Avalanche debris keeps upper Lincoln Creek Road closed to vehicles
The ghosts might rest a little easier in Ruby this year.
The ghost town at the head of Lincoln Gulch is even more secluded than usual due to three avalanche debris piles that choke the road south of Grizzly Reservoir. Hundreds of mature Engelmann spruce trees were swept from the hillside and strewn by landscape-changing slides that probably occurred during the active cycle in the first week of March. A snow field approximately 100 yards wide covers the road from one of the slides.
The road between Grizzly Reservoir and Ruby remains closed to motorized vehicles. Pitkin County opened the road between Highway 82 and Grizzly Reservoir on July 3. The caretaker at the reservoir bulldozed his way through multiple slides on the lower stretch of the road.
Pitkin County Road and Bridge probably won’t be able to expend the time and resources needed to open the upper road this summer, Public Works Director Brian Pettet said. The county commissioners don’t want to spend a lot of money simply to get people farther into the backcountry, he said. They are focused on opening stretches of road necessary for services.
“As for upper Lincoln Creek Road, it’s not a priority right now,” Pettet said.
A higher priority is to get upper Castle Creek Road open so that hut tenders can reach the Tagert Hut, he said. Pearl Pass Road isn’t expected to open this summer between Aspen and Crested Butte.
The U.S. Forest Service gate at the southern end of Grizzly Reservoir remains closed. That’s roughly 6 miles from Highway 82. The gate will remain closed as long as the road is not navigable, said Shelly Grail, recreation manager for the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District.
When she heard from a reporter about the carnage in upper Lincoln Creek, Grail said that’s par for many areas of the Aspen backcountry this summer. The Colorado Avalanche Information Center reported that 26 avalanches fell in the “very large to historic” category in the Aspen zone last winter. The Forest Service is dealing with the aftermath of the big slides on roads and trails in the national forest.
“I feel like every turn I take I see something remarkable,” Grail said.
The gate closes upper Lincoln Creek Road to motorized vehicles but the road is open to hikers and bikers. Grail noted the road is now a viable option for backpackers because of the lack of traffic.
Crossing the debris piles can be challenging, particularly while lugging a mountain bike. Each of the debris piles covers several yards of the road and the road is sometimes buried under material.
All three debris piles have spruce trunks and limbs, suggesting the avalanche paths were carved out wider than they have historically run. The three paths that covered the road are confined along about 1.5 miles of the road, starting about 1.5 miles south of Grizzly Reservoir.
The biggest slide was triggered from the ridge running from Grizzly Peak to Garfield Peak. It roared down a scree field, widened its path by taking out scores of spruce trees, deposited several feet of snow on the road and ran to the creek several hundred yards away. Even on a July 6 visit the snow remained deep.
The ghost town, which consists of several dilapidated cabins and mine dumps, appeared untouched by slides.
Clearing the road will require using heavy equipment and work with chainsaws, Pettet said. The county uses a track hoe with a claw-like mechanism called a thumb to pick up trunks and move them off the ride of the road.
Given the amount of work required, Pettet said he couldn’t make any promises about the road being cleared.
“I don’t see that being a priority this year,” he said.
Grail said the Forest Service would keep the gate closed as long as the road remains covered with debris. That will require a longer hike to popular areas such as Anderson and Petroleum lakes.
The lower section of Lincoln Gulch also has trees strewn in several slide paths. It will alter the appearance of the area for years to come, said Independence Pass Foundation executive director Karin Teague.
“All those new openings create opportunity for other plants and probably for animals,” Teague said.
Grasses and new trees will sprout where there was formerly dense cover.
“Amidst the tree cemetery there is new life,” Teague said.
Grail urged forest visitors to be patient and realize some of their favorite destinations might be difficult or impossible to access throughout the forest. To find the latest information on roads and trails, go to the White River National Forest homepage and click on the link for the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District Conditions Report, https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/fseprd554376.pdf.
The district also welcomes updated information on road and trail conditions, she said.
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