Mountain Town News: Riding Capitol Peak’s steep, unforgiving slopes | SummitDaily.com

Mountain Town News: Riding Capitol Peak’s steep, unforgiving slopes

Allen Best

ASPEN, Colo. – Capitol Peak is a classic mountain. It's only the 29th highest in Colorado, at 14,131 feet, but it's among the most challenging.

The standard hiking route includes a ridge so narrow that most people hunch down, straddling it, a leg on each side, with hundreds of feet of air on both sides. It's called the Knife Edge.

Just a few people climb it in order to ski or snowboard down its steep, difficult slopes. Among them in late May were Ben Markhart, a photographer and guide in in the Aspen area, and Nate Goodman, of Avon.

Writing in The Aspen Times, Markhart explains the importance of descending when the snow is just right, soft enough in the sun to catch edges but not so soft as to avalanche.

"The riding conditions were unbelievably divine, yet I wouldn't have wanted to drop a second later," Goodman said. "I believe in actually riding mountains, and was incredibly lucky to be able to make solid turns instead of just surviving and side-slipping my way down."

Lots of grizzly jams, but no real conflicts

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JACKSON, Wyo. – In Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks, they have gatherings called "grizzly jams." That's where visitors driving along the roads see grizzlies, then stop and take photographs.

Tourists being tourists, somebody could get hurt, but for the work of Kate Wilmot and a team of seasonal employees and volunteers. Called the wildlife bridge, they managed 88 grizzly jams in Teton last summer. It was, she tells the Jackson Hole News&Guide, a slow summer.

Avid wildlife photographers and staff report tense relations at times. Rules, such as giving the bears 100 yards of space, are often pushed. Sometimes, roads are temporarily closed. Wilmot and her team must be thinking ahead, to ensure there's space between bruins and people.

Allowing grizzly and black bears to roam roadside areas in the two national parks has produced no conflict. Wilmot, teaming with bear management biologist Kerry Gunther, recently published an article in which they reported zero bear attacks on visitors who had stopped to watch and photograph habituated bears. This is over a 25-year period in which 12,386 bear jams were reported.

"The concern that tolerating habituated bears along roadways would lead to increases in bear-caused property damages, bear attacks, management removal of bears, and bear mortality from vehicle strikes was unfounded," the article in Yellowstone Science says.

There have, however, been a few minor traffic accidents in the bear jams.

Resort town mayors endorse carbon tax

BANFF, Alberta – Mayors of Banff and Canmore have endorsed Alberta's adoption of a carbon tax similar to the tax in British Columbia.

Beginning next year, carbon dioxide emissions are to be assessed at a rate of $20 per metric tonne, with an increase to $30 per tonne the following year. That will match British Columbia's tax. The intent is to phase out coal-fired electricity, but the tax will also apply to gas and oil—including the oil produced from the province's so-called tar sands deposits around Fort McMurray.

"We applaud the direction toward climate leadership taken by the Province, which will help us sustain our tourism economy and provide a better future for all Albertans," Banff Mayor Karen Sorensen told the Rocky Mountain Outlook.

The provincial government estimates the levy will cost the average family $400 or more a year in direct and indirect costs, with much of that rebated to households in the middle and lower-income bracket. But the taxes are expected to produce $9 billion over the next five years to fund green projects such as expanded public transit, according to The Canadian Press.

Washington state is also talking about adopting a carbon tax.

In Colorado, meanwhile, formation of a new advocacy organization was announced last week. The Colorado Communities for Climate Action's nine founding members include both the town governments for Aspen and Vail, along with their respective county governments, Pitkin and Eagle. Also included is San Miguel County, but not Telluride, its county seat. Other members are along the Front Range: Fort Collins, Boulder, and Golden.

The consortium's goal is to advocate state and federal actions providing the authorities, tools, and policy frameworks that they need to reduce heat-trapping emissions.

More conservative than Mountain Village, the connected-by-a-gondola sibling of Telluride, did not join the consortium. But officials there announced $170,000 in grants to homeowners who take action to save energy in heating systems for roofs and gutters, among other measures.

"We like carrots better than sticks," said Mayor Dan Jansen. "Our people want to do the right thing; they just need a nudge."

Does hot time in Jasper spell a forest of trouble?

JASPER, Alberta – The uncommonly warm winter and spring in Jasper are forecast to be followed by a hot summer. Bark beetles are expected to flourish and possibly flames, too.

