Foothills and Frost: Winter camping and hiking

I love to be outside.

And in all seasons.

In winter, there are three ways I enjoy the backcountry:

  • Hut trips are luxurious and social. “A dinner party with a ski trip attached” as I’ve noted many times before. But they require more planning, more logistics and they are rarely, if ever, are a small group outing since the huts are shared with other people.  I love these trips. But they are not always the types of trips I want for my backcountry jaunts.

  • Winter backpacks are almost a meditative retreat even with another person as it is winter experienced at it most heightened. And if I go solo? Most definitely.  The gear, clothing, and techniques have to be dialed-in efficiently. The air is cold, chilling and embracing. I have to go as minimally as possible to be comfortable while schlepping my pack, but not so minimal that I am uncomfortable at night.  Balance is needed.  The scenery seems a touch more memorable because I am in the cold for a
    weekend or, on the rare occasion, more nights. I love the winter backpacks for how it sharpens my outdoor skill set. And develops a deep appreciation for being out in all the seasons.


  • But there is a middle ground I frankly love in the winter: Winter car camping. Nowhere as luxurious as the huts, but not as spartan as a backpacking trip. The gear, clothing, and techniques still need to be dialed-in a fair amount. But with bulky and very warm clothing I would never take backpacking, some hearty meals and maybe even the luxury of a campfire in the cold and long winter night, winter car camping is a way to find a balance. This type of outdoor excursion allows me to mix and match what I love about hut trips (the good food, not having to be in my bag as soon as it is dark) with some of the minimalist aspects and the easier logistics of backpacking.   And since most people don’t enjoy camping in the single digit temps, or lower, even popular recreation areas can be enjoyed without the crowds of the other three seasons.

I just love to be outside. Be it a hut trip, backpacking or camping, winter is enjoyed as well.


All of this is a long pre-amble to a trip I did this past weekend. I caught up with someone I have not seen in a while. Devin and I used to work together and stayed in contact. We share similar political views, shared tales of our past thru-hikes (he did the Arizona Trail ~1990! ), and both enjoy the simple aspects of the outdoors. It also turns out we have many, many, many friends in common as we both belonged to the same outdoor group, if at different times. Small world!

A good way to catch up would be a quick winter camping trip. Easy logistics. Not far away in the Boulder foothills and spot that turned out to have great views of the mountains in winter.

A place was found near the historic Switzerland Trail. An old rail grade popular with mountain bikers, 4WD enthusiasts but  naturally not quite as popular in winter. We hiked it for a bit.

A good hike to walk, talk and shoot the shit.

After the hike, we found a camp spot nearby. Some traffic came by with people playing with their snow toys. And some teens came by for a brief moment, but they saw us take what we assume was their beer bash somewhere else. But then the night was quiet.  The light pollution of Boulder did not diminish the night sky to the west.

We talked until 8 PM but the sleep deficit we both had soon made us call it a night.

I enjoyed a very restful and warm night’s sleep.

Sunday morning, a scramble was made with Hatch green chile and enjoyed with some cowboy coffee.

We then hiked a local foothill after all the gear was packed. A great hike with a fantastic view-to-effort ratio.

From the summit, we could see the divide. And notice the weather moving in rapidly.

Time to meander down and head back to the flatlands.

But not before saying goodbye to some residents of the summit…

We made our way to Boulder, enjoyed a lunch and made plans for future jaunts.

A quick camping trip in the winter was fantastic. A way to be outside and enjoy the familiar with a different twist. I am relaxed, had a great weekend, and the mental clock is reset for the upcoming work week.

A successful trip by any standard.

All the photos

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7 years ago

As a Texan, I always think about getting set up for winter camping, but then I remember it’s not really a thing here. If I was ever to venture out into a cold state, do you think my Army ECWCS gen III would suffice?