Stewardship group the Upper Arkansas Wilderness Volunteers cleared the trail to Hartenstein Lake of debris left by an avalanche that fell sometime during the winter and spring’s heavy snow season.
The group of five volunteers cleared out the debris, which fell in three distinct fields over about a fourth of a mile of trail, in about 4 hours, said volunteer Mal Sillars.
The team cleared out 26 trees, some of which were between 15 and 18 inches in diameter, Sillars said.
“Like telephone poles across the trail,” Sillars said.
This past winter and spring brought heavy snows that placed the state’s snowpack several times above average. With that came a historic cycle of avalanches in the spring, and, as snow slowly melts from high country trails, the aftermath of even more avalanches is being revealed, he said.
Sillars makes a point as part of his volunteer work to walk the area trails early in the season to monitor when they would be open to hikers. When he hiked to Hartenstein for the first time this season, he was met with hikers passing the other way telling him “wait until you see the debris field.”
The churned-up trees and branches can actually insulate snow from melting, he said. He guessed that the Hartenstein avalanche occurred in April, during the last heavy snow of the season.
“Nobody was around to see it,” he said.
The Forest Service recently opened Tincup Pass Road, which was blocked by a debris field and the road from Winfield to the Mount Huron trailhead is also covered in debris, he said.
The road to Winfield has previously been closed due to debris as well.
In March, a massive slide from the top of Sheep Mountain crossed Cottonwood Pass, burying a portion of the Colorado Trail near Avalanche Trailhead, evidently appropriately named, in fallen trees.
Sillars said that the effort to clear that trail of debris is progressing nicely, but hikers may still be stopped by snow several feet deep and packed like ice.
For some higher-elevation trails, like one he monitors near Cottonwood Pass, it may be weeks before Sillars is even able to check whether or not the trail has sustained any avalanche damage.
“I’ve never seen it like this,” Sillars said. “This year it’s up close and personal … you just look around and you can see the violence that happened here. It’s not a gentle thing.”