St. Louis is about 450 feet about sea level and I’ve lived there my entire life. Mt. Evans is not 450 feet, not 4500, no, Mt. Evans is more than 14,000 feet above sea level. Working more than two miles above my comfort zone with the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative this past weekend had my lungs and body working a little overtime.
Tired and hungry I forged on to protect the fragile, wild tundra. Truthfully it wasn’t all that bad, but the work we completed was very important. Alpine tundra is a fickle system. The short grasses and sparse wildlife are able to handle temperatures regularly below freezing, relentless winds, short growing seasons, the list just goes on. But what they can’t handle is the constant stampede of people straying from the set trail on their way to the summit.
That’s where our work came into play. With strategic placement and removal of rocks, we established visual cues and physical boundaries to keep people on the road to the summit and off of the fragile tundra. Retaining walls were built to subdue erosion and keep the trail in place. Obstructions in the trail were either entirely removed from the ground or beaten to a pulp with a few firm strikes of the hammer. It may seem counter-intuitive to dig up or beat down the natural landscape, at least I thought it did, but the minor disruption and change we caused over the last weekend should provide 30+ years of protection to the Tundra, time for areas to recover and return to their natural, rugged beauty.
They say in life it’s sometimes best to stray from the beaten path, but not on a fourteener. It’s important to recognize that although the terrain of the alpine tundra may look strong and resilient it has taken countless years to grow to its small stature and repeated footsteps will kill the vegetation exposing soil to the wind that, once blown away, can take hundreds of years to return. A lot of time and effort goes into the trails we walk and for good reason. So please, please stay on the trail.
Written by Jack Zeis, ESLLC 2015-2016