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Planning your Colorado Backcountry Trip

- Rick Schroeder

If you are like me and as fall sets in and the white stuff covers the mountains. You start thinking about next summer and what new mountain lakes you are going to hit. I put a lot of time into my planning of trips and try to think of every detail. Nothing is worse then being ten miles in seeing the most pristine mountain lake, seeing fish boiling on the surface. Only to be pulling your fly rod out and as you are tying your fly on to catch these hungry mountain trout you smack the mosquito that has landed on the back of your hand. When you reach into your pack to pull out the bug spray its not there, only to realize you meant to grab it out of the car but forgot in your excitement to get the trip underway.
The greatest tool I have for planning my trips and getting ready are checklists. I have them for the planning of the trip to the packing for my trip. Over the years I have refined and personalized my lists to best help me. I have posted on of my packing lists for users to use. You�ll find after a couple trips your checklist will vary from mine as you add and drop things from the list and your planning will become easier.
Where to go?
This is the first thing I decide as everything from how I pack and when I can go depend on this choice. When making a choice on where to go you will have to consider some factors.
What is my budget? � Some trips will cost more then others depending on the style of the trip, length of the trip, type of trip. Also factor in food and gas.
How much time do I have? � Make sure you plan enough time so you can enjoy yourself, a two day trip with a ten mile hike in and 10 mile hike out over moderate to rough terrain is doable. But will it be enjoyable? Only you can decide.
Who is going with me? When hiking into the back country not only is it safer to bring a companion it usually makes the trip more enjoyable sharing the experience with someone else.
Transportation? - Not only to the trail head but to your destination. Are you going to hike in, pack in with mules or llamas, ride in on horseback, mountain bike, or take the 4wheeler or Jeep all the way to your destination?
Do I need any specialized equipment or services? - Are you going to need snow shoes, a bear canister, or a guide services.
If you have never been to the area you are planning on going research is your friend. The number one place to find information on your trip would be the internet, sites like Colorado Mountain Fishing not only provide information on many lake trips out there but also include online forums where you can ask other users advice and information about the area. Other great sources of information are guide books, local guides, and outfitters.
What to bring?
This is probably the toughest or easiest question you can ask yourself. After a couple trips you will fine tune your packing lists so that this question will become easier and easier. You have to realize equipment adds up so you have to be honest with yourself. If you are a healthy male in good shape and can acclimate to the elevation you should be able to carry between 45 to 65 lbs, or a healthy female in good shape 30 to 55lbs. Do not try to over do it; it�s better to start with a shorter trip with less weight and work your way up to those longer trips with bigger packs.
This is definitely a group decision subject. Get with everyone on the trip and find out what you normally eat when camping and try to make a list based off that. If you are using horses/llamas, flying in, or floating in weight is less of an issue so your choices change as you can use coolers. If headed into bear country and using the previously mentioned transportation methods, I recommend using metal panniers to store your food. If hiking in a bear canister or a bear bag to keep your food out of bear�s grasp. If you are hiking it is also important to keep your weight down, take light weight higher energy foods. I am working on a recipe and camping food section but until I get it done some good food items to take are freeze dried meals, dried pastas, crackers and peanut butter, jerky, and lots of water.
I strongly feel if you are hiking into the back country you need to be able to use a compass and read a map. This should be a skill everyone in your party should have, if they don�t take the time to teach them. I always have a GPS with me as well but they can fail, batteries die, or break so don�t rely on them. It is also a good idea to make sure everyone knows how to use the GPS. You never know who may get hurt and who may need to go get help.
Camping Gear
Camping gear is generally personalized to each person but here is some general information that may help you choose certain items.
Tents there are a couple things I try not to skimp on and the tent is one of them. Not only is it your home away from home but it�s your protection from the elements. In Colorado you are always at the mercy of the elements. High winds can destroy a tent so make sure you get a tent with a good wind rating. Size, I use tents from small single bag bivy to 3 man tents in the backcountry. When weather sets in and it�s raining the more room you have in your tent the more comfortable you will be. If not by yourself split the tent up poles on one pack and tent on another helps split up the weight of the tent.
