Avalanche Debris in CT Segment 24

In Segment 24 of The Colorado Trail, there are large, avalanche debris fields that will be unavoidable all 2020 Trail season and beyond. The CTF has volunteer efforts scheduled again this year but completing this work to cut and dig through all the debris will take multiple Trail seasons.

Avalanche debris fields in CT Segment 24 await hikers. Photo thanks to Avery Williamson.

Avalanche debris fields in CT Segment 24 await hikers. Photo thanks to Avery Williamson.

DEBRIS FIELDS – There are 4-6 very large debris piles of broken trees strewn like pick-up sticks. (Debris centers around Segment 24 miles 9 and 13. Visitors describe the scale as unimaginable, a testament to the awesome power of Mother Nature.) The debris fields cover entire hillsides and completely bury the Trail. Altogether, the crossing distance adds to about 0.3 mile, something totaling about 5 football fields in length. There are voids in these piles that present real hazards. Some of the debris is unstable and can move as you place your weight on it. Underneath the broken trees and all the mulch-like shrapnel is loads of hard snow that is still melting and that changes the voids and debris stability as it melts.

VOLUNTEER IMPROVEMENTS – In 2019, CTF volunteers were able to improve these debris crossings some by making key cuts and marking the preferred hiking lines. In July and August of 2020 this work will continue.

HIKERS – Many hikers succeeded with Segment 24 after this good 2019 volunteer work was accomplished. Hikers reported these crossings as “challenging but doable,” emphasizing the need to slow down and hike cautiously. Crossing each debris field safely requires careful attention to your footing, making sure every single step is safe. Take it slowly. Trekking poles are helpful to improve balance.

DOGS – Some dog owners reported their 2019 experience in Segment 24 and mentioned the need to pick up and carry the pooch for small sections, indicating this would be easier for those having smaller and lighter dogs.

ALL OR NOTHING – We think most hikers and those with dogs will want to experience the iconic CT Segment 24 even with the existing avalanche debris. Still, we recommend choosing for yourself whether you want to proceed with Seg 24 or not. Think of it as all-or-nothing; you make the final decision at or before Seg 24 mi 0.0 near the top of Stony Pass. Do not plan to make a decision when you reach the first of the piles and see it, as you will be miles into the segment and have descended thousands of feet by then and be reluctant to turn back.

CYCLISTS – Because Segment 24 is in Wilderness, it does not affect cyclists. The route for mountain bikers is on the detour described below.

STOCK ANIMALS INCLUDING HORSES: The Segment 24 avalanche debris is not passable by stock animals including horses and llamas and you must plan take the detour or make other arrangements.

DETOUR – The recommended detour around CT Segment 24 is very straightforward. It even shows in the CT Guidebook, Databook, Map Book and in the Guthook CT App as the Bicycle Detour for the Weminuche Wilderness. It begins on sparsely traveled, scenic roads that lead from Stony Pass into Silverton, relatively pleasant for both hikers and horse riders. Leaving Silverton, hikers will likely find an easy 7-mile hitch or shuttle to near the top of Molas Pass along Highway 550. For the portion from Silverton to Molas Pass, horse riders and llama travelers will need to secure trailer transportation for their animals because Highway 550 is too narrow for safe, on-hoof passage. One possibility for advanced-arrangement horse trailer services is through Dean Mize of San Juan Sky Outfitters …(970) 259-8590… located south of Silverton near Purgatory Ski Resort.

VIDEO OF HIKER CROSSING ONE DEBRIS PILE, thanks to Rick Stockwell:  https://youtu.be/JSoTDKNjfUc