Colorado

Without a doubt, Colorado’s most distinguishing feature has to be its mountains, the infamous "Rockies". With dozens of peaks topping higher than 14,000 feet, Colorado has the highest average elevation of all the states in North America. During your visit, you will encounter a wide variety of trails, abandoned mines, breathtaking scenery, and lots of history. However, unless you are prepared, the effects of the high elevation could totally ruin your vacation.

Hypoxia (sometimes called mountain sickness or altitude sickness) is simply a lack of oxygen. As you know, the higher the altitude, the "thinner" the air (i.e., there’s less oxygen for you to breath). Hypoxia normally doesn’t affect most people until altitudes greater than 8,000 feet (except for smokers, who typically have a physiologic altitude of 3,000 – 8,000 feet while at sea level). Most of the trails in Colorado are well above that 8,000-foot threshold. Therefore, you need to learn how to recognize the symptoms of hypoxia and how to properly manage them.

Symptoms: Hypoxia symptoms vary from person to person, depending on several factors such as actual altitude, rate of ascent, duration at altitude, air temperature, level of exertion, physical fitness, diet & hydration, and acclimatization. Typical symptoms might include fatigue, dizziness, headache, drowsiness, breathlessness, light-headedness, and/or euphoria. But the most serious affect of hypoxia is that your mental processes will become impaired, which will make it improbable for you to comprehend your own disability. Your thinking will be slowed, calculations unreliable, memory faulty, judgment poor, and reaction time delayed. Much like driving while intoxicated--not what you want to be doing in your Jeep on a rocky shelf road with a one-mile roll down to the bottom of a mountain!

Treatment: Don’t expect to become acclimatized while vacationing in Colorado, unless you plan to be there for an extended period. In general, the body becomes approximately 80 percent acclimatized after 10 days at altitude. Therefore, your best bet is to learn to effectively manage your situation so as to minimize the effects of hypoxia. Here’s how:

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Limit your amount of activity during your first few days at altitude
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Save that 10-mile hike for towards the end of the week!

bulletDrink copious amounts of fluids
bulletWater, Gatorade, sports drinks, etc.
bulletLimit your alcohol intake
bulletGet lots of rest
bulletRemember, you’re on vacation—take your time!
bulletBe prepared for cold, wet weather at high altitudes—even in the middle of summer
bulletThe weather in Colorado is very unpredictable—don’t get caught unprepared
bulletBring appropriate clothing; hypoxia symptoms worsen the colder it gets
bulletIf all else fails, DESCEND
bulletThis is the only true "cure" for hypoxia
bulletSpend a day at the campground or motel pool relaxing with a good book
bulletAny finally, enjoy your time in Colorado!

And then there are the ghost towns and abandoned mines, which pose a more immediate danger.  Many of these areas are very unstable, and the buildings are in various states of decay.  Several of the mountains literally have miles of underground tunnels and shafts.  Many of these tunnels have "cave-holes", which can cause the surface ground to collapse.  The danger in these areas is constant.

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Trail Difficulty Rating

State

General Location
Black Bear Pass Moderate (2) CO 9.5 miles NW of Silverton
California Gulch Easy (1) CO 9 miles NNE of Silverton
Chinamen's Gulch Moderate (2) CO 4 miles SSE of Buena Vista
Corkscrew/California/Placer/Picayne/Animas Forks Easy (1) CO 10 miles NNE of Silverton
Hancock Pass/Alpine Tunnel Easy (1) CO 18 miles SW of Buena Vista
Imogene Pass Easy (1) CO 5 miles SW of Ouray
Iron Chest Mine Hard (3) CO 15 miles SW of Buena Vista
Kendall Mountain Easy (1) CO 1 mile SE of Silverton
Ophir Pass Easy (1) CO 8 miles WNW of Silverton
Poughkeepsie Gulch Moderate (2) CO 2.5 miles SE of Ouray
Mount Antero Easy (1) CO 12 miles SW of Buena Vista
Pomeroy Lakes & Mary Murphy Mine Easy (1) CO 17 miles SW of Buena Vista

Notice: Off-highway travel is by its very nature potentially dangerous and could result in property damage, injury, or even death.  If you drive any of the trails on this web site, you acknowledge these risks and assume full responsibility.  You are the final judge as to whether a trail is safe to drive, whether your vehicle is capable of the journey, and whether your skills are up to the challenge.  The publisher of this web site disclaims any and all liability for property damage, bodily injury, or death that could occur to you or any of your passengers.  On a different note, please be good stewards of our sport--always stay on designated trails . . . and always, always remember to Tread Lightly!