For the majority of people who like to hike on weekends, or in their spare time, hiking anywhere in the American West in the month of May requires two additional considerations.
- There is typically still a residual snowpack at higher elevations. While this can vary quite a bit from year to year and even day to day, even on a warm, sunny day, those that don’t want to encounter slippery conditions or deep snow covering the trails should generally stick to lower elevations. In Colorado, that generally means below 9500 feet in elevation.
- Although everyone’s body behaves differently, most people still respect the seasonality of the activities they take part in, hiking less frequently in winter than in summer. Therefore, most people still need to, in some way, work up to the most challenging hikes they will take on later in the summer.
Tucked away in the Poudre Canyon 15 miles West of Fort Collins, Colorado (which is an hour north of Denver), the Greyrock Trailhead starts at an elevation of roughly 5600 feet.
The hike to the top of Greyrock Mountain, on the most direct path is 3.1 miles, with an elevation gain right around 2000 feet. For those who spent their winters either sedentary or on unrelated activities, and maybe have done two or three hikes thus far in the spring, it is strenuous enough to help get the body back into summer mode. And, topping out at 7600 feet, it remains well below the elevations where residual snowpack and large amounts of mud would still be present on a sunny day in May.
Of course, many people are aware of these seasonal considerations. Therefore, the area does get busier than usual, particularly if it is a nice day and/or on the weekend.
Still, there is plenty of quiet to be found on this appropriately named mountain, just not the level of solitude one would expect on, say, a remote backpacking trip.
On the 13th of May 2017, a dry day in which Fort Collins reached a high temperature of 85F (and was preceded by two dry days) nearly all of the trail was dry. It was only in certain sections, close to streams, where mud would appear. These sections got interesting, as groups of butterflies, both red and blue, would loop around the sky, periodically congregating in and around areas of standing water.
The blue butterflies are actually extremely well camouflaged, only showing their color when the wings are flapped open.
A closer look at the muddy surface reveals dozens of these butterflies nearly completely blended into the muddy surface, something many hikers don’t even notice!
Roughly 2/3 of the way up, the first real scenic overlook is reached. This is the point just before the two trails merge back together, at an elevation of roughly 7000 feet.
The final 600 feet of ascent looks, well, far more daunting than a typical 600 foot climb. And, well, it is. After a short flat area, following the scenic overlook, the trail begins to climb up a series of rocky areas, often referred to as “scrambles” by hikers.
These parts require some strategizing, both on the way up and on the way down.
The final section of the trail is the one area where it is possible to get lost.
On top of rocks, the trail passes by several lakes, where the sound of frogs can be heard, and is marked only by periodic signs 2-3 feet tall and the occasional standard rock pile (referred to as a Cairn).
The summit is also just kind of a series of rocks, that need to be climbed over to reach the best lookout point. Being at the top of Greyrock Mountain is somewhat of an unique experience. In some ways, it feels just like being on top of the world, as noting in the immediate vicinity is at a higher elevation.
However, out on the horizon to the West and Southwest reveals mountains whose peaks dwarf this one by over 5,000 feet.
It feels like a metaphor for a certain life situation that nearly every human being will find themselves in at one point. The mountain has been climbed, a goal has been achieved, and there is reason to celebrate… temporarily. But, there is still a lot that must be done, and much higher aspirations. It is finishing a degree and moving on to start a new job. It is successfully navigating nine months of pregnancy now knowing that it is hard work to raise another human being. It is knowing that one has achieved as much as is possible in a current endeavor, and that there is something more meaningful, a higher calling, awaiting that requires a pivot, a new strategy, and renewed effort.