Monday, May 30, 2016

Trail Ridge Road Opens For The 2016 Season - Night Closures In Place

Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park will open at 11 am today, Saturday, May 28. Due to melting snow on the road during the day and freezing temperatures at night, visitors should plan for night closures occurring at 8:00 p.m. until conditions change. Road crews and rangers will reassess conditions each morning and reopen the road when and if conditions allow.

Trail Ridge Road historically opens on Memorial Day weekend; last year the road opened on May 29. The earliest the road has opened was on May 7, 2002; the latest June 26, 1943. Trail Ridge Road is the highest continuous paved road in the United States, climbs to 12,183 feet and connects the towns of Estes Park and Grand Lake. Trail Ridge Road officially closed for the season last year on October 29th.

National Park Service plow operators normally begin clearing the snow in the middle of April. Crews from the west side of the park and crews from the east side of the park move along the road and eventually meet at the Alpine Visitor Center. The visitor center is the highest in the National Park Service, sitting at 11,796 feet above sea level. Spring storms often impact plowing activities. This year, plow operators encountered average snow drifts from 18 to 22 feet. Because weather conditions may change rapidly, park visitors should be prepared to adjust travel plans accordingly and are encouraged to call the park's Trail Ridge Road recorded phone line at (970) 586-1222.

Park staff will update the recorded line during and after regular office hours, when the road status changes. For more information about Rocky Mountain National Park visit or call the park's Information Office at (970) 586-1206.


Saturday, May 28, 2016

Lily Lake Trail Project Taking Place

The south section of the Lily Lake Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park is being repaired. The section of the trail along the south shore of the lake to the south loop junction will be closed through October, while a boardwalk is being constructed.

An alternate route detours those walking on that section of trail. For more information about this trail, please click here.


Monday, May 23, 2016

Forest Service Gears Up for Significant 2016 Wildfire Season

Last week Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell met with Forest Service Regional Foresters to discuss preparations for anticipated significant wildland fire potential in 2016. The briefing comes as the 2016 fire season has begun with five times more acres already burned than this time last year, following 2015's record-setting fire season.

"The 2016 wildfire season is off to a worrisome start. Southern California, the Great Basin in Nevada, portions of the southwest, and even Florida and Hawaii are particularly vulnerable this year. In California, more than 40 million trees have died, becoming dry fuel for wildfire," said Vilsack. "Congress must take action now to ensure that we, and, ultimately the firefighters we ask so much of, have the resources to do the restoration and wildfire prevention work necessary to keep our forests healthy."

Forest Service Chief Tidwell underscored the Forest Service's commitment to ensuring the protection of firefighters' lives. Last year, seven members of the Forest Service firefighting team were lost in the line of duty, and 4,500 homes were damaged or destroyed. This year the Forest Service is able to mobilize 10,000 firefighters, 900 engines, 300 helicopters, 21 airtankers, 2 water scoopers and over 30 aerial supervision fixed-wing aircraft. Together with federal, state and local partners, the agency is positioned to respond wherever needed.

In recent years fire seasons are, on average, 78 days longer than they were in 1970 and, on average, the number of acres burned each year has doubled since 1980. As a result, the Forest Service's firefighting budget is regularly exhausted before the end of the wildfire season, forcing the Forest Service to abandon critical restoration and capital improvement projects in order to suppress extreme fires.

The cost of the Forest Service's wildfire suppression reached a record $243 million in a one-week period during the height of suppression activity in August 2015. With a record 52 percent of the Forest Service's budget dedicated to fire suppression activities, compared to just 16 percent in 1995, the Forest Service's firefighting budget was exhausted in 2015, forcing USDA to transfer funds away from forest restoration projects that would help reduce the risk of future fires, in order to cover the high cost of battling blazes.

Last December Vilsack told members of Congress that he will not authorize transfers from restoration and resilience funding this fire season. Instead, Vilsack has directed the Forest Service to use funds as they were intended. For example, restoration work through programs like the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program and implementation of the National Cohesive Strategy, are reducing the size and severity of wildfires. USDA, the U.S. Department of the Interior and other partners are working with at-risk communities to promote community and homeowner involvement in mitigating wildfire risk, reducing hazardous fuels and accomplishing treatments that increase forest health and resilience.

