Winter recedes upward in elevation as temperatures in the valleys and lower parts of the mountains begin to warm from late March, through April, and into May. Trails emerge from hibernation beneath their blankets of ice and snow and become muddy and wet. Mud season! Depending on the winter snowpack (snowfall measured through April 15th) and variable spring weather, mud season can last a few weeks to over two months. No matter, put on shoes that like mud and hit the trail.
What seasonal treasures are left behind during and after the melt down? Why some of mother nature's finest sculptures in the form of ice waterfalls! One such treasure can be found up the Willow Creek access to Kit Carson Peak. The trailhead begins near Crestone. Find directions there, bring necessary gear and enjoy the day. The hike is 3.8 miles and 2800 vertical feet one way to the waterfall which is a fairly steep climb. Slow and steady hiking will be rewarded. The frozen waterfall lies against the 100 plus foot rock wall where Willow Creek tumbles off a cliff. Imagine how unique it would be to have time lapse photography of the column of ice forming over the course of the winter!
Early season guarantees – from mid April through May the trail might be passable with some *post holing in places. By early June, the trail should be clear and the waterfall should still be frozen in its full length but if not, there is always next year! And no crowds early season - ever!
*Post holing – a term used for hiking on snow packed trails that hold a person upright for a few steps and then... whumpf! Buried up to your knee or higher in a deep snow hole. This may be repeated numerous times over a portion of the trail. This rarely causes injury but swearing has been known to occur.
Pleasures – Early season hiking high in the Sangre de Cristos is a bonus. Being in the moisture shadow of the San Juans to the west leaves this mountain range with lower snowfall throughout the winter. Therefore, trails at altitude are more accessible early. Seeing mother nature changing seasons is an experience through observation skills such as watching aspen leaves bud out, streams filling with snowmelt water, animals making their presence known, plants pushing upward through snow clumps, and feelings of cool mountain air kissing the skin. Oh, and the warmth of a Colorado sun.
Perils – Roughly 2800 vertical feet in 3.8 miles can be strenous for early season hiking. Weather is variable this time of year. Know the forecast. Sunny and warm at eight a.m. can be snowy and cold at noon. How do we know this? Early season thunderstorms are possibilities. Take usual gear and precautions for being close to or over 12,000 feet of elevation.