Hiking in the Front Range in Mid-April

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April can sometimes be a tough month.  It’s a hard month to plan too far ahead of time, as there is such a wide variety of weather conditions that one can experience in many parts of North America.  There have been instances, in April, where places like Nebraska have experienced both a tornado threat and snowfall within the same day!

This is especially true in Colorado.  Over the past five Aprils (2012-2016), Denver has received snowfall of an inch or more 11 times!  At higher elevations, April snowfall can be almost twice as frequent.  Yet, over the same five Aprils, Denver reached temperatures of 80F (26C) or above 6 times, and highs exceeded 70F (21C), on average, 9 days out of 30, or about 30% of the time.

A typical challenge in April is to find hikes at lower elevations as there is often still a significant snowpack higher up.  April 8th’s snowpack exceeded 40 inches at most places above 8000′ in elevation, despite the period of warmer weather April 5-7.

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Looking primarily at start and end elevation, and for a place I have yet to hike, I selected Deer Creek Canyon, a place, oddly enough I can ride my bicycle to in just under 90 minutes.

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And, much to my surprise the trailhead is actually located at Colorado’s Center of Population (according to the 2000 census).

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The quickest route from the trailhead to the top of Mount Plymouth is roughly 2.4 miles.  With an elevation gain of about 1200 feet, this particular hike would definitely fall into the “moderate” category for difficulty.

The other surprise was encountering not just a random structure, but an entire subdivision, roughly half a mile into the hike (taking the shortest route).

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The people who live here seem to have the life!  The houses are quite large, they have a spectacular view of some pretty interesting looking red rocks and rolling hills, and easy access to hiking trails.  Oh, and they live pretty much at Colorado’s center of population.  For a while, we discussed what it would be like to live in a place like this, and whether or not we would enjoy it.  Being fairly close to Denver, I bet these homes are quite expensive.  Yet, moving to a place like this would still entail giving up some urban conveniences.

 

I had hoped to avoid snowpack and mud, and for the most part we did.  Starting the hike at about 9:45 A.M., at least 2/3 of the hike was in the sun, and those parts of the trail were dry.  Toward the top, some ares with a little bit of mud, and even a bit of slush could be found in shaded areas.  Parts of the area had received close to a foot of snow several days prior, which, despite warmth thereafter, had not completely melted in areas above roughly 6800′ that are shaded from the sun most of the day.

Whether it be on the way up to the top of Plymouth Mountain, or on the return trip to the trailhead, I would certainly recommend following the remaining part of the loop on the Plymouth Trail.

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It was in this section of the loop where we found the best views of Denver’s skyline, and found some more interesting rocks to climb on.

We also veered off the main Plymouth Trail to follow The Meadowlark trail for the final 1.5 miles down to the trailhead.  This trail traverses through forests of short trees with minimal foliage.  I have encountered these trees before, always at roughly this elevation near the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.  It is a unique experience, to be surrounded by trees in all directions, but to still be nearly completely exposed to the sun.  I wonder what conditions make these particular trees grow here.

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And, rather than going by the subdivision again, this trail cuts a bit farther north.  In several places, the trail overlooks the canyon that was carved out by Deer Creek.  I have previously ridden this road on a bicycle.  From the vantage point of the road, it’s hard to to truly appreciate the extent to which the rugged terrain had been carved out by a relatively small creek.

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After a period of inactivity, it felt really good just to be outdoors and active, feeling the sun for hours on end, and smelling the rocks, trees, and dirt.  As a culture, we likely spend way too much time indoors and sedentary.  Something about it just feels a bit unnatural to me- always has.  The entire duration of the hike, I just felt grateful for Colorado, the opportunities and access to so many amazing places like this.

I often tell people who are looking to visit Colorado not to come in April, as well other parts of the year are more exciting.  But, one thing I realized is that, this particular hike, mostly in the sun, with a maximum elevation of 7274′, would likely be very hot in the middle of the summer.  I can only imagine what it would be like with temperatures exceeding 90F (32C).

Many of us reserve the summer months, particularly June through September, for activities that require more travel, more planning, and more certainty.  In April, it is less worthwhile to plan more major activities, as conditions are so variable.  Thus, April is the ideal time for activities that are closer to home and more moderate in nature.  It is a time to embrace some amount of uncertainty, and think on the fly.

In pervious years, I became frustrated with Colorado in April, contemplating leaving for this period of time that is uncertain and commonly fails to deliver.  But, with uncertainty comes the excitement of the unknown, and the possibilities for new opportunities.  In life, we need a balance, between the planned and the unplanned, between familiar and the unfamiliar, and between the distant and the local.  April, and the changing of the seasons in general, ensures that we continue to calibrate this balance.

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