Even a so-called normal year is far worse than it used to be. On average, wildfires burn twice as much land area each year as they did 40 years ago and the threat continues to increase.

Over the last two years, $237 million has been permanently shifted from the Forest Service non-fire budget forcing the department to abandon critical restoration and capital improvement projects in order to suppress extreme fires. This loss in funds to firefighting took place before a single fire broke out in 2016.

For the first time in its 111-year history, over half of the Forest Service's 2015 budget was designated to fight wildfires, compared to just 16 percent in 1995. 2015 was the most expensive fire season in the department's history, costing more than $2.6 billion on fire alone.


Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Study: Camping Tents Could Be Toxic

Campers and backpackers may want to keep track of this story as it develops. Duke University, in conjunction with REI, has conducted a study on flame retardant treatments in camping tents, which was recently published in the latest edition of Environmental Science and Technology. Although there are no clear-cut conclusions at this point, there is concern within the outdoor industry that campers and backpackers may be exposing themselves to the adverse health effects of flame retardant chemicals, including the possibility of thyroid cancer.

The study found that skin and inhalation exposure levels to flame retardant chemicals were significantly higher for volunteers while they set-up and occupied their tents.

Currently, flame retardant chemicals are applied to tents in order to prevent or slow the spread of fire on potentially flammable materials. These are used to meet regulatory flammability requirements. Apparently there are many other consumer products that potentially could be exposing us to harmful chemicals as well.

So what can campers and backpackers do while researchers dig deeper into this issue? In a recent blog posting, REI made these recommendations for reducing your exposure to flame retardants while camping:

• Wash your hands after setting up a tent or wear gloves when setting it up.

• Use the venting systems.

• Leave the rain fly off the tent when possible, to increase ventilation.

• Avoid using heat sources inside your tent, including cooking stoves, lanterns or candles.

Long term, all of us probably need to pay closer attention to any new developments on this issue, and take action as new data becomes available.


Thursday, May 12, 2016

Photographing Wolves in Yellowstone National Park

With 2016 being the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, National Geographic has decided to dedicate its May issue solely to Yellowstone National Park. As part of this issue, Nat Geo has also published a series of videos, including this one in which Ronan Donovan discusses how he went about photographing wolves for the magazine:


Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Hiking in Bear Country

Whenever we as hikers venture into the wilderness we immediately assume a degree of risk. No matter the distance, your fitness level, or your backcountry experience, you should be prepared for a wide range of situations once you place that first foot on the trail.

There are many things hikers and backpackers can do to minimize risk and prepare ourselves for a variety of conditions or events that could happen while out on the trail, such as taking extra food and water, carrying a map, or stuffing extra clothing and rain gear into our packs, among many others.

However, for those that hike in bear country, there are extra precautions you must take, especially if you’re trekking in grizzly bear territory, such as in Glacier, Yellowstone or Grand Teton National Park. There are several things you can and should do to ensure a safe and successful hike. One of your primary goals while hiking in bear country is to avoid a surprise encounter with a bear. In these situations noise will be your best friend, as bears will normally move out of the way when they hear humans approaching. Shouting out “hey bear” and loudly clapping hands every few minutes are excellent ways of making your presence known. Although many hikers think that they can rely solely on bear bells, this probably isn’t a good idea. Bear experts point out that the noise generated by the bells doesn’t carry well, especially in windy conditions, near streams and in open terrain.

Many hikers also assume that they don’t have to make noise while hiking on well-used trails, however, many of the most frequently used trails around the country travel through prime bear habitat. People have been charged and injured by bears fleeing from silent hikers who unwittingly surprised them along the trail. Even if other hikers haven’t seen any bears on any given section of trail, you shouldn’t assume that bears aren’t around.

