Wilderness Wanderings: Horse packers haul out abandoned Sarvis hunt camp
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
Do you sometimes just smile and shake your head at the things people do?
Maybe that’s all you can do. Other times, you also lend a hand to solve the problem.
That was the case with abandoned equipment at a hunt camp in the Sarvis Creek Wilderness Area, south of Rabbit Ears Pass. Talk about Leave No Trace all you want, but the individuals had been long gone for 15 years or so.
Three years ago, Friends of Wilderness was called upon by the Yampa District of the U.S. Forest Service to locate, verify and remove the camping equipment. Little did we know it would take three trips and more than three years to haul out what we would discover.
All we had to go on were GPS coordinates, maps and trail apps.
For the initial trip, in July 2017, three of our volunteers hiked to the location with empty backpacks. What they found was beyond anything ever expected.
The cache included eight or nine tarpaulins of different sizes, close to that many sport chairs, the steel frame of an old folding table, an empty feed bag for pack stock, pots, rusted cans, other empty food containers, grill racks and more.
An empty fuel can with the year 2005 printed on the label revealed how long the camp had been abandoned. Oh, and there was also a black, plastic bugle for calling elk.
We tried not to judge, but we did speculate. Why would hunters leave behind so much of value, much less desecrate such great elk habitat?
Perhaps the best guess was that unexpected foul weather hit — a heavy early season snowfall. So, maybe the hunters packed up what they could, and it came down to leaving behind 650 pounds of fresh elk meat or camping equipment.
The three volunteers filled their backpacks with what they could, strapped on more and carried out sport chairs under their arms. But most of the equipment had to be left behind.
A couple of months later, two of the volunteers returned with pack llamas. The panniers were stuffed with equipment and garbage, and more was tied on top.
Even then, a large amount of the equipment and garbage remained — enough for two more pack animals.
Several weeks ago — nearly three years after the llama haul — Friends of the Wilderness came back for the rest with Steamboat Springs horse packer Dary Southwick.
His longtime friend Chuck Peterson, who has long taught equestrian students at Colorado State University, had reached out to the Forest Service seeking stewardship opportunities. That led to the partnership with Friends of the Wilderness.
Southwick made plans to saddle up three horses and two pack mules for the trip. When Peterson became ill, Forest Service employee Ellen Ross from the Yampa District took his place. Also included was yours truly.
The three-some went back to the hunt camp and loaded the rest — nearly 100 pounds of by now well-weathered equipment. Everything was gathered up, even the last tiny bits of what was likely a Styrofoam cooler.
Mission finally accomplished.
Friends of the Wilderness is grateful to Southwick and Peterson who began horse packing together for an outfitter while teenagers over 45 years ago.
“Back when I was a kid, the Forest Service was pretty good to us,” Southwick said. “What I’m trying to do is pay them back.”
The two friends typically make several stewardship trips a year, most often in the Rawah and Mt. Zirkel wildernesses and in Rocky Mountain National Park. In addition to packing out abandoned hunt camps, they haul out debris from old bridges and other similar projects.
Wilderness is more pristine because of what Peterson and Southwick do.
Bob Korch is trail crew leader with Friends of Wilderness, which assists the U.S. Forest Service in maintaining trails and educating the public about the Mount Zirkel, Sarvis Creek and Flat Tops Wilderness areas. For more information, visit friendsofwilderness.com.
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