RED CLIFF, Colo. – It was called the May miracle in Colorado. After a ho-hum winter, it looked certain that the creeks and rivers would deliver a runoff that walked, not ran, that murmured instead of shouted.
In March, the weather became so hot that something happened in the Gore Range that usually doesn’t occur until June. The couloirs on the Grand Traverse, the 13,000-foot ridge overlooking Vail, became so saturated with melted snow that they slid to the ground. It’s called a climax slide, and it rarely happens before June.
“It was the most crazy thing I’ve ever seen,” said Darryl Bangert, who has been studying snow and river runoff in the Vail area since 1976.
Then, in mid-May, it started snowing — again and again. And when it didn’t snow it rained, continuing into June.
Last week, that snow and rain was evident as Colorado’s rivers became as crowded as a Chinese train station on a holiday. The rivers thrashed, they gnashed, they splashed in a hurry to get out of the mountains. There have been longer runoffs and higher runoffs, but it was impressive nonetheless.
Taking note of 11 snow-monitoring sites that he tracks, Chris Landry, from the Center for Snow & Avalanche Studies, reported that the rivers were more boisterous than the snowpack statistics would suggest. The water in the snow was short of the median for 1981-2010.
“Snowmelt runoff behavior has been (arguably much) more intense than these data would suggest,” he wrote carefully in a posting on his website.
South of Vail, that unruly runoff was evident on June 17 in Homestake Creek. In a quarter mile before it flows into the Eagle River, the creek has an incline comparable to that of a green or beginner ski slope. The water was pounding, droplets flying high into the air. A misstep on the boulders adjoining the water would have meant almost instant death.
In the nearby town of Red Cliff, a longtime resident was asked whether the Eagle River had peaked yet. “Just a minute,” he said, “I have a rock that I can see from my house that I use for measuring the height of the river.” Returning a few minutes later, he observed that the water on the rock was indeed the highest it has been this year.
That was probably peak runoff for the Eagle River, a full 10 days later than the locally acknowledged long-term average for peak runoff. In recent years, the trend has been to earlier runoff.
Bangert, an owner of Sage Outdoor Adventures, said there were much bigger runoffs and longer runoffs, such as those of the early 1980s. But this was stood out because it was pushed by big rainstorms.
Several people have drowned in rivers and creeks, mostly the result of kayaking, rafting, or inner-tube accidents.
The most unusual drowning occurred near Silverton, in the San Juan Mountains. The victim, who was 19, had moved to Durango to be with his dad. They were walking up a snowfield and the victim slipped and fell into a creek that was running below them, disappearing under the snow. The family dog jumped in behind him, San Juan County Sheriff Bruce Conrad told the Silverton Standard & the Miner.
The creek re-emerged from the snow 240 feet farther downstream, but the man’s body did not for three hours. The dog did later, but it was alive.
Beyond the individual tragedies, the big runoff in Colorado has implications up and down the Colorado River. Instead of 3 million acre-feet, Lake Powell will likely get 6.2 to 6.4 million acre-feet, said Eric Kuhn, general manager for the Colorado River Water Conservation District.
That allows the upper-basin states — Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico — to release more water from Powell to flow downstream to Lake Mead, near Las Vegas. This additional water in Lake Mead should help water-strapped California.
Now the big question mark is what the El Niño will produce. The last one was in 1997-98, and that is the last good water year for the entire Colorado River Basin.
Lower Mohawk Lake is located in the Spruce Creek Trailhead south of Breckenridge. The lake is nestled in a deep amphitheater formed by Pacific Peak, 13,950 feet, and Mount Helen, 13,165 feet, in the Ten Mile Range. The hike is an intermediate ascent of 1,400 vertical feet, with a total distance of 6.6 miles from the Spruce Creek Trailhead. The elevation of Spruce Creek Trailhead is 10,400 feet, a thousand feet below tree line, while Mohawk Lakes are surrounded by rocky tundra and krumholz. The Mohawk Lakes Trail provides access to an area with dramatic waterfalls, rich fields of wildflowers, and relics of the mining era.
Allow at least five hours to explore the area and plan to descend in early afternoon to avoid the frequent thunderstorms that tend to form over the mountains later in the day. Carry two bottles of water to remain hydrated during the hike or pack a water filter to take water from the stream. Be prepared to find a crowd of hikers on this popular trail, accompanied by many free-roaming hunting dogs.
From the Wheeler Trail junction, the hike to tiny Mayflower Lake is only a mile, with the spectacular spray of Lower Mayflower Falls located near the trail switchbacks a half-mile farther at 11,100 feet. Above the switchbacks are a miner’s cabin and the remains of an ore cart tram wheelhouse.
The Pike’s Peak Gold Rush of 1858 brought miners to placer gold in the plains waterways surrounding Denver. However, miners quickly discovered that larger concentrations of precious minerals could be found in the streams of the Central Mountains. The first settlements in the Blue River Valley formed to exploit gold deposits in the Breckenridge area. Within a decade, placer gold recovery declined and hard rock silver mining became more important to the economy of the area.
