Hail the Trail!

“Stay on the Trail!” is a common phrase to be heard shouted while at summer camp. Getting people to stay on the trail is a constant struggle for summer camp counselors, people don’t want to stay on the trail, either because it’s the “long way”, they didn’t realize the middle of a field wasn’t a trail (for some reason), or that they’re the only ones doing it.

(Pictured above: View of Torreys Peak (14,275’) from the summit of Grays Peak (14,278’).)

The trail that follows the ridge line to the summit of Mt. Lincoln (14,295').
The trail that follows the ridge line to the summit of Mt. Lincoln (14,295′).

Here in lies the dilemma; this single person isn’t the only one walking off the trail each summer, approximately 4,000 people tramp through this part of camp over the course of two months. It’s easy to overlook how one person contributes to the abuse of trails, especially when the camper is only at camp for sixty hours, a relatively short time, whereas the staph member lives there; for approximately twenty-four hours a day, six days a week, for nine weeks out of the year, and we get a firsthand view of the impact that mass quantities of people can have on a landscape.

This is the same struggle facing Colorado’s many fourteeners or 14,000 plus foot peaks. Due to the increasing popularity of climbing a fourteener (which is completely understandable because climbing fourteeners is awesome) the trails are feeling the effects. Many trails are in severe need of an upgrade due to the fact that very few were actually planned, this in part led to the organization of the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative (CFI) in 1994 when only two of Colorado’s 53 fourteeners

The outpost hike reaching their destination of the 2nd Mesa outpost site at Magness Adventure Camp.
The outpost hike reaching their destination of the 2nd Mesa outpost site at Magness Adventure Camp.

had formally planned trails, and the rest were “informal routes trampled into the tundra”. These unsustainable routes require an increased amount of maintenance; they are far too wide, quickly eroding, and damaging the ecology surrounding them, and it costs a lot to maintain them and even more to truly fix them. CFI estimates that it will cost $24 million to restore these trails to a sustainable state. That’s a lot of money and even more man hours.

Severely widened trail coming down from Greys Peak.

Just like on fourteeners, trails at camp were originally “made” because they were the shortest route to get from place to place; these types of trails are called social trails. They may look great at first, but they slowly begin to deteriorate, then very quickly. An example is the trail pictured below; it is a poor trail because it goes directly up a crest and right back down the other side and is essentially straight, giving runoff an easy route to go down the hill. This once foot and a half wide trail became four to five feet wide and sunk up to two feet into the ground in places. Restoration began by placing nineteen water bars into the ground to divert water off the trail to begin its rehabilitation. Thestaggering thing is that it took twenty people twelve hours to complete this work, so imagine the time it will take to restore a fourteener trail.

It’s important that we get out and enjoy the outdoors, but if we don’t do it in a responsible, environmentally conscience, and sustainable manner, it may not be there in the future for us to enjoy as fully as we once did. People generally only have a limited snapshot of their time in these natural places, which makes it difficult to fathoms the cumulative impact they have. So get out there, enjoy the great outdoors, and hail the trail!

View from the fire watch tower at Magness Adventure Camp of a partially restored trail.
View from the fire watch tower at Magness Adventure Camp of a partially restored trail.

Written photographed by Max Pivonka, ESLLC 2015-2016

Trail crossing snowpack nearing the summit of Mt. Democrat (14,154').
Trail crossing snowpack nearing the summit of Mt. Democrat (14,154′).
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