Southern Colorado hikers and peak-baggers heading to the high country this summer will face a challenge besides exhaustion and thunderstorms.
As the snow melts, the U.S. forest Service is assessing damage from a Nov. 11 windstorm that blasted the southern Sawatch range in Chaffee County and the Sangre de Cristos in Custer County, and the news isn’t good.
“Because of the severity and potential hazards created by this natural event, it might be necessary to administratively close trails to public use this summer to protect public safety and allow sawyer crews to perform operations,” said San Isabel National Forest Ranger Paul Crespin in a news release.
Officials said many trails and roads are blocked by downed trees, and in other areas unstable trees could collapse on their own.
The Duckett Creek area and Alvarado Campground in Custer County were hit particularly hard, and up to 90 trees are blocking the popular Rainbow Trail, a mixed hiking/biking/dirt-bike trail that runs along the east side of the Sangres.
Officials said 100 miles of trails have been blocked, including many in the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness Area. These will have to be cut by hand because of wilderness restrictions on use of power tools.
According to the climbing website 14ers.com, the trail to Mount Shavano has been heavily impacted, with so many trees down that climbers are warning people not to get a predawn start for fear of losing the trail.
Forest Service crews and volunteer groups will be clearing and cutting all summer and beyond.
“While plans have been developed to address the highest priority needs and areas of impact, forest managers expect clean-up efforts may extend beyond this summer,” the news release read.“The public should be prepared to encounter blowdown conditions and hazard trees that pose a danger. This includes hazards created by uprooted unstable trees that could still come down without warning. Forest users are urged to refrain from cutting trees out of trails and roads.”
These are the areas where the agency says you’ll find downed trees blocking trails and roads: Duckett Creek trailhead; Venable/Comanche trailhead; Music Pass trailhead; Gibson Creek trailhead; Alvarado Campground; Cloverdale Basin; Rito Alta Mine; Hermit Pass; South Colony Basin; Music Pass; and Medano Pass.