Silver rose in value due to federal legislation that authorized the United States government to purchase and coin silver under the Bland-Allison Act of 1878. With the increase in the value of ores, mining operations expanded. Federal government purchases of silver nearly doubled under the mandates of the 1890 Sherman Silver Purchase Act. However, the repeal of the Act caused the collapse of the silver market in 1893, leaving many mining camps in ruins.
On the western shore of Lower Mohawk Lake, at 11,860 feet, the walls of one mining cabin remain. A trail leading from the southern shore of Lower Mohawk Lake leads to the larger Mohawk Lake, 300 feet higher in the gulch.
As you wander among the wetlands, look for alpine wildflower species. You may find artic gentian, inverted bells of white with blue stripes along the sides of its petals. In boggy areas, look for the red elephant figwort, white bog orchid, king’s crown, and queen’s crown. On drier slopes beside the trail, rosy paintbrush and columbine clusters may greet you. Among the rocks, look for alpine forget-me-not, sky pilot, and moss campion. Descend slowly from the lakes and absorb all of the beauty, from gigantic rocky ridges to the tiny blossoms of tundra flowers.
HOW TO GET THERE
From Frisco, drive south for 10 miles to the Peak 8 gondola in Breckenridge. Continue for another 3 miles south to Spruce Creek Road, across the highway from the pond called Goose Pasture Tarn. Turn right and ascend west 1.8 miles to Spruce Creek Trailhead. Since the road above the trailhead is not well maintained for low-clearance vehicles, park here. Either continue driving up the road if you have a high-clearance vehicle or hike west for 1.3 miles to the junction with the Wheeler Trail. Hike 0.5 miles down the Wheeler Trail to a large beaver pond where the trail meets the Spruce Creek trail. Turn west on the Spruce Creek Trail to its terminus, then cross the road to find the trail to Mohawk Lakes.
Kim Fenske has written extensively on hiking trails throughout Colorado. His writing includes Greatest Hikes in Central Colorado: Summit and Eagle Counties; and Hiking Colorado: Holy Cross Wilderness, available from Amazon Kindle Books.
On Friday, June 27, the National Repertory Orchestra and music director Carl Topilow will present “A Spanish Evening” concert at the Riverwalk Center in Breckenridge. The event is the orchestra’s Pink Concert in support of Shaw Breast Center and Cancer Clinic in Frisco. Grammy-winning guitarist Jason Vieaux and mezzo-soprano Lindsey Falduto are featured guest soloists.
The Spanish-flavored program kicks off with a performance of Aaron Copland’s “El Salon Mexico.” This 1936 piece was the first popular hit of a composer who would go on to be one of the most prominent figures in the emerging American classical music scene of the 20th century. In it, Copland takes several melodies from Mexican folk music and blends them into an orchestral piece evocative of a lively Mexican dancehall. The addition of the gourd to the percussion section adds to the music’s authentic sound.
The next piece of the evening, Arturo Marquez’s “Danzon No. 2,” demonstrates the way in which traditional Mexican music continues to shape the classical repertoire. The composer’s 1994 piece is built around the rhythm and accent of the danzon, a dance popular in Cuba and in the Veracruz region of Mexico.
“This melodic and lively piece features solos across the orchestra and is one of the most frequently performed contemporary classical Mexican compositions,” said Doug Adams, CEO of the NRO.
Grammy-winning classical guitar virtuoso Vieaux joins the NRO’s musicians for a performance of Joaquin Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjuez.” The 1939 work, perhaps the most iconic piece in the classical guitar repertoire, complements the instrument’s soft touch and unique musical textures with sweeping accompaniment by the orchestra.
The beautiful second movement, Adagio, may be familiar to jazz listeners: Miles Davis adapted it into the centerpiece of his ground-breaking album “Sketches of Spain,” and Chick Correa used the melody in his jazz standard “Spain.” Its melodies are exemplary of the musical Phrygian mode, an alteration of the typical major scale that creates the expressive and colorful effects characteristic of Spanish music.
Vieaux has performed as a soloist with nearly 100 orchestras worldwide. His most recent solo album, “Play,” won the 2015 Grammy for Best Classical Instrumental Solo. NPR describes him as “perhaps the most precise and soulful classical guitarist of his generation,” and Gramophone magazine places him “among the elite of today’s classical guitarists.”
The program concludes with another talented guest artist, mezzo-soprano Falduto, singing music from Manuel de Falla’s “Three-Cornered Hat.” The Spanish composer’s 1919 ballet was a great success on the dance stage, and its music has proved just as popular in the concert hall. The composer draws from Andalusian folk themes to give the dance-centric music a distinctively Spanish sound.
Falduto has experience in both musical theater and operatic roles. She has won several awards for her acting talents, and The Denver Post described her as having “the honeyed voice of a chanteuse.”
The Shaw Regional Cancer Center is the beneficiary of the National Repertory Orchestra’s Pink Concert. The Shaw Breast Center & Cancer Clinic, located at 323 W. Main St. in Frisco, offers 3D mammography, along with top physicians and experts who are available for treatments and consultations in a brand new, private setting. The American Cancer Society recommends women start annual mammography at age 40. To schedule a mammogram, call (970) 668-6400.
