October hiking in Colorado

I consider the month of October to be part of the “shoulder season” in Colorado. Cold fronts hit more frequently – every 3-4 days in the Mountains. This changes the complexion of hiking and mountaineering on the 13ers and 14ers.

I’ve experienced these rapid October weather changes over the years. Here’s a flashback to Fall 2014 and a traverse of the Maroon Bells with a coating of snow above 13,700′.

Fall 2014, Maroon Bells, Colorado. Photo Jon Kedrowski.

I remember this traverse vividly with Jon. Back in 2014 it was customary to use conditions like this as a test of mountaineering skills. Training in difficult conditions forces you to improve a wide range of skills quickly.

Maroon Bell traverse, Fall 2014. Navigating the Ledges. Photo Jon Kedrowski.

You see this “snowcone” effect often in October with new snow coating the 13ers and 14ers above a certain elevation. It can be dry and quite pleasant at lower elevations.

Meteorologically, we see significant changes above 13,000′ during the month:

  • <32 permanently by mid October above 13K
  • 15 degree drop in high temps overall
  • Most daytime temps in the 40s at 13K by mid October
  • Baseline wind speeds increase
  • Cold fronts every 3-4 days
  • Stronger gusts with cold front passage
  • Dustings of snow on 13ers/14ers

Here’s another example from October 29, 2016 with friend Ryan Kushner on one our favorites, Kelso Ridge. It had snowed an inch or two, clouds were swirling, wind was blowing to 40mph, and air temps were in the 30s.

October 2016, Kelso Ridge.

We’ve come to enjoy these conditions, strangely, over the years. Ryan seems to feel right at home. A testament to his mental fortitude.

Changing conditions like this in October force you to start taking more gear. Heavier gloves, footwear, jackets, gaiters, goggles, traction, and ice axe to name a few.

Have fun and see you on the summit!

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