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Hiking Novice No More: How I Got Started Exploring Northern Colorado Trails

Take Me to Church

I call it my church. Being in the presence of the wonders of nature can be a spiritual experience. It is refreshing, peaceful, rejuvenating, centering, awe-inspiring, but can also be intimidating and, in the wrong place at the wrong time, dangerous. I knew that I wanted to add hiking to my pasttimes as soon as we saw the mountains in our horizon during our cross-country move. But after getting settled, it was easy to stay that way, comfortable in my new home with a view.Horsetooth Mountain Fort Collins

To be fully transparent, I have a muse for this article and most likely any adventures I might write about in the future. My nature is to be a homebody. I love just hanging at home with my little family.

I’m also terrible with directions. I could get lost in an empty shoebox, as they say, and if ever we meet in an elevator, I’ll be the one standing in the middle waiting for someone else to press a number. Yep, you guessed it; I’m a lot of fun to travel with, but not in a “I’ll get you there, on time and safe” kind of way.

I’m the companion that soaks it all in, is so glad that she came and tried something new and is grateful for a trusted friend to push the button, to make a date, to encourage my will.

So, without further introduction, here are my top NOCO hiking tips that came from my own experience of getting started (with great guidance from my muse) and how I hiked and climbed Horsetooth Mountain without dying.

Tips to Get Started

Before hiking safely, there is definitely some research and planning that needs to happen before you hit the trails. If you are like me, you have a trusted friend that does a brunt of this leg work and has mapped out the trail, checked the parking status and has been following the weather for days before the date. I know that I’m perfectly capable to do all of these things, but I wouldn’t call them my strength.

So, if you see something that is screaming at you as missing, please let us know in the comments. Collective knowledge is power. Here are the top tips from my first experiences hiking that I think helped to make it memorable and safe.

Week of:

  • Check the weather forecast and pick a date and time that you want to shoot for
  • Take inventory of your supplies, ie, shoes, socks, active wear that you can layer, skin protection
  • Shop for any needed supplies, such as ice cleats if the forecast calls for snow and freezing temperatures

Night before/day of:

  • Plan/prepare high-protein snacks that travel well
  • Stretch! You may feel silly and like this is a sign of getting older, but you’ll thank me later when your chasing after your kiddos the next day
  • Pack a small bag or backpack that is easy and comfortable to carry
  • Confirm the trail is open. Trails can be closed due to weather or wildlife activity
  • Confirm daily entrance permit price or if the trail is free
  • If you are me, you most definitely confirm if there are bathrooms
  • Check parking status or plan to arrive before or after peak hours — you can check the website’s webcam of the Horsetooth Mountain Open Space Lot before you go to double check that there are parking spaces available. Best times to ensure you find a parking spot are before 10 a.m. or after 4 p.m.
  • Make sure your phone is fully charged — set your phone on airplane mode so you’re not disturbed, but it’s a pretty handy tool to have if GPS is needed

What to pack:

  • Water — I like to make sure I have at least 24 oz
  • High protein snack — my favorites are a hardboiled egg, nuts, crunchy veggies, peanut butter and banana
  • Hat
  • Sunglasses
  • Lip balm — one that creates a mechanical shield or is SPF
  • Sunscreen
  • Portable phone charger
  • Ice cleats, if needed
  • Phone/camera

Horsetooth Mountain

Disclaimer: I would not recommend this trail as a first hike. It was strenuous and definitely had some tricky footing and handholds. I share my first experience with it because it was truly memorable. I felt like a stronger, better, braver women after summiting Horsetooth. It made me want to hike more.

My friend and I carpooled to the trail head parking before 10 a.m. I made sure to announce that I was hitting up the bathrooms before starting. My priorities have seniority over modesty as I age. Even though there had been freezing temperatures leading up to this Sunday morning, with the Colorado sun we were already shedding a few layers to be left in the car before we started our hike. Always easier to take off than to put on what you didn’t bring.

Nikola ReinfeldsThe trail was scenic and invigorating and my company was constant and healing. The talks you have with a friend while hiking, for me, are healing from whatever disjointedness you may be experiencing in life. Somehow having to take time between steps and sentences to catch your breath makes you break in a way that empowers you to listen. And not just hear what your friend may be saying, but what your heart is saying too.

When I made it to the top of Horsetooth, I had to take the celebratory selfie. But this picture doesn’t show my precarious position. You can see a few ice patches behind me. That’s my footing on top of a mountain. I was concerned for an accidently slip to say the least. But once again my friend was my hero and let me borrow one of her ice cleats to slip over the shoe on my dominant foot. It was enough traction and grip for each of us to safely summit. But then we had to get down.

By the time we had sat at the top of a bit, ate a quick snack and hydrated, it was getting close to noon and the trail’s attendance had picked up. Now there were young lads submitting the top with us with their hoodies and kicks. I started to get discouraged as I feared falling while I watched, what felt like, youths bounding up and down the mountain.

It was our descent that was the most memorable for me. My friend and I decided that it was not that we weren’t capable of such carefree hiking on a challenging trail, it was that we were moms. We had little lives depending on us to come home and therefore we were more cautious with our steps. I shamelessly butt-slid down part of the mountain and when I reached the bottom.

I didn’t care how I did it, I just felt the wonderful accomplishment of doing it. I turned around, took a picture of what I had just conquered and smiled all the way down the rest of the trail.

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