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I've read that the summer months (June, July, and August) are the safest months to hike in Colorado because these are the least-likely times to run into ice patches that can't be crossed with normal hiking gear, and the least-likely times you will run into a sudden, unexpected snow storm.

My question is, what about the dangers of hiking in summer that you don't run into as often in winter? Don't these offset the dangers mentioned above? To me it seems like the threat of getting caught in a summer afternoon lightning storm and forced to get down the mountain quickly is about as dangerous as the threats a person runs into in the winter.

True, you need more gear in winter (crampons, ice axe, helmet), but wouldn't you say that the risk level is the same year round in Colorado?

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Just a quick comment - the summer storms in the mountains in Colorado are usually pretty predictable - they hit in early afternoon on most days, and don't last more than an hour or so. It's not too too hard to be back in the valley or below the tree line before they hit. That can't be said of, say, avalanches, rhime ice, frostbite, white outs, or the other hazards that go along with the winter. :) – DavidR Jan 16 '13 at 15:44
I do not know Colorado, but in California I have found summers to be much safer for hiking/backpacking. Sure, you might get wet if it rains and a mosquito bloom is a horrible thing, but that's about it. – theJollySin Jan 16 '13 at 16:23
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You ask: "Don't these offset the dangers mentioned above? To me it seems like the threat of getting caught in a summer afternoon lightning storm and forced to get down the mountain quickly is about as dangerous as the threats a person runs into in the winter."

You're right. There are risks in all seasons when you're going hiking or climbing up in the mountains. And getting caught above the treeline in a thunderstorm is dangerous and potentially fatal. But I don't think its correct to say that the summer is just as dangerous as the winter.

The thunderstorms in Colorado tend to be fairly predictable - they start in early afternoon, sometime between noon or 1pm, and they rarely last more than an hour or so. When you're hiking in the mountains you just plan your day around this. If you're going to hike to a summit, you wake up and start hiking well before dawn, so that you can summit around mid-morning, and be back below the treeline before any of the thunderstorms hit. You might get rained on, but you should be safe from the worst of it then.

In the winter, conditions are different. Freezing temps, snow, ice. There are more objective dangers (avalanches, frostbite, whiteout conditions, slipping and falling on ice, etc). Understanding how to predict and avoid avalanches, travel over ice and snow, avoid frostbite, use crampons / telemark skis / snowshoes, these all take extra levels of training, equipment, and physical fitness than what you'd encounter in warmer months. And these dangers are ever present in the winter, they don't just exist between noon and 4pm.

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Bears are a big danger in the spring/summer/fall.

I just went elk hunting in a remote valley in Northwest Wyoming, and it was in the winter when the bears (both grizzly and black bears) were hibernating. In the summer, there are so many bears up there that some people don't even go up there.

I know of these two men who like to fish up there, but only one of them fishes at a time, the other stands guard with a large gauge shotgun, they take turns... I also met a guy who was mauled just feet away from his pistols (on his ATV), the bear got on him pretty quickly. All this in the area I was elk hunting.

Seeing as it was winter, the bears were hibernating... A word of note: if a bear gets hungry, the grizzlies are more likely to wake up, fill themselves up again, and go back to sleep - the black bears on the other hand, will sleep all winter long, in most cases.

Also, I would rather be out stuck in the wilderness in a lightning storm than freeze to death in the winter. But that's my take. Hypothermia in the winter, dehydration in the summer. Depends on the area - it really can vary.

In general, the Great Outdoors seems to be quieter in the winter, as animals settle down and take it easy - focusing on staying warm and such.

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