Colorado snowpack at 517% of normal; hikers may not enjoy dry trails until July
Colorado said hello to June on Saturday, but not quite yet to summer. The enormous snowpack left over from an historic winter in the mountains has yet to melt off, leaving higher elevation trails – especially 14ers – mostly inaccessible until later in the summer. Quandary Peak, the only 14er within Summit County proper and one of the most popular in the state, may not even be accessible until August.
According to the latest data from the National Resources Conservation Service, as of June 1 the snow-water equivalent across Colorado is 517% of normal. In Summit County and the rest of the Upper Colorado headwaters, snowpack is at 410% of normal. In the southwest corner of the state, which had been experiencing extreme or exceptional drought for most of last year, snowpack is at an astonishing 786% of normal.
While most of the snow on the ground is starting to disappear, colder temperatures at higher elevations and continuous moisture mean that it’s still snowing in parts of the Rockies.
“We continue to be building snow as opposed to losing snow at higher elevations,” said Summit County Open Space & Trails director Brian Lorch. “Normally, we’d be losing snow at those elevations by now.”
Near the top of many of the state’s 14ers, conditions remain relatively unchanged as far as snow. Based on historical snowpack data from the early 80s onward, that snowpack is not expected to start melting off until mid- to late July.
Because of the late season snow and cold temperatures, Michael Connolly, executive director of the Friends of the Dillon Ranger District, predicted that Quandary Peak would not be generally accessible until August. The current conditions appear to support that prediction.
According to recent reports from hikers going up to Quandary, available at 14er enthusiast website 14ers.com, there’s still enough snow on the ground to make the ascent near impassable without proper gear.
Weather conditions are also serious. Users on 14ers.com reported seeing “wind gusts around 50 mph once clear of tree line,” and said that the descent was difficult without snowshoes due to post-holing, but manageable.
Ground conditions are even worse at Gray’s and Torrey’s with trail users seeing the road to the summer trailhead buried under snow and debris, and impassable until it was cleared.
Saturday was the American Hiking Society’s National Trails Day. Connolly said that while conditions on Summit’s trails are still too poor to enjoy right now, it was still important to recognize how important the trail and recreation path system is to Summit.
“The trails are one of the lifeblood of the community,” Connolly said. “People bike ’em, hike ‘em, walk ’em, run on ’em. It’s very important to recognize trails on National Trails Day, and to implement best practices on the trails so they can be sustained for future generations.”
FDRD will formally observe trails day and officially kick off the hiking season next Saturday, June 8, with a volunteer trail work project at the Salt Lick trail system in Wildernest. Prospective volunteers can sign up at FDRD.org.
Hikers are reminded that using muddy trails causes damage, and Lorch urged hikers to hold off using them until they dry out. Connolly said that if hikers must use a muddy section of a trail, go straight through and do not attempt to go around the section, as that creates new disturbance around the trail and diminishes the wilderness they cut through.
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