I drove from Atlanta to Colorado in early August knowing little about what the next two months doing trail maintenance may entail. Soon enough I learned about altitude sickness, days spent moving large rocks, snow in August, and wag-bags. And I’ve loved every minute!
My employer, Patagonia, allowed me the time off to volunteer for a non-profit environmental organization. The “internship program” encourages employees to develop their skills and give back to the beautiful places we enjoy so much. Since coming to CFI six weeks ago I have worked on several unique projects and been welcomed by some amazing trail crews. My first experience with a Colorado 14er was educating hikers on Quandary Peak. At the trail head bright and early, I was enlightening hundreds of weekend hikers about proper Leave No Trace ethics and CFI’s mission. Excited to bag a peak in my first week I headed up the mountain with proper gear in my pack but only one bottle of water. The climb offered remarkable views of the Ten Mile range, my first introduction to mountain goats, and an evening of wicked nausea and straining headaches. I learned quickly that when spending time at altitude its necessary to allow your body to acclimatize and to drink at least two liters of water. The next few weeks I joined CFI’s seasonal crews on trail maintenance projects and managed to avoid any symptoms of AMS.
Each weekend some of the more popular 14ers see thousands of hikers, and in turn these peaks are in need of constant restoration. As part of the fixed-site crew on Mt. Bierstadt I woke each morning at 4:00 am, started hiking the trail at 5:00 am, and by 7:00 am was hard at work 13,000 ft. above sea level. We worked to delineate the trail, which is up to 50 feet wide in some areas, and to stop hikers from destroying the fragile tundra as they create their own route up the mountain. My job as the rookie was to move large rocks; several of which were hundreds of pounds, to build a barricade that discourages hikers from getting off trail. The task became more rewarding each day as I watched the trail slowly narrow into a more sustainable and defined route that hikers would actually follow. After a week I was stronger and ready to build more features.
Next, I was on to La Plata Peak in the Sawatch Range for a four day trip. I learned the value of fixed-site projects that have tools cached on the mountain. As we hiked to the worksite at 13,000 ft. I carried my 50 lb. pack plus a heavy tool with a brilliant name. The “rock bar” is a cumbersome 4 foot long, 18 lbs. of solid forged steel used to pry large rocks. It is a great addition to the load of any hiker looking for a challenge. Our work that weekend was accompanied by a fresh dusting of snow. Something an Atlanta resident rarely sees, especially not in August. As the snow coated our helmets and slowly soaked into our gloves, we continued to construct steps, backwalls and other soil retaining features. All this is just part of a summer working in the mountains and it’s worth it.
Each week with CFI has been an adventure and a chance to learn something new, meet someone unique, and see somewhere extraordinary. I hope to impart my knowledge of sustainable trails and responsible recreation to my friends and family back home. I am excited to come back to Colorado in the future to see that my hard work has helped to craft a trail that endures the impacts of humans and Mother Nature.