Mountain hiking is somewhat different from hiking across flat or hilly terrain at lower elevations.
When you take a walk up a mountain trail, there are numerous challenges to hold your interest - and the scenery is almost always breath-taking.
Here in Colorado we can select from a huge number of trails ranging in difficulty from easy to very difficult or very challenging.
You can also select from trails that will provide a certain amount of interaction with other hikers, or some which are so isolated that you may not see another hiker all day. Some trails near cities will be almost crowded on weekends, but if you get out during the week, you can be rewarded with very little or no traffic at all.
Mountain hiking in Colorado and in other states is always rewarding.
We've often pulled into parking areas full of cars then found very few fellow hikers on the trail. That's because of the fact that the trail is long and full of switch backs and elevation changes, so that lots of hikers are spread over the length of the trail.
The physical benefits of mountain hiking are nearly beyond belief.
Stress just melts away on the trail. Meanwhile, the continuous muscular challenges causes the gradual uptick in your heart rate along with increased respiration - especially when the trail offers a continuous climb.
As I write this my mind wanders away to so many wonderful trails both near and far from home here in the Denver area.
The most recent hikes are the quickest to pop into the mind, of course, but spectacular hikes from years ago also come to mind.
Mountain hiking probably requires some careful preparation if you're not really an experienced hiker - and especially if you've never been on a mountain trail.
We've been on certain hikes several times over the years.
There are several hikes which start from the Brainard Lakes area near Ward, Colorado.
One of them we've taken probably 20 or more times over the last 30+ years. This hike starts at the Mitchell Lake trailhead.
The trail begins by taking hikers into a beautiful forest and climbs very gradually to Mitchell Lake.
While in the forest, we're treated to the sounds and sights of Mitchell Creek from time to time as the trail wanders within varying distances from the creek. There's a crossing via a solid wood footbridge - from which we've taken lots of pictures.
Mitchell Lake is a photographer's paradise with many areas from which to enjoy the beauty of the lake and surrounding scenery. The lake is at nearly 11,000 feet with 13,200 foot Mt. Audubon seeming to take its position near the opposite shoreline.
Wildflowers are magnificent starting from early summer.
The first few times Joyce and I along with our two kids enjoyed this hike together. Now we've been on that trail several times with our grandchildren. This and other trails in the area are in the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area.
We've been on this trail a few times when thunderstorms develop. Having
those rain ponchos in the backpack is always a great idea.
Leaving Mitchell Lake to continue on the trail to Blue Lake provides some fairly steep climbing over a very rocky trail. This type of trail is quite common throughout the Colorado Rocky Mountains. The trail gives a great workout for ankles, knees, and hip joints, as well as for thigh and calf muscles.
The change in scenery is striking as hikers ascend above the treeline.
mountain flowers lend their splashes of color. The sky is almost
always crystal clear - or showing some pure white clouds against the
deep blue. Then there are the jagged peaks seeming to be so close that
you should be able to reach out and touch them.After the initial
steep part of the trail, things even out, and the climb becomes gradual
again. Always interesting, though, as the trail twists and turns its
way around rocks, ponds and small rushing streams. Just amazing.
Quite a contrast to some of the trails closer to the edge of the mountains - in what we call the foothills.
There's an area in the foothills just west of Arvada and Golden called White Ranch Open Space Park. This is another area we've taken advantage of frequently during the last 35 or so years.
The mountain hiking in White Ranch is much more relaxed. There are steep places, to be sure, but they're interspersed with stretches of easy walking through trees and meadows. The altitude here is around 7,500 feet.
The White Ranch was a working cattle ranch from about 1913 through 1969. The meadows where hay was grown are now a very picturesque part of the scenery - meadows rimmed with pine and spruce, along with just the right mixture of the famous white-barked aspens.
Thinking of those aspens I'm reminded of Kenosha Pass.
Just this last fall we took a short hike on a portion of the Colorado Trail which crosses the highway at Kenosha Pass. The elevation here is about ten or eleven thousand feet. The colors this year were brilliant. Even after the color fades and the leaves fall to the ground, hiking through aspen mixed with the various evergreen trees is amazing not only for the sights, but for the many different odors riding on the gentle breeze.
Those amazing odors - essences so pure that your mind can seemingly reproduce them from so many different places, so many different experiences of mountain hiking.
Now I'm reminded of another hike we took this last fall.
Eldora, Colorado is a very small mountain town with a semi-permanent population of around 140.
A paved road goes through it, along which are some very nice homes, including some rather modest homes or cabins. A small commercial district contains mostly historic structures, which seem to remind you that the area was considered by some to be a ghost town not too long ago.
Joyce and I were looking for more brilliant color - and we found it in Eldora. There were patches of brilliance quite high on the side of the valley or canyon. Then we found a trail which crossed the stream, and worked its way through big aspens, pine, and spruce - then climbed steadily up the side of the mountain.
The trail had once been a road - a narrow road, long since closed to vehicle travel.
This turned out to be a real find - one of our most memorable mountain hiking experiences.
As we walked along the portion of the trail near the road, we were treated to the sights and sounds of a mountain stream with Aspen and evergreen trees near the edge of the small river.
As the trail begins its gentle climb, it's very noticeable that the forest here displays trees of wide ranges of ages. There are lots of older, very tall spruce, pine, and firs along with some amazingly tall and stately aspens. The odors of this old, vibrant forest are wonderful.
At several places along the trail, it was necessary to climb over or under fallen trees.
If hikers are in a hurry, they might not enjoy this feature. But it's possible to get great exercise with mountain hiking without great speed. And the close contact with the trees seems very beneficial.
The incredible stillness, the amazing scents, and the subtle sounds - including the birds and forest animals -- all combine to provide you with a feeling of peaceful well-being.
This hike took us up the side of a very tall mountain.
We were hiking near the end of the day, and the daylight was beginning to fade. The trail had taken us around the mountain so we were on the northeastern side. As we came back down the trail and back around to a more southerly exposure, the light changed again.
With the changing light, the colors changed dramatically.
Mountain hiking has one really great feature. When you walk up a trail, your turn around means you get to head downhill. It's easy-going and very relaxing all the way down. And, the view from a new perspective turns the hike into a brand new one.
This was especially true coming down from Blue Lake several years ago when the weather changed drastically as we reached the top. A thunderstorm with heavy rain had us nearly running down the mountain. Luckily, the rain paunchos were in the backpack.
There's something very special about coming down the mountain during the rain. The rain brings more wonderful scents to the nostrils. The damp, then wet vegetation, including the various trees just smell and appear marvelously fresh and inviting. Even the rocks and soil give off a fragrance completely different from the same areas when dry.
Mountain hiking offers some of the very best exercise available on the planet in surroundings that simply can't be equaled anywhere else.
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