By Mikaela Ruland
Late summer is one of the most beautiful times of the year in Colorado. The last of the winter’s snow melts from the high alpine tundras, the wildflowers are holding on at higher elevations, the daily thunderstorms start to subside and beautiful Indian Summer takes over.
It’s the perfect time to hit the trails at Copper Mountain - if you’re prepared.
Did you know the base of Copper Mountain sits at 9,700 feet above sea level? If you’re not from Colorado, just walking up the stairs to your hotel room might leave you panting. Even if you’re physically fit, hiking at high elevations can be a challenge. Because the air is thinner at high elevations, and there’s less oxygen, you may experience altitude related symptoms. These include headaches, fatigue, nausea, shortness of breath, a racing heart and trouble sleeping. If your symptoms are severe, be sure to consult a doctor.
Many times, the only cure for mild altitude related symptoms is to wait it out and let your body acclimatize, but there are a few things you can do before and during your hike to help set yourself up for success.
Start by getting yourself acclimatized. If you’re sensitive to altitude, or feeling any symptoms at the base of the mountain, it’s not the best idea to jump right on the chairlift and go for a hike. Take a stroll around the village, get a good night’s rest and hike a day or two after you arrive at Copper to ensure your body is adjusted. The top of Copper’s chairlifts are above 12,000 feet, so you’ll be experiencing even more elevation gain while hiking.
Drink LOTS of water. Hydration is key to preventing altitude sickness. Carry at least a liter of water for short hikes and remind yourself to drink often. Sports drinks with electrolytes, such as Gatorade can be helpful for staying hydrated. Avoid drinking alcohol in excess, as alcohol is dehydrating and you’ll feel the effects quicker at higher elevations.
Lastly, make sure to wear sunscreen. Being at higher elevations exposes you to more UV radiation, increasing your chances of getting sunburnt.
Now that you’re prepared for hiking at altitude, it’s time to hit the trails.
If you would rather not hike uphill, take the Union Creek Quad to it’s top and hike down A-Road. Be mindful of mountain bikers on this route as you descend the mountain. You’ll have perfect views of the surrounding peaks and might even be able to spot the SKY chutes across the way, natural chutes in the cliffside that spell out the word SKY. Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife such as snowshoe hares (which turn brown in the summer to blend in), red foxes, elk, deer and a variety of birds.
If you want a moderate hike that involves both up and downhill, jump in your car and take Highway 9 towards Leadville. Ten minutes up the highway, you’ll see the parking lot for Mayflower Gulch on your left. This hike is just under five miles roundtrip with a moderate elevation gain of just over 1,400 feet. You’ll hike through a coniferous forest, passing various mining ruins, before coming out into a beautiful amphitheatre surrounded by 12,000 and 13,000 foot peaks. There, you’ll find the ruins of the Boston Mine Camp to explore. The views are stunning and well worth the hike.
End the day with a beer and an order of Tavern Nachos at JJ’s in the East Village. The combination of queso, pulled pork, green chiles, sour cream, black beans and guacamole can’t be beat.