Trail conditions in RMNP: nps.gov/romo/planyourvisit/trail_conditions.htm
Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forest info: fs.usda.gov/arp
This spring, local ultrarunner Anton Krupicka has been running trails higher in the high country sooner than usual.
“Over two weeks ago, I went up Mount Elbert in basically summer conditions, and in early April was already making trips up high on South Arapaho Peak from the Fourth of July Trailhead,” Krupicka said.
Kayaker Forrest Noble is off to a low-water start this season.
“All we’ve been doing is USB, Upper South Boulder Creek, which is kind of the gnarlier run on the Front Range,” he said.
But even that is way lower than usual, he said. He’s scoped out the creek in Eldorado Canyon, but it’s low, too — the Colorado Division of Water Resources discharge chart for the creek in Eldorado Springs has been running at about 100 cubic feet per second for the past few days, but average is more than 200 cfs.
Plus, Noble added: “Some of the rivers have already peaked, which is unbelievable.”
After a winter with lower-than-average snowfall totals and a warm, dry spring, hikers, Boulder-area mountain bikers and kayakers are finding that trails and streams aren’t in the condition they’re accustomed to for late May on the Front Range.
At the Fourth of July Trailhead, “as far as snowmelt, it’s about a month ahead,” said Elaine Wells, of the Boulder Ranger District of the U.S. Forest Service. “And that’s probably in most locations.”
However, even though there’s less snow in general, if you’re planning to hike from Fourth of July or Hessie this weekend, Wells said, remember that the amount of snow on the ground depends on slope aspect and tree cover.
“For example, Arapaho Pass Trail doesn’t have a lot of snow on it, but if people want to go to Diamond Lake, they’re going to be disappointed,” she said of the tree-covered trail.
Snow levels below normal
Elsha Kirby, spokeswoman for the Boulder Ranger District, said the popular Brainard Lake Recreation Area is scheduled to open on June 15, which is at about the same time that it usually opens.
“This year, there’s still some snow there, but it’s not anything like the normal levels,” she said.
The opening is usually delayed until mid-June because of snow. But this year, it’s because of fallen trees from high winds in winter storms, she said.
“Hazard tress and blow-down trees have been found in the thousands in and around popular recreation areas along the northern Front Range,” Kirby said by e-mail. “Forest Service employees have already begun working to mitigate trees blocking roads and trails.”
The Peaceful Valley campground, south of Allenspark on the Peak to Peak Highway, will be closed through June while Forest Service crews clear out hazard trees, Kirby said. She added that the campground lost one notably large and healthy tree to wind over the winter.
“The bigger, healthier trees, they have more surface area, so when the wind hits them, it’s like flying a kite,” she said.
Trees ‘nailed’ by wind
Rocky Mountain National Park has similar issues with blown-down trees, said park spokeswoman Kyle Patterson, especially in the popular hiking destinations above Mills Lake.
“We don’t have wind gauges in the park, but based on the wind damage and based on the measurements taken in the Estes Park area, we’ve estimated the winds at over 100 mph” during the November storms, she said.
It’s sad to hear about old but healthy trees being taken out by the wind, she added.
“Here’s these gorgeous pines, 100-year-old ponderosa pines, and they’re fighting back the beetles, and the winds came and just nailed a bunch of them,” Patterson said.
Park staff are working to clear some trees, she said. “But many of those trees are going to stay there — this is a wilderness area.”
In the park, lower trails are mostly free of snow, but higher areas still have plenty, and fresh snow on Longs Peak is keeping the Keyhole Route, the standard route on the park’s only fourteener, iced in and technical, as it usually is this early in the season, Patterson said.
“We’re seeing much less snow on our lower backcountry areas than is typical, but that doesn’t mean it’s all snow-free,” Patterson said. “It just totally depends on what trail you’re planning on going on.”
Ahead of last year’s Teva Mountain Games in Vail, crews were out shoveling snow off of the singletrack on the route of the mountain bike race. This year, the trails are clear, but spokesman Ian Anderson issued a press release Monday to let participants know that some of the events at the games were in danger because of low water levels.
According to the release: “While organizers remain hopeful all the events will take place as planned, the whitewater SUP, kayaking and rafting competitions have been listed as tentative with a final race status decision scheduled for May 29.”
Marty Cronin, one of the organizers of the Lyons Outdoor Games, said that for whitewater enthusiasts, “as far as a season goes, it’s terrible.” But he’s not worried about the paddling events at the games.
“This event’s going to go off, but the freestyle events, anything water-related, is certainly under pressure,” he said.
Fortunately, he said, a diversion in Lyons from Carter Lake always ensures that there’s some water for paddling.
“We should be able to have the whitewater and the creek events, no problem,” Cronin said. “Will the water be high? Absolutely not.”
Meanwhile, he said, he already has friends calling to plan paddling trips outside of Colorado this summer.
“I think until mid-June, we’ll have enough water to still be paddling on, and then the dam-fed stuff will kick in, but after that, you’ll have to travel.”