| Chapter 5: Volunteer - N. Maroon's NEW Trail (CFI & CMC)
Continued from Chapter 4: Volunteers' Reward (360° w/ Hi's & Lo's)
For the safety of yourself and trail crew, please stick to the (old) North Maroon Peak Trail until the new one is officially open, perhaps in October 2012. Trail closure logs and or rocks are obvious. As a CONSTRUCTION SITE, conditions on it change daily, even hourly. Given that it routes through steep talus and narrow vegetation corridors, dangers to you and others include: construction-triggered rock slides, unstable rock footing, boulders being dislodged from above, talus sortings not yet locked together, uncompacted earthen sections that will break-away under foot, tripping hazards, working rock not yet fixed in location, false turn offs, constricted bottlenecks with sweaty folk swinging rock-killing tools who haven't seen a proper shower in days, orphaned willows, and countless angry evicted pika. Thank you for your support and understanding.
Proof that on the eighth day God said Let There Be Rock. Shot while hiking up to camp.
After visiting the doctor following my post-volunteer hike of Uncompahgre Peak, I thought it prudent to ditch plans for Sunshine, Wetterhorn and other nearby peaks in favor resting my foot to let the skin build and toughen back up, especially as I had signed up for more trail work in a few days on North Maroon Peak. Camped in Lake City Monday, rode up to Grand Junction Tuesday morning to visit a friend dropping by the Lake City Bakery on the way out, R&Red in town Wednesday, and rode for Aspen late that night as there was a 10:00am trail crew meet-up to hike into the Maroon Bells Wilderness. Hard to gauge how much better my foot was but to say it was definitely no worse, and hiking one or more 14ers those days could have easily made it so.
This weekend was another joint project also with Colorado Fourteeners Initiative (CFI) who this time was pairing up with the Colorado Mountain Club (CMC). I'm neither staff nor member of either group, rather just a volunteer wanting to help out while spending time in the mountains. While there was neither a 4WD nor even gravel road (Maroon Bells roads are all paved), everything had to be packed in for long, loaded hike up to camp. In fact, that was the only thing on the day's itinerary.
View from the "office" with Pyramid on the right.
It took me a bit to find the group as parking lot in the CMC plans was full and closed (heard later this might have been the busiest season ever for "the Bells"). A little help from a ranger and campground host got me to the new lot. Felt quite good being on time versus bonkingly-late on the last. This was a smaller crew than the CFI/VOC group on Uncompahgre, numbering only eight including our CFI liaison Andy and CMC liaison Lisa, due likely to restriction on camp size (people) as we were camping within wilderness boundaries, unlike the previous weekend.
Walking over with my bike's cordura tank panniers slung over my shoulder, one of them said, "My, you sure pack light!" Eh, hold that thought I cautioned as I still had to bring over a duffel and backpack. Like before, I stick out as the limited packing space of a motorcycle requires double-duty use. Instead of hiking shorts, hiking boots, hiking backpack, and such, I'm sporting leather riding pants, military jump boots, armored mesh riding jacket (more because I couldn't secure it inside the saddlebag case), school-oriented backpack with waist strap (fits nicely in saddle bag half on the road), head poking out between the tank panniers so one's on my chest and the other atop the backpack, and long black duffel whose shoulder strap breaks just as the hike starts.
Andy leads at a brisk pace, agreeing to wait at a couple critical forks in the trail so we can regroup. Lisa anchors so no one gets left behind. Andy, who has already been living up her for months sets a goodly pace along with the youngest member of the group. We keep more or less together until my 1,000' home elevation starts to catch up with me and I have to stop for O^2. At least the foot's feeling good.
Hiker Courtesy or etiquette doesn't seem to be too well-known on the trail, specifically that the uphill hiker has the right of way. While this may sound like obscure and trivial, the same applies to driving 4WD, unpaved, snowy, and other precarious driving environs for the same reason: the uphill party is laboring most, demands the most traction to maintain pace, is fighting gravity. The accessibility and popularity of the Maroon Bells makes this the main trail for a wide variety of people and tourists with just as wide outdoors and driving experience. May not seem helpful if you're just on a stroll with a water bottle, but load up with gear and you get grateful to each who steps aside so you don't have to break momentum nor take rougher trail. After a long, hot, well-used trail, we cross a creek and hike into camp.
The photo of the camp kitchen is from Andy's Musings on Maroon on CFI's website. Check it out for another perspective.
The new trail is part of season-long project by CFI, a sizable project at that. Though we (the CMC group) are working the weekend, the lion's share of the work is being done by the Rock Mountain Youth Corps (RMYC) whose in it for the long haul. Are we giving them a well-deserved break? Are we just a bunch part-timers by comparison? I'll just say we all were grateful for the infrastructure they had set up which allowed us not to have to worry about getting filtered water nor boiling it for meals, not to mention some "bear in the woods" a-commode-ations with one of the two being aptly named the "Ambitious Pooper" for those who don't mind trading some elevation gain for a view. Everyone sets up their tents and regroups under a canopy to relax after the hike.
