Several trails remain blocked by downed trees in Upper Fryingpan Valley
White River crews clearing debris from last fall’s windstorm
Many a hearty hiker has been turned back on popular trails in Upper Fryingpan Valley this summer because of all the trees knocked down in a big wind event last fall.
Some of the trails may be navigable later this summer thanks to the sweat and elbow grease of crews in the White River National Forest. They are slowly cutting their way through piles of downed trees that are crossing the trails.
The wind event, called a blowdown, toppled trees on the Savage Lakes, Fryingpan Lakes, Carter Lake, Josephine Lake and Last Chance trails, according to Aspen Sopris District Ranger Kevin Warner.
“It was on par with the 2019 avalanche cycle,” Warner said. “It’s as many or more trees.”
He was referring to a record-breaking number and intensity of avalanches in March 2019 that covered numerous trails with downed timber — from Independence Pass to the Fryingpan Valley and throughout the region. The trails and wilderness crews worked through that summer to clear timber from popular routes such as Conundrum Creek Trail and Lincoln Creek Road.
The Savage Lakes Trail is clear about halfway to the lakes, then covered with downed trees.
“The amount of downed trees makes the trail extremely challenging to navigate. Travel is not advised,” says the current trail report provided by the Forest Service.
For Fryingpan Lakes, the report says, “Hiking not advised.” There is a large entanglement of trees about 2 miles from the trailhead.
Crews have set their sights on clearing the mess. The work is slow because the trails are located in designated wilderness, where mechanized tools such as chainsaws cannot be used.
“Over four days, wilderness rangers using hand saws and tools have cut 70 trees from Savage Lake Trail and 25 trees from Fryingpan Lakes Trail,” the White River National Forest said in a Facebook post Tuesday. “There’s still a lot of work to do. Fryingpan Lakes has one more blowdown of a similar size left. Savage has a continuous additional mile or so of damage left to be cut out.”
The wilderness crew said trees they have cut average about 16 inches in diameter and are up to 30 inches. It’s complex work cutting them out because they are jackstrawed — piled like pick-up sticks or in other cases stacked. That creates potential for a lot of binding on the saws, so it is slow work. In addition, limbs must be stripped from many of the trees.
Warner said all the trees won’t be cleared this season. He wasn’t sure of the exact plan but assumed the crews would focus on getting entire trails cleared before moving on to the next projects.
Hikers should check with the Forest Service on the status of the work before attempting the hikes. The White River National Forest’s trail report can be found at http://www.fs.usda.gov/alerts/whiteriver/alerts-notices and then clicking on the link for the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District Conditions Report.