Last January I took a little walk in the woods with my friend Tonya. Casually she mentioned an idea she found online called the 52-Hike Challenge: one hike per week for an entire year. “With all the trails around here,” she said, “the Springs is the perfect city for it.” I shrugged and agreed to join her. I mean, how hard could it be?
Ninety minutes later I was tiptoeing across a solid slab of ice in gym shoes.
She was right about one thing: It was stunning. Our first hike followed the Section 16 trail up through trees by frozen waterfalls under a clear, blue sky. My phone did its feeble best to capture this expansive beauty that was 10 miles from my doorstep.
I was smitten. I was also deprived of oxygen and after about a mile straight up, I anticipated the car around every corner. Tonya reassured me it was just ahead … in another 4.5 miles. The next time I asked her how far we had gone, she refused to tell me for fear I would burst into tears.
I learned quickly that hiking is humbling—humbling at the feet of nature’s grandeur, humbling when you’re sliding down a hill on your backside. I traded my tennies for proper trail shoes, and still Tonya pranced up paths like a mountain goat while I crept along like my shoelaces were tied together. Last March we were sliding on the icy Buckhorn Trail for hike 10 when a group of distinguished hikers and their crampons disappeared around the corner with a friendly look of pity. It was not the last time a group of seniors would pass us.
One trek at a time, one step at a time, we kept on moving, because that’s what hikers do. We followed trails that were better suited for bobsleds. We trekked through mud that could pull your shoes off. We wandered loopy paths that I’m pretty sure were mapped out by drunken toddlers. On our third hike we found something that not even Tonya could get past: a frozen waterfall that engulfed the trail on Mount Muscoco. We had to turn around. But the year was young, and in May we returned with friends. Tonya flagrantly ignored everyone’s questions—“Are we still going up? OMG, why?”—and led us to a remarkable summit we will never forget.
Sometimes it was just the two of us. Sometimes friends joined to make it a party. Together we solved world problems, vented about current affairs, and told tawdry tales that made the miles go faster. This was life: slogging through mud, sharing some laughs, witnessing another’s climb, cheering each other on.
One of our favorite hikes is at Garden of the Gods, close enough to our neighborhood that bedhead isn’t just expected, it’s required. On hike 16 Tonya heard the distinct howl of a wolf, which I frankly found disconcerting. (Turns out, hikers can sign up to walk a trail with a couple of local wolves.) Tonya hustled through the trees toward them, while I, tired and maybe a little whiny, brought up the rear. We did it though. We saw the wolves up close! And it was awesome.
The promise of these new adventures kept us going: a gentle walk through the Paint Mines, a relentless climb on the Incline, a trek at the Chutes before it was closed to hikers. Nothing smells better than pine needles in the woods. Nothing tastes better than spaghetti after a day with a pack on your back. Nothing looks more beautiful than a view you have to earn.
It wouldn’t be a hike if we didn’t get lost. Hike 41 we climbed to the top of a mountain where we looked out across a ravine—and saw the mountain we thought we were climbing. I frankly can’t count the number of U-turns we made throughout the year. When you’re breathing clear air under the wide sky with friends—and sometimes snacks—U-turns are not failures.
Truth be told, we didn’t stay on schedule the entire year. We took hike 31 on week 40. Then we kicked it into high gear, venturing out seven times in November. On Dec. 27 we logged our 52nd hike in 52 weeks. Over the course of one year, I confirmed what I discovered on every single hike: It was physical; it got dirty; it was worth it.
3 Favorite Trails
After a year of following 30 different local trails, here are a few standouts.
Siamese Twins Trail at Garden of the Gods boasts an extraordinary view of Pikes Peak framed by singular rock formations. You can’t see the Twins from a car, but the walk isn’t prohibitive.
Hiking Pikes Peak is easier if you follow Barr Trail from the top down. Reserve a night at Barr Camp to split the 12-mile hike into two days.
Iron Mountain trailhead is at Crystal Park along the Intemann Trail. A medicine wheel along the climb invites hikers to place a rock in the circle and take in the view of Manitou.