Summit County’s highest peak gets mountain face-lift
A trails project on Quandary Peak will have volunteers rising early to scale the mountainside, performing “old-world” trail techniques above the treeline on one of Colorado’s most popular hiking destinations.
“One of the big attractions of this project is it gives people not only from Summit County but all over Colorado the chance to work on these iconic peaks,” said Coby Gierke, field programs manager for the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative.
The shear numbers of hikers who scale the peak makes it more vulnerable to damage.
“It’s one of the busiest Fourteener trails in the state and a lot of the damage that occurs there is related to the traffic,” Gierke said.
The Colorado Fourteeners Initiative works to protect and preserve the natural integrity of Colorado’s 14,000 foot peaks through active stewardship and public education. They are teaming up with the Friends of the Dillon Ranger District to make a mark on Quandary Peak on Saturday, July 20.
Trail project organizers said volunteers will help protect native plants found at Quandary — a unique High Alpine ecosystem sensitive to disturbances.
The trails at the peak formed by hikers, coined “social trails,” hurt the environment.
“They weren’t designed with sustainability in mind, they were created by people trying to get from point A to point B,” said Teddy Wilkinson, Friends of the Dillon Ranger District project coordinator.
The nonprofits have been working to reroute trails at Quandary Peak to more rocky areas with less native plants.
“We can direct the user impact to places that are more durable and harder to damage over time,” Gierke said.
The Fourteeners project manager said the organization designs their projects to be accessible to anyone.
“We try to provide a variety of work options for folks on these projects,” he said.
Tasks will vary from heavy-duty work for people who want to be exhausted at the end of the day, to helping collect seeds and transplant native plants along the trail.
“We can find work for every one,” Gierke said.
Wilkinson took part in the Quandary event as a volunteer last year. He describes the project as one of the more “physically intense” projects the Friends group embarks on throughout the season. But, he said, anyone who can hike up the trail should be fit to contribute to the project.
Volunteers will use traditional dry stone masonry techniques to build staircases, retaining walls and other structures to help maintain the integrity of the main ascent trail.
The “old-world” type of construction uses similar techniques to those found in Roman and Old English architecture. Volunteers will use the same principles that keep ancient structures standing today, Gierke said.
No mortar, concrete or adhesive is used to bind stones together. Instead, volunteers will use weight of the stones to pin them together.
“The construction techniques we use are built to a standard where they will last 50 to 100 years,” Gierke said.
The atmosphere at the project is described as serious but fun.
“We set a culture that we are serious about what we are doing and we want to make a difference,” Gierke said.
Project organizers said they want volunteers to have a good time while being aware of the inherent risks of trail work in high elevations. Some areas will be unstable and steep, and volunteers will be transporting heavy, bulky materials, Gierke said.
“These people are here because they have passion to improve and preserve these special places,” he said. “We want them to be careful and safe up there.”
It’s important for people to get involved to protect the unique high-alpine environment on Quandary Peak, FDRD’s Wilkinson said.
“We want to instill a feeling of stewardship for public lands for all of our volunteers,” he said.
The nonprofit representatives said at the end of the day volunteers should feel empowered they made a lasting impact on the sustainability of one of Colorado’s most popular hiking destinations.
“We all love these trails and really value having assets like the Fourteeners trails in our community — but these trails don’t build these themselves,” Gierke said.
“I want volunteers to feel like they’ve made a lasting contribution,” he said. “The work they do is going to be there for a long time and make the trails better.”
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