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Trouble spots on pass studied for future project

Naomi Havlen
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Two crumbling slopes along Highway 82 up Independence Pass are being studied for stabilization work.

The areas, known as “lower cuts,” are the bare hillside across from Difficult Campground and the second hillside across from Tagert Lake, just below Classy Cliffs, a popular rock-climbing spot.

The Independence Pass Foundation has been raising money for the potential rehabilitation and stabilization project for the slopes. The first steps include surveying the areas to establish their topography.

To help the surveying work, the Colorado Department of Transportation is drilling to establish the depth of the bedrock along the base of the cliffs. The work is expensive, said Independence Pass Foundation director Mark Fuller, because of the “extreme terrain.”

“Since it’s so steep, you can’t use typical instruments to survey the land there, so there is a lot of laser technology” being used, he said. Survco Inc. out of New Castle has been hired to perform the surveying work.

The initial study will cost around $11,000, $5,000 of which is a grant from the Aspen Thrift Shop. The remainder of the money was raised privately from a number of sources, Fuller said.

The loose scramble climbers must endure to reach Classy Cliffs is a good example of the problems in that area, he said.

“At this time of year when you go up there after a rain event, there are piles of loose rocks up behind the barriers, so you can tell it’s a very active erosion area,” he said. “And a lot of it comes from way up on top of the ridge, not just the cuts you can see. There are a lot of problems there, and it’ll be a challenging environment to work in.”

With the initial data they are gathering, foundation members can look into various solutions – although Fuller said they’ll be “hugely expensive.” The foundation may not have the ability to fund the work, but in the future officials hope to raise funds to make those areas a priority.

The nonprofit is continuing to work at the very top of Independence Pass, stabilizing eroding hillsides known as the “top cut.” Slopes are being stabilized, and native vegetation is being replanted in the area.

“I think there are a lot of lessons from the top cut that will be appropriate on the lower cuts,” Fuller said. “But it’s still all pretty preliminary and low key. We’re just trying to establish this as a future project.”

[Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is nhavlen@aspentimes.com]


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