Snowpack 2019 and Buried Trail

Trail Tip Tuesday – SNOWPACK and BURIED TRAIL – May 21, 2019. We’re upbeat about the 2019 trail season for The Colorado Trail. CT travelers will experience great adventure, likely enhanced by this season’s unusual challenges of deeper than normal snowpack and Trail buried by avalanche debris.

Backpacker encounters avalanche debris above Silverton in CT Segment 24, Elk Creek.

Backpacker encounters avalanche debris above Silverton in CT Segment 24, Elk Creek.

No doubt, for distance travelers (including thru-hikers) the 2019 trail season will start later than normal by, say, a couple of weeks. Right now there’s yet another major snowstorm and the Colorado mountains are receiving loads of new snow with forecasts of up to 20 additional inches. But this new, late-Spring snow will probably melt quickly after the storm moves out. Within a few days, we’re thinking that the segments that had melted off before this storm will again become passable, namely Segments 1, 2, 3, 5, and 14.

For those CT distance travelers not wanting to hassle with deep snowpack, we’re guessing they should start no earlier than July 15th, for a Southbound trip on the entire Trail, and July 25th, for the Collegiate West or the San Juan Mountains portions. These are just our guesses; no one knows for sure.

Avalanche debris has buried several sections of the Trail. It will take weeks to finish just the assessment, as we’re still learning where they all are. Then, before we can work to un-bury the Trail, we’ll need to wait until the ice-hard snow packed at the base of each debris pile melts. It is highly likely that all CT distance travelers will encounter these buried-Trail areas this season.

Avalanche debris may prove to be only a relatively small challenge for hikers and bicyclists, requiring super careful attention to footing and then finding the Trail again on the other side. Expect slippery footing and voids. You should carefully assess each blockage before proceeding. You might remove your backpack or lay down your bike and explore your footing on top of the pile to learn the challenges and determine whether or not to use your trekking poles, etc.

For travelers with horses or llamas, though, we are thinking that, due to the voids in each pile, avalanche debris will prove impassable. Still, if the terrain allows, it might be possible to navigate around the debris, for example in Segment 13 near Cottonwood Pass Road. In other areas, including CT Segment 24 in the canyon-like Elk Creek valley where some of the deepest debris is being found, travelers with stock might not be able to travel around the debris due to the steep and even cliff-like terrain.

An adventure on The Colorado Trail awaits all of you. Enjoy!