Also, don’t assume a bear’s hearing is any better than yours. Various trail conditions can make it hard for bears to see, hear, or smell approaching hikers. Be particularly careful near streams and waterfalls, against the wind, or in dense vegetation. A blind corner or a rise in the trail also requires special attention.

The best thing to do is to make a lot of noise, stay alert at all times, and avoid the habit of looking down at the trail all the time.

Hikers should never hit the trail alone – no matter where you hike. There are far too many things that could happen in which a companion could provide some type of help, including possibly saving your life. This is especially true in bear country. One of the best ways to ensure a safe hike is to travel in groups of three or more people. Bear experts recommend four, or even groups of five individuals. The noise from footfalls and talking is usually enough to alert bears of approaching humans, thus providing them with enough time to get out of your way. Consequently, the number of human-bear conflicts drop as the number of individuals in a hiking party increases.

In the event that you are approached or charged by a bear while out on the trail, or in a campsite, your best line of defense will be bear spray. Hikers should always carry bear spray when venturing into bear country – and know how to use it. This aerosol pepper derivative triggers temporarily incapacitating discomfort in bears. It’s a non-toxic and non-lethal means of deterring bears. There are many cases where bear spray has repelled aggressive or attacking bears. According to studies in recent years, bear spray was more than 90% effective in stopping bear attacks, compared to firearms, which were only 50% effective. Obviously there are accounts where bear spray hasn’t worked as well as expected. Factors influencing effectiveness include distance, wind, rainy weather conditions, temperature extremes, and product shelf life.

If you do decide to carry bear spray be sure to purchase spray that is specifically made for deterring bears, rather than pepper spray, which is a milder version made to deter humans. Currently there are only four bear sprays approved by the EPA. One of those is Counter Assault Bear Deterrent, which is an excellent choice for the trail. I like it because it sprays up to 32 feet, has a spray time of 9.2 seconds, and has a CRC of 2.0%, the maximum strength of capsaicinoids allowed by the EPA. Although the product is sold in two sizes, I would recommend going with the larger 10.2 ounce size. This will provide you with more spray to deploy in the event multiple bursts are needed. I would also recommend purchasing the product with either a belt or chest strap holster. This will provide you with fast access in the event of a surprise encounter where seconds matter.

Under no circumstances should bear spray create a false sense of security or serve as a substitute for standard safety precautions in bear country.

Finally, the last thing I would recommend is for you to educate yourself on bears. The University of Alberta in Canada has posted some valuable information concerning Bear Safety, Awareness and Avoidance on their website. The page covers an array of issues regarding bears, including understanding bear behavior and how to react during various bear encounters.

I should also point out that the goal of this article wasn’t to scare you in anyway, but rather to prepare you before venturing into bear country. A Glacier National Park ranger that we have gotten to know over the years once said that far too many park visitors are “bearanoid”, meaning that they’re depriving themselves from enjoying their hike, or choosing to not even venture out onto the trail while in the park. For their sake, this is a shame.

To put things in perspective, bear encounters are very rare. Consider that roughly one million people venture into Glacier’s backcountry each year. On average there are only one or two non-lethal bear “incidents” in any given year. Moreover, there have only been 10 bear related fatalities in the history of the national park, which goes back to 1910. Only three of those fatalities involved hikers, and at least two of those were solo hikers.

So get out on the trail, be prepared, and have fun!


Saturday, May 7, 2016

Longs Peak: This will make you nervous just watching it!

So you want to climb Longs Peak - the tallest mountain in Rocky Mountain National Park. I know that I definitely wanted to when I was younger. I even made an attempt back in the 1990s. However, just a little past the Keyhole, I realized that I was way out of my league, and promptly turned around. Later, as the internet began filling-up with trip reports, photos and videos, I saw that the route was even more dangerous past the point where I turned around.

