-lock bags work well). As the summer draws to a close (typically beginning in late July and early August on top of the Rockies), thunderstorms occur almost every afternoon. Plan, if possible, to get up early and hike in the morning so that you are down off of the top of the mountain (and especially down below tree line) before noon. The summer season is very brief on top of a mountain.
2) Take good care of your feet. It may sound obvious but it is hard to enjoy a glorious vista if your feet hurt. Wear shoes with good arch support, strong ankle support and socks that are made out of wool to keep your feet from sweating too much and causing sore spots. Bring band-aids and moleskin for unanticipated foot sores while walking. And bring an extra pair of socks for that unanticipated slip into a cold, wet stream.
3) Tell somebody where you are going. Although most hikers enjoy the Rockies with absolutely no problems or injuries – accidents do happen. Minor ankle sprains can become a major problem if you are 5 miles away from your car. Let somebody, who is not hiking with you, know where you are going, when you are leaving, and when you hope to get back. Although cell phones do not typically work on the trails, they do frequently work in the parking lots and you may need to call for assistance. It is always best, when possible, to hike with at least one other person. It is not only satisfying to enjoy that sense of accomplishment with somebody else, it makes practical safety sense too.
4) Understand that you are not the only intelligent life form. The Rockies are home to many different animals. Although most of them are merely fascinating curiosities for we humans, some of them can be dangerous. Bears and mountain lions should never be approached in the wild. Most encounters will be ones about which you are unaware. These animals will see you and you will not see them. Mountain lions crouch in trees and in rocky outcroppings. They have attacked small children who have run ahead of their party and are on their own. If you are hiking with small children, the children should ALWAYS hike in between the adults.
5) Leave your electronics at home. Except for the safety precaution of bringing your cell phone with you – the Rockies provide a unique environment in which to remember that being outside, breathing clean air, and hiking up a mountain are just as satisfying and rewarding as texting a friend, trying out a new app on your ipod touch, or listening to some music on your mp3 player. The Rockies provide their own music – a symphony of sights and sounds which humans cannot duplicate but can appreciate.