Snowpack 2019 and Early Start Thru Travel

Trail Tip Tuesday – SNOWPACK and EARLY START THRU TRAVEL – June 4, 2019. Deep snow still exists along much of The Colorado Trail. But warmer weather has arrived, including mountain lows above freezing, and the snow is starting to melt. The end-to-end CT segments we consider snow passable are Segments 1, 2, 3, 5, 14 and 18. Segment 19 is also passable but there is a creek ford that may turn into a torrent, hard telling, use caution. Worth noting is Seg 4 as we’ve seen a couple of reports of pass-thru success, though it is still reported there’s around a mile that’s still “deep snow” and “post-holing” is especially common after the day warms; but it won’t be too long before Seg 4 is passable.

The 2019 Trail season snowpack is much deeper than the norm. Start dates are being pushed back.

The 2019 Trail season snowpack is much deeper than the norm. Start dates are being pushed back.

Our start date recommendation (our guess) for those SOBO thru-travelers not wanting the ‘arduous’ or ‘hazardous’ travel that’s inherent with deep snowpack is still to start from Waterton no earlier than July 15th. But there are a lot of you whose schedules, etc., have you choosing an earlier start date. We have been asked what conditions you’ll likely encounter and what equipment would help.

Here’s our guess as to conditions and we suggest you adjust if your start date varies from the following. If you start a SOBO thru around July 1, Georgia Pass might have a few miles of snowpack left. You might experience deep snow remaining in Segment 6, say, between miles 11-15, as that stretch includes the highest elevation in that segment. The higher elevations in other segments could be similar, and each have a few miles of snow travel left, likely Segments 7, 8, and maybe 9 and 10 to a lesser extent. If you follow the Collegiate East, it might be passable by the time you arrive there. The Collegiate West may well retain troublesome snowpack when you reach it as it is often the last stretch to melt. These remaining snow sections will slow you down and, if the trampled route is off-Trail and not in the cleared corridor, the snow-buried deadfall and other related hazards can injure.

Here are thoughts on equipment. Because a stretch of snowpack can make it impossible to see the Trail, you’ll need an excellent map or, better yet, a precise smartphone app like the “Guthook” CT Hiker app by Atlas Guides. It is helpful to stage your progress to pass these snow-covered areas in the early morning when the snowpack is coldest, hardest and most supportive. Knee-high waterproof gaiters would help a lot to protect leg skin from getting torn by the crystallin, abrasive snow you might be post-holing in and to help your wet feet stay a bit warmer. Micro-spikes and an ice axe or whippet (if you’re practiced and good with one) would improve safety including on the steep sections of Segs 7 and 8 plus the Collegiate West. The snowpack will be rotten by then and snowshoes likely won’t support you well. The sun can be brutal, so cover your skin and/or use protective sunscreen.

Every Trail season a number of CT travelers leave too early and encounter deep, exhausting snow. They’ve changed their trip plans and sometimes reported the details. Learning, we offer the following. If you struggle more than desired with snow in Segment 6, know that it is likely to get even deeper, more arduous and hazardous, etc., in the next segments. If you’re wanting to continue your hike, consider skipping a section, maybe Segments 7-10, resuming with Segment 11 and then follow the Collegiate East. Check in with the CT Foundation Blogs and the weekly conditions reports to adjust your plan. They’re posted at ColoradoTrail.org/blog.