Volunteers were able to reopen the Colorado Trail’s Collegiate Peaks East route this summer following three snow slides on Sheep Mountain that buried a segment of the trail near the Avalanche Trailhead in March.
However, managers of the long-distance trail said that the path cut through the debris deviates slightly from the actual CT.
Historic snowpack last winter was followed by a historic avalanche cycle in the spring.
I-70 near Copper Mountain was closed by slides on consecutive days.
CR 306 leading to Cottonwood Pass sustained three huge avalanches stretching from Sheep Mountain’s western summit down to its base where it crossed the road.
Reports on the Colorado Avalanche Information Center estimate two avalanches running from the north peak of Sheep Mountain on Mar. 13. One of the two reports from observer Jason Konigsberg describes an avalanche with a single crown, running in two distinct paths, with the westernmost path running over the road and the eastern path stopping just short.
Both reports place the average vertical of the slides at 2,500 feet, starting from an elevation of about 11,800 feet. Both were classed R5, meaning they were the largest possible relative to the path of the slide. One was ranked D4 and the other D3.5 on the 5 point destructiveness scale, with D4 meaning that the avalanche could have destroyed a large truck, building or railway car or a substantial amount of forest.
The slide covered the road in about 8 feet of snow, felling trees on the north side of the road as well, covering the portion of the CT that moves from the Avalanche Trailhead Parking Lot to CR 306.
Brent Adams,the field operations manager for the Colorado Trail Foundation, said that volunteers cleared a path through the damage, but did not follow the existing trail.
“Basically, the path that was cleared between CR 306 and Avalanche TH by unknown volunteers did not follow the existing trail but cut somewhat directly across the debris field,” Adams said. “The Forest Service has been notified of this.”
It will be up to the Forest Service to determine whether or not the new alignment is acceptable, Adams said.
“The path cleared is relatively close to the actual trail, maybe 30 or 40 feet north at the greatest extent, so not a big deal in terms of length or elevation profile change,” he said.
While the trail is passable, there is still some work to be done when the snow melts next season.
“We will need to go through and grub out roots of shrubs that were just cut off at ground level, remove organic material on the surface that absorbs and retains moisture, and develop a firm trail tread,” Adams said.
While massive scars from the avalanche can still be clearly seen on the south side of the road, the cycle of life in the forest was clearly evident in the first week of October, when the