Wilderness Wanderings: It’s not a normal year along area trails
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
This may feel like a normal summer as compared to a year ago when we had all the COVID-19 precautions, and recreating outdoors seemed the safest thing we could do.
But it has been far from normal in our local wilderness areas and other public lands. And that is likely to continue throughout the summer.
Lower-elevation trails lost their snow early, and those higher up don’t have much snow left to melt off.
Streams and rivers are running low for this early in the season.
Not a lot is currently blooming yet on our popular wilderness trails other than glacier lilies and marsh marigolds, which are more likely to be found near receding snow or wet areas.
However, a hike last weekend at Steamboat Resort revealed an abundance of wildflowers.
Go early to beat the mid-day heat and hike Thunderhead or Valley View trails. You’ll find purple lupine, white thimbleberry, pink wild rose and red Indian paintbrush. Also blooming profusely are cream colored mountain ash, of which you will pick up the musky smell before seeing the flowers.
Sawyers from Friends of Wilderness and other crews are on track to have the most popular trails cleared before the upcoming Fourth of July weekend.
Those trails most recently cleared of fallen trees include Mica Basin, Tree Island Lake, North Lake, upper Sarvis Creek, lower Silver Creek, Rainbow Lake and Big Creek Lake.
Trails scheduled for clearing in the next week include Gold, Gilpin, Big Horn Lake and Lake Katherine.
And high alpine lakes, like Mica in the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area, have already lost their ice, and most of the snow that remains is in patches.
Just last week, three hotshot firefighters out of Durango were at Slavonia trailhead with their tanker truck. They were hiking area trails to familiarize themselves with the terrain and trailhead locations while covering the area for the local fire crew, which was on detail.
Multiple wildfires have already broken out earlier in the summer season than in past years. And smoke is already drifting into the Yampa Valley.
The question this summer is not “Will a devastating fire break out in our neck of the woods?” The question is more likely, “Where will it happen?”
What should a hiker or overnight backpacker know and do in this environment?
The most important thing is to follow area fire orders. Currently, that means no campfires in the backcountry or while dispersed camping along U.S. Forest Service roads. Not even if where you are camping is lush and green.
If you see someone nearby with a campfire and don’t feel comfortable approaching them, wait until they leave, if possible, and be sure their fire is completely out. Fires can continue to smolder, even under the surface. And the fire can return when the wind increases.
For your own entertainment, think of alternatives to the ambiance of everyone siting around a campfire.
Enjoy nature’s own fire with a view of the sunset or sunrise.
Or gather around an old fire ring or pile of rocks and pretend. Yes, this could be cool. Instead of telling scary ghost stories, reminisce about other campfire gatherings.
And please respect all campfire bans both for the good of our forests and our neighbors. Smokey Bear will appreciate it.
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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