Quandary conundrum | SummitDaily.com

Quandary conundrum

Jane Stebbins

BRECKENRIDGE – Colorado Fourteeners Initiative volunteers were rerouting a trail around a sensitive area at the base of Quandary Mountain last week when a group of hikers, oblivious to the delicate plants growing there, tromped through the area.

Then came a pack of Boy Scouts.

Then a group of friends, and another and another.

Bruce Morrow, education outreach manager for the organization, said that by the time the day was through, more than 120 hikers had trekked through the area, reiterating to him that people are unaware the so-called Monte Cristo route is not a formal trail at all.

“We’re up there restoring the trail and people are walking up,” Morrow said. “Our crews are working and people are coming up and walking around the volunteers. They’re not being willful. It’s a confusing situation, and we need to get better information out there.”

He’s got his work cut out for him.

“The Monte Cristo route was never a Forest Service trail, but it’s in all the guide books as the primary route up Quandary,” Morrow said of the popular 14,265-foot mountain at the southwest end of Summit County. “Now, it’s ingrained in so many people’s minds.”

CFI volunteers are in the second year of a two-year project to reroute the trail to protect it from the environmental degradation it experiences each year. According to Morrow, an average of 254 hikers ascend the peak each weekend day.

“It’s one of the easiest fourteeners to climb,” Morrow said. “It’s so emblematic of the Colorado Rockies. People hear about them, and if someone says, “I want to climb a fourteener, where do I start?,’ they’re going to be told Quandary Peak. It’s one of the easiest. Our popular day-use peaks are getting absolutely hammered.”

Only Grays and Torreys peaks on the Continental Divide between Clear Creek and Summit counties are more popular. On any given summer weekend day, an average of 309 hikers can be found trying to bag those two mountaintops, Morrow said. One day, he counted 157 vehicles at the Grays and Torreys trailhead.

Morrow and others are trying to educate hikers who venture into the Quandary and Monte Cristo areas. But their efforts are exacerbated by the hiking guide books that direct people there, the lack of signage in the area, numerous social trails that wend up from a subdivision below and issues inherent with private land from which some hikers begin their treks.

Morrow planned to speak with Forest Service officials last week to ask them how to go about erect signs. He suspects it could take awhile, Morrow said, because of an extensive application process and the federal agency’s lack of funding.

CFI volunteers since have placed small signs at the base of the mountain redirecting people to the Quandary Peak trailhead farther down McCullough Gulch Road.

But the volunteers will be in the area only for another month, during which time they hope to finish their work and make it more obvious the Monte Cristo path isn’t the one people should take to access Quandary Peak.

“We’d love to have some people from Summit County to give people the correct information at that site,” Morrow said. “That’s the best short-term action we can take. We want to let people know it’s not closed, it not illegal to travel cross-country on the forest, but that area is being restored and that there is a different route that is more environmentally sustainable.”

Hikers interested in helping educate people about the rerouted trail can call Morrow at 303-278-7525, ext 118. For more information about CFI, e-mail CFI@14ers.org.

Jane Stebbins can be reached at 668-3998 ext. 228 or jstebbins@summitdaily.com.

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