I honestly am shocked that I have been able to harp on hiking for so long! Where is winter? But I will stop that sort of talk for fear of a jinx.
I also have been harping, a bit, on hiking in the burned area of the Poudre. This is because I am still in awe of how quickly the forest regenerates. Nature rocks my socks off!
This week, you all should take a hike up Mt. McConnel. This is a great foothill hike in the Poudre Canyon, smack dab in the middle of the old stomping grounds of the High Park Fire. But, as I have said before, don’t expect to show up to a trail that looks like Mordor.
The trail trail itself is a loop, however, you can stick to one side of the loop if you wish. It starts off with a series of gentle switchbacks that climb up the side of the Poudre Canyon. After a few turns and after your legs are all warmed up, you will be able to see over the treetops and down canyon dodging between mountainsides.
Through this part of the trail, the grasses are tall and the forest is dense. You will pass through burned and unburned patches. The scorched trees gems. The pattern of their bark is still intact, grains weaving in and out of each other. But it is singed as black as onyx. When the sun passes over them, they glint. This is surreal!
Once the switchback ends, the trail curves around the east side of the mountain. Here, the trees clear away. Be prepared for the sun and wind. Always check the weather before you go. But the wide open view of the foothills is worth the dollop of sunscreen.
From there you’ll duck into the woods for a bit longer; this part is very level. Then the trail ends at a small rock formation. Scramble on up and you are at the summit. From the top, you will get a great view of the burn area, and the deep stretches of green strewn about the ashy grey. The Never Summer’s glow over it all as the sunlight bounces off the snow, reminding us that it is almost time to wax up that board or those skis, and break out those snowshoes.
To get here, take College Avenue North. It will curve west and turn into 287 North. Continue until you see the turnoff on the right for 287 North and Highway 14 west. Take it. Continue up a ways until you see a giant flag pole and a little pull off labeled “Ted’s Place.” Here, turn left onto Highway 14 West and continue up the canyon. You will pass the Grey Rock trailhead. A ways further, turn left into the Mt. McConnel Campground. If it is closed, you can park on the side of 14 and hike in. No worries about a fee; it’s free!