Fourteeners Initiative seeks volunteers
A group that is trying to protect the fragile ecosystem of Colorado’s “14ers” from the onslaught of peak baggers hopes to tap into the Aspen environmental movement this summer.
They want to recruit at least 40 volunteers for a series of weekend projects on the approach to Capitol Peak. About 10 volunteers are needed each weekend from mid-July to mid-August.
They will build new switchbacks and sections of trail near the saddle between Capitol Peak and Mt. Daly, according to CFI spokesman Bruce Morrow. The work is needed to repair damage on a steep, 300- to 400-foot section of trail that is prone to erosion and to a section by a gully where the trail is braided.
CFI has worked on Colorado’s 54 mountains higher than 14,000 feet since 1994. Its goal is to repair damage wrought by the thousands of hikers and mountaineers that climb the big peaks.
Years ago the only people climbing the peaks were relatively experienced mountaineers. The vegetation could handle the numbers, Morrow said.
But in the last 15 years or so, many more people are climbing the big mountains, he noted. Many of them aren’t experienced mountaineers, so some balk at using trails with severe exposures. That’s when new trails and braided trails get created.
CFI hasn’t worked on any of the six 14ers of the Aspen Ranger District of the U.S. Forest Service yet. In addition to the Capitol Peak approach work this summer, its long-range plan includes trail work on Pyramid Peak in 2004, Snowmass Peak in 2005 and North and South Maroon in 2008.
“It’s important to stress that it’s not work on peaks, it’s on the approaches,” said Morrow.
CFI’s projects designate one route where there are multiple options; replace some steep stretches with switchbacks; build stairs through talus where vegetation is at risk; and build cairns to keep travelers on the route, especially across snowfields.
The effort isn’t without critics. Some mountaineers claim CFI undertakes too much construction and that its work removes some of the thrill of route-finding. Huge cairns and steps in the middle of nowhere have been popular targets of wrath.
“The goal of our work is restoration,” said Morrow. “We don’t necessarily want to make it easier or safer to climb the peaks.
“It’s not our goal to put stairs up the fourteeners,” he said.
The work on Capitol Peak will be supervised by the Forest Service, which performed an extensive review on the proposal. Aspen District Ranger Jim Upchurch said the project will adhere to the principals of wilderness, which tout minimal traces of human activity.
For example, the work crew is limited to 10 volunteers per weekend so that large camping groups don’t cause disruption to the wilderness experience.
CFI draws more than 400 volunteers per year. Denver and the rest of the Front Range have been its volunteer base, but the organization hopes to tap into the Western Slope more in the future.
A local group called the Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers has pledged to bring 10 volunteers to the Capitol Peak project Aug. 16-18.
Another 40 volunteers are being sought directly by CFI. People who can hike to high elevations can contribute to the work in some way, Morrow said. Not all volunteers need the brawn to move boulders.
The Capitol Peak project is at about the 12,000-foot level.
The projects start with a hike to a base camp near the work site on Friday afternoon. Crews of four volunteers are teamed with a supervisor for work on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Then they hike out on Sunday.
For more information on the requirements or to receive a volunteer application, contact Bruce Morrow at the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative, 303-278-7527, ext. 115.
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