Trail Ridge Road is open for essential travel, but Rocky Mountain National Park has closed and has evacuated most remaining visitors in the wake of major rainfall and flooding in the park and neighboring Estes Park, Superintendent Vaughn Baker announced Friday.
At the height of the storm, Rocky Mountain National Park received more than 12 inches of rainfall in a 24-hour period and responded to numerous flash-flood situations and road closures. Although all routes into the east side of the park and Estes Park are closed by flooding and washouts, Trail Ridge Road, which links the park's east and west sides over a 12,183-foot summit and crosses the Continental Divide, has remained open for essential travel only. That includes inbound food service deliveries, emergency resources and Estes Park area residents returning home from the west, and outbound travel west by people who need to leave Estes Park, including local residents and park visitors who were evacuated. All other traffic is prohibited.
Two climbers reported that they were stranded Thursday morning on The Loft, a technical climbing area on 14,259-foot Longs Peak, the park's highest mountain and one of its most popular climbing attractions. Park personnel attempted to organize a rescue Thursday but severe weather and unsafe conditions barred access by both ground and helicopter to the 13,000-foot level of the mountain, where the climbers were located. As park staff prepared Friday to mount the effort once weather conditions improved, they received word that the two women were able to hike down off the mountain that morning on their own. "They're fine. They are not injured," said Mark Pita, East District ranger at Rocky Mountain National Park. He said the park was attempting to arrange transportation out of the park for the pair after rangers evacuated them across washed-out bridges and trails using an all-terrain vehicle.
Pita also reported that the park was checking in on the welfare of several other hiking parties elsewhere in the backcountry who were taking shelter in place until the storm subsided.
"Our first priority is the well-being of all park visitors and staff," Superintendent Baker said Friday. "The heavy rainfall and flooding of streams and creeks have saturated the soil and made movement in and around the park a significant safety concern. We hope to reopen as soon as the danger and disruption have passed."
Baker said the park is monitoring conditions at two small dams inside Rocky Mountain to ensure the safety of anyone downstream. The main dam of interest, at Lily Lake, was structurally repaired last fall under the direction of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. Ranger Pita reported that the dam spillway was functioning normally and sending water downstream at full capacity.
The storm, which has knocked out roads, stranded residents and drenched much of Colorado's urban Front Range and neighboring foothills communities for three days, also has left the park with only limited radio communications. Baker said all employees inside the park have been accounted for, and some have been evacuated from their park housing as a further precaution. Telephone and Internet service are unavailable in most of the park. Once phone service is restored, the park's Visitor Information Office can be reached at 970-586-1206.