33 Things Every Coloradan Should Know How To Do

March 2014


cloudsIn Colorado, we’re used to looking to the sky to admire the mountains, but the weather patterns swirling around those very same peaks can help us foretell the weather. We asked Dougald MacDonald, seasoned adventurer and Climbing Magazine’s editor at large, to offer tips on predicting the weather by watching the clouds. Aside from spotting the obvious thunderheads, there are two kinds of clouds that should signal danger to outdoor enthusiasts: “There’s a distinctive cloud called a lenticular that forms on top of the mountains like a little cap,” MacDonald says. Those disklike clouds are indicators of inclement weather. “It’s probably already bad up [on the mountain], and it’s going to spread,” he explains. Similarly foreboding is what MacDonald calls “wave clouds.” If you look west and see a gray mass obscuring the mountains, heed the warning: “Climbers call it the ‘Wall of Hate,’ ” MacDonald says, “because it means extremely high winds.”



lightningIf you’re going to be hiking through the Rockies, particularly above treeline (around 11,000 feet), lightning storms pose a threat. Learn how to read the weather by looking at the clouds so you don’t find yourself caught in one. If you do get stuck in a lightning storm, though, you should do what seems counterintuitive: Sit out in the open (not under a tree or in a cave or crevice). “Sit on something—like a coiled rope—so you’re insulated from the ground,” says Climbing Magazine’s Dougald MacDonald. And get rid of anything metal. One way to minimize exposure to lightning is to plan your outings: Thunderstorms before noon are especially rare in Colorado, hence the general mountaineering rule to be off the summit of a hike above treeline no later than noon. 



Your backcountry trip goes awry, and you’re stranded in the snow with night closing in. It’s a nightmare scenario. We asked John Lindner, director of the Colorado Mountain Club’s Wilderness Survival School, how to build a house for the night. 

snow[step 1]  If you don’t have an existing shelter, a snow trench is the easiest and quickest lodging option. If the snow is at least a couple of feet deep you can dig a trench, which is a hollowed-out section of snow big enough for you to wiggle into, cover with whatever material you have, and get out of the weather.

[step 2]  Determine where the first morning rays will shine. Build your trench there.

[step 3]  The trench needs to be wide enough to fit your shoulders without touching the sides; long enough for you to stretch out your body; and deep enough to accommodate about 12 to 14 inches of insulation on the bottom and to allow you to turn over onto your side. If you don’t have a shovel, dig with a snowshoe or a piece of wood.  

[step 4]  Use whatever dry materials you can find to insulate the bottom of your trench: sleeping pad, bag, dry branches. The insulation will compress with your body weight, so you’ll need more than you think to keep from touching the ground. 

[step 5]  Work at a good clip, but not so hard that you sweat. Sweat = cold.

[step 6]  Once you’ve crawled in your trench, cover it with whatever materials you have. 

[step 7]  Cover your mouth with fabric of some sort. Warming the frigid Colorado air before you breathe will help reduce moisture and heat loss when you exhale. 

[step 8]  Smile. Lindner says 80 percent of surviving comes from being positive. The other 20 percent comes down to having the proper gear, knowing how to use it, and, well, a bit of luck never hurts.



The five W’s and one H of decomposing your organic trash and saving the planet (or at least your garden), according to Denver Urban Gardens. 

WHO can do it: 
Anyone who has three square feet of outdoor space.

WHAT goes in it: 
Collect carbon, such as paper towels, vacuum cleaner sweepings, dry leaves, and small amounts of newspaper, and nitrogen,  such as nonmeat food scraps, coffee grounds, and pet or human hair. The ideal ratio is 2/3 carbon to 1/3 nitrogen by volume—a variety of materials and textures is crucial. Never add bones, dairy, meats, fat, or plants treated with pesticides.

HOW to do it: 
In a composting bin or right on the ground (break up the first inch of topsoil), start with four inches of chopped carbon and two inches of chopped nitrogen. Break up the carbon and nitrogen with your hands or a shovel. Mix with handfuls of garden soil and water until the pile feels like a wrung-out sponge. Continue adding layers and mixing. Once you have a pile that’s at least three cubic feet, cover it with a sheet of black plastic secured with rocks or your container’s lid. Maintain and turn the pile weekly for about two months.

WHEN you can use it:
After leaving it untouched for about another two months.

WHERE to use it: 
Mix compost into soil before planting, or use as a top dressing for vegetable plants, flowers, or your lawn. 

WHY you should do it: 
Around 58 percent of what Denver residents ship to the landfill is organic material. 

-Illustrations by Dan Romanoff