A Winter Hike Delight

text and photography by Ryan Stikeleather

Why Is It So Dang Hot?

The first day of winter—in the northern hemisphere at least—falls on December 21 or 22, and for me it’s a day of celebration. I love the cold and snow and the everything that the season brings. Colorado can get snow (in the mountains) as early as September. More often than not, in late October…unless you’re the fall/winter of 2016. This year, it’s been super warm—and downright hot at times. Kind of a bummer when you want it to snow.

My beautiful (and wise) wife suggested that instead of whining about not getting snow, I should go on a hike. Man, why didn't I think of that.

Just The Facts

  • Trail: Blackmer Loop Trail (route)
  • Difficulty: Easy-Moderate
  • Elevation Gain: 663 ft (profile)
  • Distance: 4.77 mi. (loop)
  • Trail Use: Hiking, Mountain Biking, Trail Running
  • Trail Condition: Maintained, and clearly marked
  • Bring Your Dog: No (sorry, no pups in the state park)
  • Access: All Year Round
  • Trail Map:Cheyenne Mountain State Park Trails
  • Entrance fee $7 for day pass, or $70 for annual State Parks Pass

Resolution Time

Most people have at least some opinion to a “New Year’s Resolution”. They either think it’s a great way to start the new year or they think it’s meaningless. I often give myself a goal for the new year, and call it a resolution. Even if it isn’t a full-on, strict, “make-or-break” resolution. Well, I’ve decided to start my new year goal before the new year…can you do that?

I do have the goal to lose weight and get into better hiking shape. I wish I could say that I’m exactly where I need to be, but I was very bad over the holidays and now I’m paying for it. But, my fun goal is to hike one hundred miles in 2017! I haven’t calculated my total from last year, but it’ll be around fifty miles…give or take a few.

A Single Step

Ok…I added it up…53 miles! That’s pretty awesome, if you ask me. So, can I double it? Only time will tell, but I’m out of the gate strong. Since this hike is “technically” happening on December 28, I’m gonna fudge a bit and add it to my 2017 hiking total. I only need to log a little over 8 miles each month to meet my one hundred mile goal. Goal set, I’m starting with an old favorite…Blackmer Loop Trail.

The hike starts along the southern half of Zook Loop—which is an easy, mostly level trail. Zook is your gateway into the park and has junctions to at least five other trails.

Weight Of The World

I’ve kind of made it sound like we haven’t had any snow at all, and that isn’t true. We’ve had a few good snowfalls and that snow is still on the ground in some places. So, there is still snow on the trail! But, when the days warm up into the 50s that snow turns a trail into a boot-sticking, muddy, mess. This adds a lot of weight to my feet, but keep hiking and it will fall off…well, at least some of it.

The Sounds Of Silence

Once I reach Blackmer, I immediately realize why this is such a popular trail. The dense douglas fir and ponderosa pine open to fields of now dormant grass—striped with paths created by the local deer. One of the most enjoyable parts of the trail are the hundreds of boulders peppered along the trail. Some of these boulders are huge—often covered in bright green lichen.

But, today, the best part is the quiet. After an hour of hiking, and not a single hiker has passed me. Well, there is the squishy mud sounds from my boots, but no other “people” sounds. Stopping for photographs allows me to hear the sounds that make a trek in the woods worth while. Small field mice and rabbits scurrying about. Wee tiny pygmy nuthatches hopping to-and-fro, looking for a quick bite to eat. White-tailed deer (almost invisible in the gamble oak and dry grass) hunt and nibble on what they can find. Up above, the beat of wings from a red-tailed hawk…nature at it’s finest.

Long Shadows

Even though the afternoon temperatures have been warm, the trail spends a lot of time in shadows. A steady breeze cools me off and makes me glad to have my gloves and knit beanie. The low winter sun filters through the branches and casts dappled patterns on rock and trail.

Heading North-west, most of the elevation gain happens within the first mile-and-a-half. After that, the trail bends to South and follows an almost level path. Along this part of the trail I find some of the best views east, overlooking Fort Carson and the distant horizon. A fun feature to look for is a pine tree growing right out of a grand old boulder. Bit-by-bit, deep cracks and gaps expand in the boulder, as the dogged roots push it apart. I’m not sure how long it’s been growing there, but it’s one determined tree.

Until We Meet Again

Once again, the path changes course to the East and runs toward the Zook Loop junction. I always enjoy seeing deer tracks in the snow and mud. The prints are subtle reminder that I’m sharing this environment with more than mountain bikes and mud-caked boots.

The fast setting sun follows me as I round the last few turns, a warm “goodbye” and an invitation to visit again. I’ve forgotten how enjoyable Blackmer Loop Trail is and want to make sure I frequent it more often. I’ve enjoyed this winter version and can’t wait to explore again with springtime colors and sounds.