Mountain Town News: Colorado towns fret about potential of floods |

Mountain Town News: Colorado towns fret about potential of floods

LAKE CITY — Flooding in Lake City during this year’s runoff of the phenomenal snowpack has become such a concern that materials from the local historical museum have been transferred to higher grounds, as have some documents normally kept in the Hinsdale County Courthouse.

Some 15,000 sandbags have been imported to Lake City as attention has been focused on the watershed upstream in the San Juan Mountains.

Lake City, which got its name in 1873, during the first flash of the mining boom in the San Juans, has a population of 400 people. Its population swells during summer, when it’s a popular destination for Texans but also mountain climbers. Several 14,000-foot peaks, including Uncompahgre and Wetterhorn, are located nearby, above Henson Creek.

Henson Creek is what concerns Hinsdale County as well as state and other authorities. There were many avalanches during snow season. One left snow and ice 200 to 300 feet deep and a half-mile wide across the creek. The trees, boulders and other debris in the snow create the makings of a dam. Should the dam back up melted snow and then burst, Lake City could be flooded.

“It is a totally different animal if we’re talking about a debris field of logs and trees as opposed to clear water,” explained Michael Davis, public information officer with the Hinsdale Unified Coordination Group.

A masonry dam, called Hidden Treasure, compounds the problem. Created in 1890 to produce electricity, it lost that function long ago. It has a gaping hole in its face, the result of a breach in 1973.

But a half-dozen experts who gathered to study it this past week concluded that trees and other materials could build up behind the dam. They say complete failure of the dam is likely, which could result in a “catastrophic flood surge,” according to the Hinsdale County website. To avert that possibility, the dam is being preemptively destroyed.

High runoff normally occurs by June 10, Davis told the Crested Butte News, but because of the cool spring, that high runoff as of late May was expected to occur on or around June 18. The snow-water equivalent in the snowpack of the Gunnison River Basin, where Lake City is located, was 727 percent of normal as of June 2, according to the SNOTEL measuring sites. Farther south, in the Telluride-Durango area, the same measuring matrix reported 1,174 percent of average.

Film from urban slum the top pick at Mountainfilm

TELLURIDE — The name of Telluride Mountainfilm has been slightly misleading for a very long time. The festival has been around since 1978, but even by the late 1980s it had strayed far from its mountaineering roots.

That was again the case this year as the most acclaimed film at the festival was about urban life, reports the Telluride Daily Planet. The film “17 Blocks” tells the astonishing, truth-is-stranger-than-fiction story of a family that lives a mere 17 blocks from the nation’s Capitol in Washington, D.C. But the family might as well be a world away, writes the Planet.

“The masterpiece of verité filmmaking follows four generations of the family as hope keeps them raised up through struggles of addiction, gang violence and devastating tragedy,” according to Mountainfilm promotional material. The film was named audience favorite at the festival and also the best feature film by the expert panel. As for verité, it’s a genre that emphasizes realism and naturalism.

As usual, there was much more than just cinematography at the festival. For example, there also were musical brothers who gave impromptu rap/tub performances; and Winfred Rembert, a self-taught visual artist who is old enough to have worked for pennies in the cotton fields of his native Georgia and who worked on a prison chain gang and survived a lynching attempt.

Then there was Oprah Winfrey, a part-time resident of the Telluride area, in an on-stage conversation with Cheryl Strayed, who wrote a book about hiking the Pacific Trail that got some attention. Maybe you’ve heard of “Wild?”

Evidence mounts that bison in Banff stayed in mountains

BANFF, Alberta — There were bison in Banff before the modern era. But were they tourists, who wandered into the mountains occasionally, or mountain dwellers?

The Rocky Mountain Outlook reports that tests conducted on 15 bison bones discovered recently delivered further evidence of bison as mountain dwellers, not tourists. In fact, they may not have left the mountains.

A scientist was careful not to deliver conclusions too sweeping, though.

“It’s suggesting that these particular individual bison could have gone out of the mountains a little bit, but not very much,” said Karsten Heuer, manager of Banff’s bison reintroduction project.

Isotope analysis of the bones sheds light on the diets of the bison, including their habitat, while radio-carbon dating indicated a date of 600 years ago. However, other bison bones discovered in the park put bison there as long as 10,370 years ago.

A bison shot near Lake Louise in 1858 was believed to be the last wild bison in what is now Banff National Park.

In 2016, Parks Canada transplanted 16 bison imported from east of Edmonton into the park. So far, reports the Outlook, the effort appears to be paying off. The original herd was enclosed within a fenced pasture, and it has more than doubled, with more calves on the way.

The intent of the fencing was to instill a sense of home in the bison. Now that the fences mostly have been dismantled, the theory seems to be working.

Skier makes no bones about it: He screwed up

JACKSON, Wyo. — In May, a 24-year-old Jackson man ignored advice to retain a defense attorney and instead fessed up to his guilt for skiing out of bounds. For this, he must pay $6,000.

In late February, after four feet of snow had fallen, Andrew Richards had dipped out of bounds at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. The U.S. Forest Service and the resort operator had instituted an extraordinary closure to the backcountry — the first ever.

In skiing out of bounds, Richards didn’t intend to stay outside the ropes for long. But two of his companions followed his tracks out of bounds but did not follow his tracks inside the ropes. Instead, getting confused, they skied into Granite Canyon in Teton National Park.

