Most hikers can appreciate the amount of work it takes to build a trail from scratch. The hiking, the digging, the pushing around of giant rocks, the picking up and carrying of slightly less giant rocks… But how many folks think about what happens before anyone even starts swinging any tools?

I know I sure didn’t. This being my first season with CFI, I had no idea what I was getting myself into! So I’m going to walk you through it because it’s a major undertaking to prepare for the start of the first year of a 5 year project!

First things first. We need to find the trail. Which can prove difficult upon a somewhat later thaw…


(Ben, Eli and Preston on our first journey to find basecamp. As you can see, Preston is light as a feather, floating on top of the snow, while the other two are post-holed up to mid thigh)

First try was pretty unsuccessful. But perseverance pays off!


(Staff Training 2016: Shoveling snow with spades. Everyone is clearly psyched. 23 people shoveled nearly 2 miles of trail in 2 and a half days. Not the most glamorous task, but when the work’s gotta get done, the crew delivers.)

Next things next. Once we’ve located and cleared the trail of the snow, we’ve got to make sure it’s clear of snags and blowdowns.


(Eli and Preston crosscutting a blowdown)



(This was at the end of a long day of clearing corridor and there was one last log encroaching slightly into the trail. Eli and I took turns axing til we got through it. But man, we were pretty tired at the end of that day. Took a few more swings than it normally would have…)

The whole process took about a month, from the first scouting mission in mid May when the postholing was hip deep most of the time, through the staff training shovel-fest, and subsequent weeks clearing down trees, lopping willows through swampy areas, draining mud pits and cutting corridor. And this was all to prepare the trail for the mule team to come through with all of our stuff for basecamp and the project.

The next stage was packing up the loads for the mules, weighing them to make sure they’re even and keeping an eye on the shape of each load so that they ride evenly on the mules. Stuff was everywhere! In order to make sure each load weighs out right, we needed to mix and match the contents of every load. Tools end up mixed in with kitchen gear, food ends up with extra clothes… and we get to sort it all out at the top!


(These loads are packed, weighed and ready to be loaded onto the mules)



(Mules are packed and ready to go)



(Here comes Glen with the first mule string)



(There were 10 mules total broken up into two strings of 5. It took two trips (20 loads) to get all our stuff up to the meadow. This was as far as the mules could make it. Basecamp is another quarter mile away and everything had to be loaded up on pack frames and carried by people the rest of the way. Thanks to all of the volunteers who helped us haul all that gear!)

The only thing left was to set up basecamp.


(The wall tent is our kitchen area where the whole crew prepares meals and the tarp is for some extra outdoor space in the event of afternoon storm cycles. I took 4 of us to carry the canvas through the snow and over logs and through bushes in an kind of caterpillar-carry style. That thing weighs 85 lbs! But man, how sweet it is to have that kind of set up! Makes life a lot easier when you’re waking up at 4:00 a.m. and hiking to work in the dark.)

It was an awesome process to be a part of! And really cool to see first hand exactly how much work goes into preparing for this kind of project. CFI knows how to get it done! And get it done in style!!

A huge thank you goes out to Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI) who has supported CFI longer than any other corporate sponsor! Last summer REI hosted the “Every Trail Connects” campaign to raise money for trail construction and maintenance projects around the United States. Through this campaign REI donated $85,000 to help fund the five-year Mount Columbia trail construction project!

CFI would also like to thank Colorado Parks and Wildlife “State Trails Program” for funding the project!

Meg Reeves

Hey y’all, my name is Meg and this is my first season with CFI! It’s been a blast so far and I hope to get to spend more time getting to know the high mountains of Colorado! I grew up in southeastern Pennsylvania but now call Jackson Hole my home. I love the west and all the adventures that are possible in the wilderness out here. In my free time, I love to be outdoors in almost any capacity whether it’s cruising around on a bike, riding rapids in a raft with my friends or hanging onto the side of a mountain like a crazy person. I enjoy most forms of silliness, tom-foolery and shenanigans. And I am, of course, excited for ski season.