Not many people intentionally choose to give up their weekends to get up before sunrise to sling rock and help rebuild trail on 14,000 foot peaks. But that is just what heroic Cottonwood Institute volunteers chose to do this summer when they signed up for our Mt. Evans Volunteer Project. “The wake up call felt awfully early at 5:30am on Saturday morning, but there was a lot of work to be done that day,” said one volunteer.
Mt. Evans is Denver’s closest “14er,” or peak over 14,000 feet high. Its proximity to Denver and access to the summit via the Mt. Evans Highway, the highest paved road in North America, contributes to Mt. Evans popularity. Hiking trails to the summit have been established by years of use rather than careful trail construction, so parts of the trail are precarious, far too narrow, and are heavily eroded. In addition, some hikers choose alternate paths, which leads to braided social trails and the destruction of the fragile alpine tundra.
That’s why volunteers from the Cottonwood Institute came together to step up to help complete much-needed trail maintenance on Mt. Evans this August. The Colorado Fourteeners Initiative led the project and provided us with two awesome crew leaders as well as all the tools we needed to complete our work. We spent two days working near Summit Lake at 12,830 feet of elevation. Our main project was to construct two rock walls below the trail, providing space for a wider trail where it was previously only inches wide. That meant we were going to need lots of big rocks, and there are plenty of those in the Rocky Mountains—you just need to move them. With advice from our expert crew leaders, Ben and Kate, and lots of teamwork, we rolled, scooted, lifted, and flopped rocks into position, stacking them into what would become a beautiful rock wall.
After work, we returned to camp to clean up before heading to town for some well earned grub. After everyone was stuffed full of pizza, we returned to camp to relax around the campfire, reflect on our accomplishments, and rest up for our second day of work.
Participants came from all different backgrounds. There were Community Adventure Program alumni, Summer Course alumni, parents of alumni, Cottonwood Institute Instructors, and other volunteers who wanted to roll up their sleeves and get involved. We enjoyed sightings of alpine wildlife like marmot and pika, and we gave back to the Colorado mountains that we all enjoy and that the Cottonwood Institute uses year round as a classroom. We improved a rough section of trail that many hikers use each year. Best of all, we got to get away from the city for a weekend in the mountains and made new friends that shared our interest in the Cottonwood Institute’s commitment to environmental stewardship. A special thanks goes out to the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative and to all of our hard working volunteers.
To check out a slide show of the project, Click Here.
This article was written by Eric Ellison and edited by Ford Church.