Conservation group ‘not out to tame wild peaks’
David Bentley was on one of his 43 climbing trips up Pyramid Peak with some friends in 1973 when someone in a steep gully above him knocked loose a rock the size of a car tire.Bentley is deaf so he couldn’t hear the desperate screams of his colleagues.”I was walking straight toward my death when the boot trail switched back and I turned, feeling the breeze of the rock on my neck,” Bentley wrote in an e-mail interview. “I think that is the closest I’ve come to being nailed by a falling rock in 40 years of climbing.”The site of the near-mishap is a steep slope that a work crew from the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative is rehabbing between the Crater Lake trail and an amphitheater at the 11,000-foot elevation of Pyramid Peak. Erosion has created gullies up to 4 feet deep and 15 feet wide on the steep northerly slopes of lower Pyramid.Bentley said the old trail used to run up the fall line of that prominent gully, snaking up tight switchbacks. It skirted the mouth of the gully in way that forced Bentley to grab hold of tree branches in order to safely negotiate the point.While revisiting the trail in August he came across the CFI crew that rerouted the trail to make it more environmentally sustainable. He communicated with the workers, learned about the project and became a supporter.Bentley said his close call on the trail is only part of the reason he endorses the work. Falling rocks are simply a risk that mountaineers encounter. However, trails that damage the environment don’t have to be part of the equation.Lou Dawson, a famed mountaineer from Carbondale who wrote a guidebook about Colorado’s fourteeners, agreed that the trail work on lower Pyramid Peak is overdue. He said it is the mandate of people who visit the peaks to use them responsibly.Over the years, numerous bandit trails were created by hikers seeking the most convenient way up the steep slopes of Pyramid Peak, Dawson said. Those routes weren’t always the most environmentally sustainable. He supports CFI’s work to designate one trail and route it in a way that reduces erosion and environmental degradation.CFI’s work has occasionally raised alarms among some mountaineers who charge it makes the fourteeners easier to negotiate. “I was one that was concerned about the over-exuberant things they were doing,” said Dawson.But the organization has adopted better, more low-key construction techniques over the years while still accomplishing its goal of protecting terrain on the peaks against exploding recreational use, Dawson said. CFI was formed in 1994.Dawson finds it ironic that some mountaineers think it is natural and fine to see multiple trails get worn into some parts of peaks, but CFI tries to designate one conservation-minded trail “and everybody gets on their case.”On the other hand, there is a legitimate concern that creating one well-done trail can act as a magnet for even more use – even though that’s not CFI’s intent, Dawson said.On Pyramid, hundreds of hikers make the easy jaunt to Crater Lake on busy summer days. Creating a new trail with stairs through scree fields and switchbacks up nearby steep terrain could theoretically make the trail more inviting to some of the throngs passing by. The question is, how many of those hikers would be able to negotiate the complex network of gullies and ridges to make it to the top of the 14,018-foot peak?One Aspen-area hiking guide was so concerned about the work on Pyramid Peak this summer that he yanked out some survey markers that the trail crew needed to determine the location and type of work to be done, according to CFI Executive Director T. J. Rapoport.”We’re not out to pick fights,” Rapoport said, “we’re just out to do conservation.”He said the organization is sensitive about its work and undertakes just enough improvements to protect the environment. “We’re not out to tame the wild peaks,” he said.James Ashby, CFI’s field projects manager, noted the trail work on Pyramid was all below tree line, where damage was occurring. Nothing was done above the amphitheater because it is crumbling rock with little chance of damaging the environment above that point. Climbers still will be left to find their own route through this challenging terrain.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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