Pro tips for summer backcountry travel in the Colorado mountains
July 25, 2015
An increasing number of summer visitors to campgrounds and national forests across the Rocky Mountains has played a part in more accidents involving volatile weather, bears and hypothermia, prompting U.S. Forest Service rangers to emphasize backcountry safety and respect.
"This summer is an unusual summer here," said Martha Moran, recreation staff supervisor of the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District, noting the above-average rainfall in Pitkin, Eagle and Summit counties. It has created flood conditions in such areas as Avalanche Creek Road, found outside of Carbondale, where rangers had to help a stranded motorist last week. Moran advised visitors to plan ahead and use caution if their adventures involve any backcountry roads or creek crossings.
Lightning also is on the minds of backcountry visitors, as several people have been struck in the Colorado wilderness this summer. Most of those incidents occurred above 11,000 feet, so it's important that hikers and backpackers consider the weather when they enter high-alpine areas, Moran said.
"If you're trying to bag that peak and you look around and you're seeing those cells out there, … even though you want to attain that goal, you need to back off for the risk management," Moran said.
Hypothermia also is a concern when temperatures drop and precipitation moves in. Moran recommends bringing layers — but "don't even bother" with cotton, she said — and keep some items such as gloves, hats and an extra pair of socks in a Ziploc bag to keep them dry.
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Backpackers camping anywhere in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness are now required to carry their food in bear-resistant containers as of a July 14 emergency order from the White River National Forest. Following that order is key given a recent increase in bear activity, including six incidents in the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District last week that included bears stealing packs, raiding coolers and possibly attacking an abandoned tent.
"There's a lot of bear stuff going on out there," Moran said. "Having that food canister right now is an important thing that's taken awhile for us to say 'We need to do this.'"
Difficult Campground just east of Aspen on Highway 82 has long been "bear central," but bruin incidents are down thanks to education efforts there, Moran said.
Leave no trace
Rangers also are increasing their education efforts about "leave no trace" principles, particularly in high-use areas such as Conundrum Hot Springs.
One group of rangers just completed a six-day hike in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness. Encountering 158 overnight visitors and 131 day users, Moran said the rangers tallied eight dogs off leash, two illegal campsites, 22 illegal fires, one individual missing a necessary permit, 19 pounds of litter and four examples of human waste.
They also checked that campers had proper bear-resistant food storage.
"Pack it up and dispose of your waste properly, and leave what you find and be considerate and respect it," Moran said. "There's definitely folks that don't respect it, and we'd love to let them know that this is a freedom and a privilege to enjoy your forest."
The Aspen-Sopris Ranger District manages 18 campgrounds, and all of them are full on the weekends right now, so people looking to camp in those sites must reserve them in advance, Moran said. Even the 22 dispersed sites on Lincoln Creek Road were full Saturday, she said.
"You have to plan it here," Moran said. "It's a gorgeous place and everyone wants to be here this time of the year."
Most of those campers are out by Sunday night, though, so that's a good time to go for people looking to beat the crowd. And there are still some quiet areas, such as in the Hunter-Fryingpan Wilderness, she said.
"There's places out there if you want the solitude," she said.
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