Sleeping bags are another tough choice. Down sleeping bags are light weight and compact but if they get wet they become very heavy, dry slowly and become useless. There are ever increasing synthetic bags which dry fast and are becoming lighter and lighter, they cost a little more but are well worth it. Compare the weight to size ratio and the cold weather rating, as a general rule the smaller and lighter the better. A highly debated topic is the cold weather rating but in most cases a twenty degree bag is warm enough for most of the summer in Colorado, if going in other seasons you may want to get a warmer bag or a ground pad with a higher rating.
Water is another very important item, it is also very heavy so you will more then likely not hike in enough water for your whole trip unless using mules. So it is important to have a purification plan. I try to have a 3 point plan by carrying a water filter pump, iodine tablets, or something to boil water in. They now have water bottles with filters built into them or a MIOX pen as alternative options. Make sure you have at least one or two options, sometimes you do not have time to boil water and iodine tablets are fast and easy to use but don�t leave the greatest taste. It is also a good idea to purify your dishwater.
This is definitely one of the most important things to spend your time and money on. Colorado is notorious for drastic weather changes you may start your hike out in the morning with thermal underwear, pants and shirt, and a fleece jacket then by afternoon be down to a t-shirt and shorts or vice versa. One of the best things you can do is dress in layers as you can shed a layer or add one to keep yourself comfortable. A wicking base layer is very important and synthetic materials that dry quickly to keep the moisture away from your skin. Even if it is not raining you maybe sweating and that moisture may stay in your clothing and as the temperatures drop at night will make you cooler and easier to become hypothermic. You want to stay away from Cotton as it holds moisture and takes longer to dry.
Fishing Gear
I field strip my fishing gear based on the trip I am taking, if I am floating or flying in I will bring a lot more gear then if I�m hiking five plus miles. The majority of fish in the Colorado high country are trout so you can use lighter weight gear. I usually take a 4 or 5 wt, four-piece fly rod and a short ultra light or light weight spinning rod. If I am small stream fishing I will grab a 6-7ft 2 or 3 wt fly rod. The rod you choose maybe completely different then my choice as it varies on personal preference.
I have a lot of confidence in a couple lures so the tackle I bring for my spinning gear is pretty simple.
Panther Martins - yellow and orange or black and orange.
Blue Fox Spinners � rainbow trout pattern.
Kastmasters � gold or trout pattern.
Thomas Buoyant � gold or gold and orange.
The higher in elevation you go the smaller the flies I use get. Like my spinning gear I have stripped a lot of my flies down to one fly box which I put the flies I have confidence in. They include griffen gnats, mosquitoes, black ants, hopper patterns, copper johns, and wooly buggers. I adjust the flies by season and if I find a hot fly for the area I am headed.
High Elevation
When traveling in the high country in Colorado elevation often can play a factor in your trip. A lot of Colorado is higher then the rest of the country and with many peaks over 14,000ft elevation even native Coloradans may need to acclimate to the altitude. If possible you should spend at least a day getting use to the elevation and stay well hydrated and not drink alcohol. A lot of the US has a much higher humidity then Colorado so it is necessary to drink much more water than you would normally. Altitude sickness is another problem to be aware of, it you get to camp and have a headache that wont go away and feeling nausea go back down to a lower elevation until you feel better. If you have high blood pressure, asthma, or a heart condition check with your doctor before you do a trip into the backcountry and bring along any medication you need.
The number one and easiest safety precaution you can have is a buddy, taking a friend along not only makes the adventure more memorable but can save a life. If one of you becomes immobile the other can stabilize the victim and get help. But if you were by yourself you may not be able to treat yourself and get help in time.
Do not take unnecessary risks, I watch Man vs. Wild show on discovery all the time and am always asking myself why he would risk doing that. Taking chances that you don�t need to and accidentally slipping or falling and hurting yourself can put a damper on your trip if not cause your death. Know your limits, be safe, and have fun.
Have a good first aid kit and know how to use it. I have a store bought kit but I have removed some things and added others. Some things I�ve added are new skin, moleskin, ace bandage wrap, and a sling. Practicing first aid may look silly but having the knowledge that everyone in your party can possibly save your life is a very reassuring thing.
Watch the weather, some people bring weather radios with them when hiking and camping. I don�t but it�s a good idea. It is not uncommon for a snow or rainstorm to hit you in the early morning in the mountains in Colorado. Colorado also has one of the highest death tolls do to lightening strikes. If you are above tree line and see lightening rolling in or hear thunder head down below tree line just to be safe. Lightening takes the path of least resistance and doesn�t stop when it hits the ground so even hiding in a cave/mine or in a low spot will not guarantee you do not get struck. Your safest bet is to get below tree line. Be prepared for the worst weather and be thankful if you have the extra gear and great weather because the one time you don�t prepare it will definitely be the worst weather you�ve ever been in.

Be safe, have fun, and tight lines!