Like most hikes, trail work requires an alpine start to make the most of the daylight before afternoon storms (Maroon monsoons) can roll in. Everyone makes their breakfast that they packed in (lunch too) using the kitchen if needed. The only meal provided by CMC is dinner which was also packed in by distributing items to the team back at the parking lot.
Nearly full moon.
Rise 'n shine. Time for work.
Hiking from camp to the work site, the transformation from rock fields to rock steps that CFI and RMYC have done to date is impressive.
Imagine converting something like this...
into this! By HAND!
Retaining wall also likely done by the RMYC.
The goal of the new trail is to be sustainable, so unlike the old, erosion-prone one that winds through vegetation and rocky slopes, the bulk of the new ascends through talus fields with dirt limited to flatter traverses. Steps are incorporated in steeper areas which both make for firmer footing but also prevents rolling rock. Many sections are being worked on at the same time so that the work of one or two is less likely to immediately endanger another. These are often linked together by the most rudimentary of trail, enough for a regular worker to get by, but hazardous footing for the unfamiliar.
Our focus is the one area without exposed rock. A beta ledge has already been cut out of the face and innumerable willows pruned or removed.
"Beta" ledge, we widened and graded. (For a before photo, just look at the vegetation up or downhill that RMYC would have had to first clear.)
The rock bottleneck showing several stones unearthed (left) to level the trail.
To get to the shade above requires negotiating a swath of trampled reedlike plants -- very slick. As the primo lunch spot, a crew consensus forms that we need to rectify that gustatoric obstacle and others in the way (effective motivator, no?). There's still some trail to work before the "reeds" though.
First section worked on for some of the crew and I, building up large rocks to make a solidifying wall downhill while filling in the trail with smaller rocks and crush.
Same section, reverse direction. Both of these are "after" pics.
North Maroon is a different animal from Uncompahgre. First, we're making trail, not restoring it (though restoring the old trail to nature is on the books). Second, stable footing is often a narrow corridor at best. Third, material is mined more than it is transported. The soil is so rocky (basically a vegetated rockslide) that every other swing of the pickaxe hit rock. You pick around it to find the edges, sink the pick behind it, the lever off the flat end to pry it out. If immobile, you keep digging around it. This is where the majority of the rock for this section comes from -- right under our feet. One comments, "we'll never get down to dirt, it's just more rock." True, but all we have to do is get enough of the rock out so there's a few inches of dirt bed on top.
The "office" provided a great view of the Maroon Lake valley and the trail where I spotted this pack train headed up over the pass.
Mountain goats spotted on the other side of the gulch. Angle gives some idea of our work site elevation.
Hiker trying to get closer for a photo (recommend using zoom instead).
We stop our hike down to let two nannies with two kids scurry across.
Their first summer. Mothers are ever protective of them during this time. Speaking of Little Goats.
Billie ahead of the group and on our slope looking back to check on the other four.
Up trail requires clearing plants first. Everyone has their own technique. For me it's roughing it up by dragging the pick, scraping it off with the mattock (other end), breaking it up (levering as described above), banging the "meat" of the dirt out of the root clumps onto the trail, and then de-rocking out a path. Sometimes you find rocks big and solid enough to incorporate them into the trail. Others, sometimes bigger got to go. Large uncovered rocks are often moved to the down slope side to stabilize while smaller are either tossed in an area needing stabilizing fill and crush, or set on the up-slope edge for easy-reach use later.
Tools: Many of the same tools listed in Chapter 3 are in use with a few differences. One new and useful tool I didn't see on the last project is the McLeod (sounds like McCloud and usually instigates a few Highlander or "There can be only one" jokes) which is put to great use grooming and compacting fresh trail. The one pair of loppers got passed around a lot to cut through willows, roots, and small branches. Given the conditions, the pickaxes are in high demand. It's also called a pick-mattock (not pick-matic) by some as technically the flat end is more like a mattock's flat adze end versus a vertical axe edge. Shovels are of little use in the area we're working as there's little to no deep soil.
For more on trail tools, this site had plenty of descriptions and illustrations of trail tools used for grubbing and raking (pickaxe, mattock, McLeod), sawing, clearing brush, lifting and hauling, digging and tamping, hammering, safety as well as some solid guidelines. It also lists some power tools, but they can not be used within wilderness boundaries.
While most retire to their respective tents after dinner, another worker have too much energy and decide to pair up for a little explorative stroll of the area.
Video (click photo) of cliffed-in gulley with water running below rock fall.
Which levels off...
below the peaks...
affording some great views.
The following also have large and fullscreen options.
Scroll-able flat panorama (click photo for link).
Scroll-able 180° panorama (click photo for link).
Sexton and Bells silhouetted onto Pyramid.
Just another ugly day at the office.
We end up basically circumnavigating the site and get a good scope of the project.
