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Trail up popular fourteener gets rerouting
ASPEN — By the time the sun rolls over the eastern ridge high above the Maroon Creek Valley in these waning days of summer, the members of a trail crew already have worked up a sweat in the cool mountain air.
Half of the 12 workers have a large rock in a sling one recent morning. They cannot use motorized or mechanized tools because they are in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness, roughly 11 miles southwest of Aspen. They coordinate lifting and moving the rock a few feet at a time over a hodgepodge talus slope with precarious footing. The rock is perfect for use as a step on a high mountain trail.
The seven women and five men of the crew are all between ages 21 and 25. They have been in Minnehaha Gulch for five weeks, living and working above 10,000 feet. They are rerouting about one mile of the trail up North Maroon Peak, one of the iconic Maroon Bells.
The old trail, in use for decades, goes straight up the fragile tundra. Hikers must claw their way up two particularly tough sections: one steep section where the earth has been pounded by thousands of footsteps over the years, forming little steps framed by tree foots; the other being a scramble up a jagged granite ledge that requires careful selection of hand and foot holds to climb about 12 feet.
The U.S. Forest Service in partnership with Colorado Fourteeners Initiative has planned the reroute for years. Now two project managers from the Initiative and a 10-member crew from Rocky Mountain Youth Corps are turning the plans into realty with tough 10-hour days.
They haul rocks from an inconspicuous quarry site to build a 300-foot retaining wall along the new trail section. They use 6-foot-long pry bars to move massive rocks into place for a 67-step staircase. They use small sledge hammers to break up granite rocks into smaller pieces between the sections that require steps.
The crew has created a rough cut of the trail from the sweat of their brows. “For the most part, we've followed the blueprint to a T,” said Miriam Venman-Clay of Vermont, one of the two Colorado Foutneers Initiative project managers.
“We've built this entire trail in five weeks,” she said with obvious pride in the crew's performance. “We have to tie it up in four more weeks.”