On the Trail: Glenwood’s Storm King Mountain
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” Hiking rarely takes on a somber feel for me, but the Storm King Mountain Memorial Trail outside of Glenwood Springs is an exception.
Nonetheless, I think of it as a must-do hike for anyone who calls the mountains home and is fit enough to make the climb.
I first hiked the trail several years ago, and returned on Sunday with a companion who was making her first visit to the ridge where 14 firefighters died in 1994. It’s a place of reflection, but also one that stirs a sense of awe and appreciation for the hotshots who battle wildfires.
The trail leads to memorial markers for those who perished in the South Canyon Fire. It’s a steep and dusty hike, but it’s undoubtedly an easier route than the one firefighters faced when they bushwhacked up a ridge choked with mature scrub oak, carrying 60 pounds or so of equipment on their backs. The trail was built after the fire.
There are interpretive signs at the trailhead, including photos and information about all 14 young men and women who died there. About a mile up is an overlook with seating and more signs that explain the advance of the fire and the movement of the fire crews on the facing ridge. Some of the memorial markers are visible from this spot, but to fully appreciate the fitness and courage of people who fight fires on inhospitable slopes, keep hiking.
The trail leads down into a ravine and up the far ridge to the markers. The entire, round-trip hike is about four miles, according to one Web source I consulted, but it seems longer.
Many have visited the markers, judging from the remembrances left behind. They have become shrines of sorts, decorated with all manner of memorabilia, from the faded T-shirts and arm patches of firefighting crews around the country to unopened bottles of beer, photos, St. Christopher medals, cans of rations, skis, pocketknives and more ” a lot more.
The site offers great views of the Colorado River Valley to the west, and the surrounding mountains that make up South Canyon. The fire-ravaged area as been reseeded, and grasses and sage predominate, along with stands of scrub oak that are regaining their foothold. The charred skeletons of junipers stand as fittingly stark reminders of the blaze.
Drive west on Interstate 70 from Glenwood Springs to the Canyon Creek exit. Double back toward the east on the frontage road to the right, which parallels the interstate. It dead ends in about a mile, at the trailhead parking area.
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