Once he had discovered what had happened, Richards did everything right. He got vital information from one of his lost companions via cellphone, told her to stay put and went to ski patrol headquarters and spilled everything. National Park Service rangers reached the skiers just before midnight after using ropes and belays. They hiked back up to the ski area boundary, arriving at 3 a.m.

The thing is that somebody easily could have gotten killed because of the dangerous conditions.

“To me, that’s one of the most frustrating things I have experienced in society — people not owning up to things they have done wrong,” Richards told the Jackson Hole News&Guide. “I can’t reiterate enough how thankful I am that everyone is OK and how sorry I am.”

No word on whether the other skiers who hopped out of bounds will similarly get their hands smacked.

Some have skied every single month for years

TRUCKEE, Calif. — It turns out that quite a few people have made it a point to put on skis every single month of the year — for years on end.

Writing in the Sierra Sun, Jenny Goldsmith turned up several skiers in the Tahoe-Truckee area who are every-month skiers. But perhaps most notable was the story of Brennan Lagasse and Jillian Raymond, who have been married nearly two decades. They started tracking their months of consecutive skiing in November 2003, with the intent of skiing every month for a year. Now, 16 years later, they still haven’t missed a month.

Now, they’ve got company. They have a 1-year-old who hasn’t missed a month of skiing with her parents since she was in the womb.

Everest spectacle provokes discussion of lesson learned

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The image of the climbers on Everest last week, waiting their turn to tag the summit, was certainly arresting. There was a similar arrest of hearts among some for the climbers exposed for too long in this zone where, without oxygen, oxygen blood saturation levels drop to below 25 percent. Even in mountain towns, most healthy people have saturation levels well above 90 percent. Eleven people died on Everest in May, for various reasons.

But what is the solution? The draw of the world’s highest is immense, as reflected by the admission of three veterans of Everest in Steamboat that they also would love to go back if given the chance. But they also pointed to other peaks with great allure in the Himalayas.

Certainly, the challenge Pakistan’s K2 — the world’s second highest — and the other 8,000-meter peaks appeal to the most experienced mountaineers. But there is great danger even in those less-than-8,000 meters, as witnessed by the fears that a party of eight climbers might have been caught by an avalanche on Nanda Devi, the world’s 23rd highest peak. It’s located in India.

In Colorado, only occasionally does anybody die while climbing a 14,000-foot peak, but the trails can indeed be busy. With this, there has been some effort to steer attention to lesser-climbed peaks. Some people have made it a quest to climb all 13,000-foot peaks. Some of them do pose much greater challenges than even the most difficult of the 14,000-foot peaks.

The struggle to close doors during the middle of winter

WHISTLER, B.C. – In Whistler, Arthur DeJong has been trying to figure out how to move his community beyond the easy words of climate change ambitions to the hard work of actually reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Open doors at many of Whistler’s 300 shops during the cold days of winter represent one opportunity. Several surveys during Christmas conducted by DeJong and members of Aware, the local environmental group, revealed upwards of one-third of doors were open, a way of saying: Hey, we’re open for business.

In response, he and the Aware members distributed letters to the shopkeepers asking them to close the doors and explaining why. Leaving doors open during winter means more natural gas gets burned for heating. That produces greenhouse gas emissions. Emissions are causing the planet to warm.

Those open doors are a small but very tangible part of the big problem.

After the letters were distributed, another survey showed only 4% remained open. That, however, was during a cold spell in late February, when temperatures dropped to near zero degrees. As temperatures warmed in March and April, doors opened again.

Other mountain resort towns also have struggled with the dilemma of open doors. In 2014, the municipal council in Banff chewed over what to do about the blatantly wasteful loss of energy created by open doors. After all, environmental quality is the very premise for Banff.

But economics trumped the environment. “If the door is open, they do walk in,” one Banff councilor with experience in retail business said. “It’s a weird piece of human psychology, but I believe it to be true.”

Aspen, with its climate change manifesto called the Canary Initiative, also has talked about open doors. Jeff Price, then a town staffer, found 24 doors open on a cold, winter day within six blocks of downtown Aspen.

Of those, some had no heat on. Galleries, he told Mountain Town News in a 2014 article, don’t want customers to take off their coats because if they do they leave.

Another third of open doors had air curtains. Price used his infrared heat detectors to evaluate their efficacy in retaining heat behind the open door. They do seem to create an effective barrier, he said.

Wanting more proof, Mountain Town News dived deeper, but could find only one study, which was conducted in 2012 by the Air Movement and Control Association, a trade group. That study by Liangzhu Wang, a researcher from Concordia University in Canada, found that air cushions required electricity but delivered a net-energy benefit. This is more true in cool climates than heat-dominated climates, where the point is to keep cooled air inside. It also matters whether the wind might intrude upon the air cushion, Wang said.

But in Whistler, DeJong hopes to see a municipal regulation. But that is not something British Columbia can do without express provincial authority. DeJong and others hope to see the province cede to the local authority on several fronts. For example, should taxi companies be required to use only electric vehicles? That’s something Whistler cannot mandate.

The province also must approve a ban on plastic bags. Whistler is watching the appeal of a municipality near Vancouver on those same grounds.

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