With plenty of work and sections available everyone spreads out so as not to be in the path of another's tool. Don't let these photos deter you from volunteering to do trail work. It's important to note everyone sets their own pace and picks what section and tools they're comfortable with. Make a small manageable goal, complete it, make another, and so on until the larger task is done, you need to switch muscle groups, or you need a breather to hydrate.
Working for lunch: this was just trampled greenery like that uphill when we started, so roughing out trail to shaded dining became a consensus objective.
Every rock to the left came out of the trail (stubbornly) less those that toppled down the slope.
After the small wooded section is the final talus slope for the project. The new trail's path has already been surveyed and marked. While Andy has the detailed "blueprints," it's clear that three long fallen trees crossing it will have to be moved. I take the initiative to clear them while closest worker is dozens of feet away for safety (less congestion, less chance of hitting someone), for the novelty in routine, and because it'll open up another section for us to tackle.
The first one goes easy as I'm able to grab one end, pivoting off the other, to swing it downhill of the trail-to-be before flipping down further. Next requires some light sawing to lop a bit of the top so I can clear another tree (living) to use the downed one's trunk as one long lever to twist and wrench it free of it's last roots. It too gets moved down slope in a similar fashion. The last one is the biggest and though dead and fallen is still firmly anchored by a root five to six inches in diameter. The long lever technique won't work as it just recoils like a sideways catapult. Cutting is awkward as the torque on the root tends to bind the blade when it gets deep even with relief cuts, but eventually it meets the same fate.
With other sections shaping up, one by one crew start staking out sections to work in the woods. The shade afforded aids in the attraction, I'm sure. Like before, we get a LOT of work done for just an eight-headed crew, breaking soil all the way to the edge of the last rock field.
The wood section snakes a bit more both to follow terrain as well as to shed water off the trail.
Tying it onto another section.
We'll be putting in just a half-day today so folks have the afternoon to get back home and ready for work Monday. We're also down two heads as one crew member's arm isn't feeling so hot so opts for cleaning up the kitchen and camp while the other is leaving the project early after two full days so he can hike North Maroon.
We refine trail blazed the day prior, enough so that it should only need final dressing later. Time flies and before I know it we're packing tools down trail to the cache after lunch. I believe Andy said our crew progressed the trail about 329' (football field plus). I wouldn't say "completed" though because certain parts still called for features like rock steps, walls, or water breaks. All in all, very satisfying to walk back down that stretch.
Andy (CFI) and Lisa (CMC) looking over some of the work done as other crew ahead of them hike down to camp.
Another shot of the beta ledge mentioned above. Good example of the soil's rockiness in the lower left.
Back in camp, after everyone breaks down their tents and makes pack, we all head across Minnehaha Gulch and down the trail toward Maroon Lake and on to our cars (or bike in my case). Andy down hikes a five-gallon bucket compost (lid WELL-sealed) and Lisa a bag of trash from camp. At the parking lot, Lisa blindly spins as we stand in a circle to randomly award a certificate for a new pair of hiking boots. The winner turns to me and politely and asks if I would like it and we all laugh (see the photo at the end of the next chapter to understand why).
We decide to all catch a early dinner together in town (Aspen) at Zane's on the recommendation of a ranger. A crew member gives me a lift so I don't have to mess with strapping stuff on my bike. We opt to eat on the patio (none of us have seen a shower in, what, three days or so?). We have a couple toasts, including one to "a safe summit and hike down North Maroon" for the only one not present. Onion rings are great as was the rest of the food -- first real, big meal and drink for all of us in days. We even introduce one of the crew born abroad to BBQ sauce via the rings, an successful infection confirmed when they ordered a side of it to go with their meal.
So what happened to our last guy we left on the Deadly Bells???
I'm dropped off by my bike in the parking lot in Maroon Bells around 5 or 6pm (I'm staying to hike the next morning). As I'm resorting some gear and getting ready to hike back up to camp, I hear an enthusiastic, "DUDE!!!" from across the lot. It's our last guy returning to his truck.
"Did you summit?"
"Cool! How was it?" I ask, as a little beta for what will hopefully be my third 14er can't hurt.
"Loose and STEE-HEEEEEEP," he says with deepening breathy voice. "North Maroon must have been a ZOO Saturday. Had something like 17 people on the summit register! Glad I missed that. Same day (Saturday) on Pyramid, a basketball-sized boulder fell hitting one guy in the head then ricocheted into other climbers hip and bloodied it, but both were able to hike down. I met up with one of them on the summit of North Maroon and we decided to descend together so as not to kick down rocks on each other."
I offer him some of the tater tots, fries, and BBQ I had in a to-go box from dinner for a snack later. We both gear up and gear down respectively when he comes back. "Man, those tots were EXACTLY what I needed after that hike." Kind of cool that in a way he did get to eat Zane's with us after all.
I begin to wonder what the Bells might hold in store for me ...
Thanks again to CFI, CMC, Andy, Lisa, and all my fellow trail workers!
Continued on Chapter 6: Goated Off N. Maroon While Sexing (& more you can't unread)
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):