Back in 2014, Bryan Blalock and friends reached the summit of the 14,259-foot peak. Taking a GoPro with him, he published a series of videos showing what the climb is like. The first section of the route begins at the Longs Peak Trailhead, and travels up to The Keyhole, which is basically a standard day hike although the last quarter-mile through the Boulder Field and up to the Keyhole is a fairly strenuous scramble. Above the Keyhole, however, the route becomes a standard climbing route. The park website states that:
"The Keyhole Route is not a hike. It is a climb that crosses enormous sheer vertical rock faces, often with falling rocks, requiring scrambling, where an unroped fall would likely be fatal. The route has narrow ledges, loose rock, and steep cliffs."
Rookie climbers should also note that the mountain is statistically one of the deadliest climbs in the United States.

The first video below is relatively tame. It shows the group climbing up the Homestretch to reach the summit. The second video is far more compelling. It shows the group descending through The Narrows. If you have any thoughts on climbing this mountain, and, you're like me - only a hiker, this video will certainly give you some pause before attempting this. Here's the first video:

And here's the descent through The Narrows:

In addition to the hike to The Keyhole, Rocky Mountain National Park has many other outstanding hikes that take-in the best scenery the park has to offer. If you do plan to visit Rocky Mountain this year, please note that our hiking website also offers a wide variety of accommodation listings and other things to do to help with all your vacation planning.


Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Salida Ranger District receives funding to open trail with improved amenities near Agnes Vaille Falls

The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) - Salida Ranger District is the recipient of a Colorado State Non-motorized Trails Construction/Maintenance grant. It was awarded to improve a popular recreation area in Chaffee County. The funds will be used in 2016 and 2017 to construct a family-friendly sustainable trail directly across from Chalk Lake Campground at the base of Agnes Vaille Falls in the Chalk Creek Canyon drainage.

With support from the community, the Salida Ranger District is proposing to construct an elevated wood boardwalk, create an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant trail segment and reconstruct a road segment that is currently impassible. The trail will provide a quality experience for families and may include picnic sites, interpretative panels, a waterfall viewing deck and rest benches throughout the trail system.

The Agnes Vaille Falls Trail (NFST #1443) was closed due to visitor safety concerns in September 2013 following a tragic, large rockslide event that took the lives of five individuals. The trail has been incorporated into USFS long-term trail management plans, and efforts to re-open this area of the San Isabel National Forest are a priority of the Salida Ranger District. The District will make improvements and additions to the trail system to provide a much desired recreation opportunity in this iconic area.

Support on the grant proposal came from the Chamber of Commerce, Historic St. Elmo and Chalk Creek Canyon Inc. (HSE&CCC Inc.), Greater Arkansas River Nature Association (GARNA), Salida Mountain Trails (SMT) and Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado (VOC). The work will be accomplished in partnership with USFS crews, community volunteers and partners, professional contractors and other groups that are interested in participating.


Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Doctors Warn that Hiking is Contagious

Doctors are increasingly writing new prescriptions for an old remedy- time in nature. As part of the burgeoning Park Rx movement, health care providers throughout the country are encouraging patients to use parks to reap the benefits of nature’s healing properties. On April 24, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy, National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis, health care providers, and hundreds of people celebrated the first National Park Rx Day by participating in outdoor activities around the country.

“Nature is good for us - it is a great antidote to a variety of ailments, including obesity, heart disease, and depression,” said Jarvis at a National Park Rx Day event in Seattle. “A growing number of public health officials now prescribe time in parks for the overall well-being of their patients. In fact, it is becoming a standard medical practice to tell patients to take a hike.”

Nature-based applications to prevent and treat ailments are growing in popularity. In Washington, D.C., health care providers connect green space and park data to an electronic medical record to refer patients to parks for improved physical and mental fitness. In Miami-Dade County, Fla., children receive prescriptions to exercise in parks. And, in Marin City, Calif., the community’s new Park Rx program encourages residents to discover and use national park trails to stay active.

“We know that an average of 22 minutes a day of physical activity – such as brisk walking in a national park – can significantly reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes,” said Murthy. “The key is to get started because even a small first effort can make a big difference in improving the personal health of an individual and the public health of the nation.”

Looking for a place to hike? How about Grand Teton National Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, Glacier National Park or the Great Smoky Mountains? All of these parks offer a variety of outstanding hikes that will appeal to anyone.