Our work on El Diente this year was a big undertaking for CFI. The project was led by two of our most talented and experienced crew leaders, Tom Cronin and Miriam Venman-Clay. With help from Southwest Conservation Corps and volunteers, they were able to complete 1.21 miles of very technical trail construction. Although Tom and Miriam are seasoned CFI crew leaders, they faced a task on El Diente that was outside of their (and CFI’s) expertise. While most CFI projects work above treeline, where rocks found on and near the trail corridor are the primary building resource, this year we had to learn how to work with timber, the primary building resource below treeline. Furthermore, the crew was limited to using traditional tools such as handsaws and chisels to create the wooden structures. They rose to the occasion, mastering the skills necessary to create 23 high-quality timber check steps and 22 cribbed steps. They were also able to install 48 rock crib steps and 257 square feet of back wall.
Our crew made an impressive amount of progress on constructing the new trail, but they are not quite finished. A small amount- 0.02 miles- of trail construction remains before the trail can be open to the public. We do not anticipate that this will be much of an issue, and barring unseasonably late winter weather, the new section of trail on El Diente will open sometime between early to mid-July of next year. Upon the completion of the new trail, next year’s crew on El Diente will officially close-down the current trail and begin restoration of the fragile and rare alpine vegetation that were trampled and unable to grow back due to eroding soils. Meanwhile, the new trail will keep hikers off of the vegetation and prevent soil erosion, which will preserve the ecosystem in the Lizard Head wilderness and make for a better overall hiking experience.
Reflecting on their hard work this season, Tom Cronin had this to say:
“So we did it. We reach and surpassed our goal of 6,000 feet of new trail to be constructed on El Diente this season. Ultimately, we ended up with about 6300ft. of beautiful new trail! It seemed almost impossible back in June but with the help of our SCC crew and three different volunteer crews we were able to achieve the impossible. It’s amazing what a group of motivated individuals are capable of.
“The use of primitive tools ended up being extremely rewarding as well. Not only for the condition that which it put us in physically but for a better understanding of the hardships endured by those we used them as a way of life in the past. I now have a much greater respect for those people who felled trees for many years using only cross-cut saws and axes. It is a ton of work.
“We broke down camp and packed out at the end of September with our packer, Barrett, from the Forest Service. This year we were very lucky with the weather for the pack-out. It was absolutely beautiful all week! (Last year we had 8 inches of snow at the Maroon Bells. Not ideal conditions.)
“Although we reached our goal for this season there is still a whole season more of work to be completed next summer on El Diente before we can call it done. CFI with the help of SCC will return to El Diente next June to finish the job. Until then we have the first El Nino we have seen in a few years upon us, so happy skiing and snowboarding!”
We would like to thank those who have contributed to the El Diente project:
1) The Colorado State Trails Program, the National Forest Foundation, the Telluride Foundation, and the Norcross Wildlife Foundation for generously providing the funds necessary to make this project happen.
2) Tom and Miriam for their hard-work up on El Diente.
3) The Southwest Conservation Corps for providing us with great individuals to help Tom and Miriam up on El Diente
4) Our volunteers from Colvig Silver Camps, Fort Lewis College and Western State College who contributed a combined total of 52 days up on El Diente this season.
Thanks to everyone who helped make this new trail a reality. If you happen to be out on El Diente next year once the new trail is open, let us know what you think!