Deep cold kills beetles. Since Jan. 11, Jasper has had only eight days with temperatures that remained below freezing. Already, beetle populations of the forests east of the Continental Divide in Alberta had been waxing.

Fire danger, too, will likely heighten this summer, reports the Jasper Fitzhugh. The newspaper cites an Accuweather prediction of temperatures that will be 2 to 4 degrees C (4 to 7 degrees F) above average in the Jasper area.

Jasper recently had a community meeting to talk about how to evacuate if a fire requires such. Greg Van Tighem, the fire chief, warned that a full evacuation would potentially be very chaotic. He advised people to have a 72-hour emergency kit ready to go.

Jasper has 15,000 extra people in town through July and August, plus residents and workers, and then also people in the backcountry and at campgrounds. Compounding the problem is the multiplicity of languages that are spoken, as Jasper is a major international draw.

Scientists, meanwhile, have been probing the consequence of receding Arctic sea ice. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration last week announced that new modeling shows that the melting ice helps explain the warming Arctic, even in winter. But, contrary to some previous hypothetical thinking, the loss of Arctic ice does not explain more frigid temperatures of recent winters in the mid-latitudes of both North America and Europe. That cold, they said, is probably best explained by natural variability.

But even in the mid-latitudes, there is a trend. That trend since 1990 is best characterized as "Warm Arctic, Warm Continents."

Reducing the litter from trail racing hydration

CANMORE, Alberta – Fewer paper and plastic cups will be littering the race course when the 5 Peaks trail running event is held in Canmore on June 11.

Runners will instead be asked to take their own water bottles or reusable cups. For those who forget, reusable rubber cups will be handed out in lieu of paper cups, reports the Rocky Mountain Outlook. Organizers say that phasing out of paper cups at 5 Peaks events in Canada will keep 120,000 paper cups out of the landfill each year.

What's worse, Superfund designation or bad water?

DURANGO, Colo. – There was a flurry of anxious, excited voices in the San Juan Mountains recently. Cement Creek, as it did last August, after the rupture of the Gold King Mine, was running orange.

Another calamity? "People, Cement Creek always runs orange during spring runoff," an exasperated Jonathan Thompson, a former editor of newspapers in Silverton, explained on Twitter.

Since the Gold King rupture last August, Silverton and San Juan County officials have overcome their reluctance to invite the Environmental Protection Agency for an extended stay as water pollution from hard-rock mining is abated. That process draws federal money but will take several years. In addition, it involves creation of a Superfund designation.

A Montana community is also considering the up's an down's of a Superfund designation. Columbia Falls, located just south of Glacier National Park, an aluminum plant needs to be cleaned up. Erin Sexton, who lives nearby, writes in the Flathead Beacon about concerns that it be cleaned up properly.

"The EPA is the best ally we have," writes Sexton. A university researcher into water quality and river issues, she points to Superfund sites in communities with thriving economies. Among them is nearby Whitefish.

"Has the Superfund Site in Whitefish harmed property value there? No," she answers. But the stigma of a polluted, abandoned site, leaching into the Flathead River, forever, "poses a much greater risk than Superfund status."

Music volume and what triggers the complaints

TELLURIDE, Colo. – One company will be in Telluride to hear the four big music festivals to be held there this summer, not necessarily to hear the music, but rather to see how loud it gets.

The town has four major music festivals, including Bluegrass, which is now in its 43rd year.

The Telluride Daily Planet reports that the town council approved hiring an acoustic consultant to monitor the volumes because of complaints in past years.

But higher volumes, as measured in decibels, don't necessarily correlate with the most complaints. Bluegrass festival director Craig Ferguson said that one band's performance registered 106 decibels with few complaints, but another band's music triggered several calls, despite topping out at only 103 decibels. "Describing sound with a machine is somewhat treacherous," he said in written comments.

The intent is to establish a baseline, to be used for evaluating sound in future years.

Housing woes continue to preoccupy Jackson

JACKSON, Wyo. – In Jackson, the story seems to be the same, week in and week out. Where, in this paradise of knock-dead scenery, abundant wildlife, and plentiful jobs, are lower-income workers to live?

The Jackson Hole News&Guide seemed to be thinking about little else as summer approached. One story told of a family of four being evicted from the motel room they shared. Another story told of a public-private partnership that might yield 28 deed-restricted affordable units. Still another story was about potential to allow accessory-dwelling units — also called carriage houses or mother-in-law units — to be constructed in backyards.