Protecting Aspen’s big peaks — Capitol, North Maroon in line for trail projects |

Protecting Aspen’s big peaks — Capitol, North Maroon in line for trail projects

Capitol Lake and Capitol Peak create a tranquil setting last summer.
Colorado Fourteeners Initiative/courtesy photo

The organization that eases wear and tear from peak baggers on Colorado’s highest mountains will undertake two trail projects in the Aspen area this summer.

Colorado Fourteeners Initiative will have crews performing trail maintenance on Capitol Peak in July and on North Maroon Peak in August.

On Capitol, two crew leaders and eight volunteers will test their lung capacity with heavy reconstruction between an elevation of 11,600 and 12,300 for two days in July, according to Brian Sargeant, CFI’s communication and development coordinator. They will backpack about 7 miles into a camp near Capitol Lake, then hike up each day for two days of hard labor beneath the saddle between Capitol Peak and Mount Daly. They will hike out on the fourth day.

“This is one of our more intense volunteer projects,” Sargeant said.

That didn’t deter volunteers. The lineup was filled within 72 hours after CFI posted its summer projects. Several people are on the waiting list in case spots open up.

Projects in the Elk Mountains are always popular with volunteers because of the beauty of the area, he said.

The Capitol project is considered routine maintenance.

“It’s going to be continuing our stabilization efforts on the upper reaches of the approach trail,” Sargeant said.

The crew also will make sure water bars and drainage depressions are functioning properly.

A social trail was closed and a sustainable trail delineated on that section of Capitol Peak in 2002. CFI has performed routine maintenance over the years depending on need and funding.

The North Maroon Peak project in August also will be four days with backpacking in and out at the start and end. A crew will armor and stabilize rock staircases that were recently built by a CFI crew.

That also will require spending three nights in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness.

The project was made possible in part by funding from the Pitkin County Healthy Communities grant. This is the last year of a three-year grant.

Neither of the Aspen-area projects will force trail closures. Hikers will be made aware of work ahead and be asked to be careful while traveling through the area.

CFI is a nonprofit organization that was founded in 1994 after a study found that the surging popularity of hiking and climbing Colorado’s 58 peaks above 14,000 feet was causing significant environmental damage.

CFI undertook inventories of the trails on the big peaks, set priorities and then worked with public land managers to start tackling projects. It closes unsustainable trails and builds formal routes. Its work is generally below final approaches to summits, where creation of social trails and braided trails has damaged the high-elevation vegetation.

CFI has built 31 sustainably located, designed and constructed summit routes on 28 peaks.

Meanwhile, the overall use continues to climb. There were an estimated 311,000 hiker days in 2016. That was an increase of 51,000 use days over the year before.

CFI has installed a trail counter on Castle Peak, one of the fourteeners in the Aspen area, each of the past four summers. The pattern is like a roller coaster, soaring to a high of 2,576 users in 2015 and sinking to a low of 1,371 last summer.

“We haven’t seen any consistent trends,” Sargeant said.

Castle Peak is one of the easier fourteeners in the Aspen area. It’s possible that five deaths of climbers on Capitol Peak last year scared people away from the Elk Mountain Range, but that’s only a guess, Sargeant said.

There are no trail counters on the other fourteeners in the Aspen area.

For more on CFI’s projects for 2018, go to


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