When my brother came and we hiked the Glacier Gorge Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park a couple of years ago, it was Carly and I’s first foray into winter hiking. We rented snowshoes, and quickly realized that you need quite a bit of snow before they become really necessary – we would’ve been fine with just a little extra traction on our hiking boots. So when my brother gave me a gift card to REI for Christmas this year, I knew what I was going to get – microspikes for my boots!
Last weekend, a few friends from Oklahoma were staying near Idaho Springs, and I decided this was the time to finally bust out the spikes and do some more winter hiking. The plan was to hike in the morning and catch the beginning of the Super Bowl with my buddies afterwards. I convinced Carly that hiking was going to be a good time, even though the mountains had received a good bit of snow earlier in the week and temperatures were well below freezing. Somehow she agreed, and sometimes I don’t know how I got so lucky! I found a trail that ended up being extremely close to the cabin where my friends were staying, Chief Mountain Trail, that seemed moderate and was fairly short at 3 miles round trip. I didn’t want to push it too much this first time in case the spikes didn’t work out as planned.
The road to Chief Mountain, Squaw Pass Road, starts off innocently enough, but quickly became snow covered as we worked our way up in elevation. There were no concerns this time whether there would be enough snow on the trail to use our spikes. As we approached where Google Maps said the trailhead was, we saw a few cars parked alongside the road, but never saw the trailhead itself. As anyone who reads my posts knows, I’m not a huge fan of heights, and once we got past the trailhead and I realized I had to do a U turn with snow on the road, on the side of a mountain, my nerves were tested to say the least. After getting turned around, though, we made our way back to the trailhead and spotted a couple people disappearing into the forest on our right. We found the trailhead! We parked near the other cars along the road, geared up with our ski clothes, strapped the spikes on our hiking boots, and set out!
From the very beginning of the trail, we were glad we had our microspikes. Although I’m sure we could’ve made it in just hiking boots, it would not have been as enjoyable of an experience. I spotted a couple other people attempting it with better boots than mine, but no spikes, and they were having some trouble slipping. The spikes didn’t seem to weigh our feet down at all, and I never felt like I was going to slip or didn’t have good traction. Highly recommend!
The hike had a fairly steady incline to it, which was nice in that you never felt like you were climbing straight uphill, but it also made it so that you never felt like you got much of a break from the slope. The trail was only 1.5 miles to the top, though, so I felt confident we could make it.
We made one mistake pretty early on that I think may have cost us in the long run. I’m still not entirely sure how, but we got off the main trail by just a tiny bit, and ended up following what, in hindsight, was clearly some people going off trail with their snowshoes into the deeper snow. We only had our spikes, and it made for really slow going for a few hundred yards. We were getting snow inside of our boots, post-holing into the fluffy snow, and all around struggling. We realized we were off trail when we saw two other people easily strolling alongside of us, and quickly made our way back to the more packed down trail where they were.
We emerged with tired legs, wet feet, and not much in terms of distance along the trail as a result of our detour. But next time we want to rent some snowshoes, I know just the place to take them!
After what seemed like much longer than the mile that it was, the trees began thinning out, and the views of the surrounding mountains came into sight. With less tree cover also came less wind protection too. It had been windy the entire hike, but nothing that was unbearable through the layers we put on; however, the wind went to a completely different level at this point in our hike.
I have no doubts that we could’ve easily made it the next half mile to the top of the trail, but with the way the wind was whipping around us, I think we both came to the same conclusion at around the same time. This was going to be as far as we went today, which was perfectly fine with both of us. I walked off the trail a little bit, found a rock to lean up against, and nestled myself in the snow to take it in for a few minutes.
We ran into the occasional other group of hikers, but we had the trail mostly to ourselves today. I guess one of the benefits of winter hiking where you need spikes/snowshoes is that you don’t have to battle the crowds that you would in the summer or on a more clear trail in the winter. This made for a very peaceful and enjoyable hike, where we could stop to enjoy a particular view or watch as the snow blew like fairy dust across the trail. It also let me stop and take some photos that I maybe ordinarily wouldn’t have.
All in all, I would say that the first time hiking with our spikes was a huge success. I’m afraid that finding another trail with perfect conditions for them might be difficult, but I’ll set out on more winter hikes confident that those little guys can get me through it! Now I just need to get some insulated winter boots with a bit more ankle coverage!