Sam Kuller and Downstairs at Eric’s are also sponsoring the concert. For tickets and more information, call (970) 547-3100, or visit www.nromusic.com
Benjamin Paul is the marketing and public relations intern for the National Repertory Orchestra.
“It’s a great feeling for the organization,” said Jack Wolfe, one of the association’s board members, adding that countless people with Summit Huts Association and the Forest Service have helped improve the project over the years.
Still, he was hesitant to celebrate.
“It’s kind of like running the first half of the marathon. We still have a lot of work to do.”Jack WolfeSummit Huts Association
“It’s kind of like running the first half of the marathon,” he said. “We still have a lot of work to do.”
Its newest hut is so named because it will be in Weber Gulch, on the north aspect of Bald Mountain, at roughly 11,500 feet. The structure will be one or two stories and 1,400 to 2,000 square feet.
The hut will join the association’s four other huts: the historic Section House and Ken’s Cabin along Boreas Pass, Janet’s Cabin near Copper Mountain (opened in 1991) and Francie’s Cabin south of Breckenridge (opened in 1995).
At the association’s other huts, demand outstrips supply, and folks looking to book a night on a weekend or during a popular holiday must contend with a lottery system.
A hut in the Weber Gulch area was part of the original master plan for the Summit Huts Association, developed with the Forest Service through a public community vision process in the late 1980s.
The association narrowed potential sites for the hut from 23 to five to one and changed many aspects of the proposal based on input from residents and local governments.
The hut’s access route went through half a dozen versions. Guests will use Sallie Barber Road, Nightmare on Baldy Trail and then 1.3 miles of new trail to arrive at the hut.
The Upper Trail of Tears singletrack trail will be widened for administrative ATV access in the summer, but motorized use by the public will be prohibited with gates and signs.
The hut’s environmental assessment analyzed all kinds of impacts to the surrounding environment and addressed public concerns that centered on wildlife issues — specifically habitat for Canada lynx, pine martens and elk — and off-site parking for the hut’s users.
Though the environmental assessment was prepared for a hut that sleeps 16 people, the hut will actually be built with a capacity of 14 guests as compared to the 20 guests accommodated at each of Francie’s and Janet’s cabins.
Wolfe said the Weber Hut, which has been the hut’s working name, will be about 3 or 3.5 miles from the trailhead and will appeal to all types of hut users.
“Right outside the hut going uphill is some really beautiful north-facing skiing,” he said. “There’s going to be great skiing right outside the door.”
LYNX, PARKING CONSIDERATIONS
The hut was not without opponents.
Dillon Ranger District deputy district ranger Cynthia Keller said some people were against any new huts because they believe backcountry skiing areas should be left alone.
Addressing public feedback was part of the reason the required National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process took four years instead of the usual two for a proposal of this size.
“It wasn’t a slam-dunk project,” Keller said. “We did have some controversy.”
One was about impacts to Canada lynx habitat, and Keller said the Forest Service had already analyzed impacts to lynx and decided to close the hut and the new trail built to access it during the summers. The hut will be open from the third week of November through April 30.
Keller said lynx suffer when humans compact snow in their habitat because other predators can then use the trails to hunt snowshoe hare and compete with the lynx.
The Forest Service also closed a heavily-forested area north and below the hut to skiing because of lynx habitat impacts and administrators will monitor unauthorized use there.
As part of the response to the objection, the Forest Service gained written support from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which protects the threatened lynx listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act and added the monitoring plan for the closed skiing area to the environmental analysis.
Also to protect wildlife, dogs will not be allowed, and outdoor lighting will be kept minimal, like at most backcountry huts. Plus, hut guests use snowmelt for their water, and Keller said no one wants to use yellow snow from dog waste.
The other two objections were about parking, always a hot topic in and around Breckenridge.
Someone suggested hut visitors be required to ride the Summit Stage bus to the Bald Mountain Trailhead to access the hut.
“We all decided that that just wasn’t feasible,” Keller said. Hut users will still have that option but won’t be required to bus.
The third objection came from an adjacent private property owner, who met with the Forest Service and the Summit Huts Association several times. The groups decided to move the hut’s parking lot a little away from the property.
The parking lot, east of the Sallie Barber Road Trailhead on the north side of French Gulch Road, will hold about 17 vehicles and will only be open to the public during hut operations.
Keller said years of extensive field work, limited to summertime, also led to the especially long NEPA process.
“We did a lot of field work for this project to make sure it was in the right place,” she said.
Now that the environmental assessment is finished, the association will raise funds, design the hut and start construction.
Weber will incorporate what has worked at the other huts, with indoor restrooms, a comfortable layout with bedrooms that sleep two to six people, passive and active solar and construction that will save energy costs of heating the structure with a wood-burning stove.
Wolfe said he hopes to establish an endowment for maintenance during fundraising.
“If we had all the money and we had all the plans done, we could be done in two years,” he said. “We’d like to do it in three or four years if we could.”
For more information about this project, contact the Summit Huts Association at (970) 453-8583 or the Dillon Ranger District at (970) 468-5400.
For decades, athletes from the cycling motherland have sworn by the laid-back, low-impact fondo format. It champions strategy over brute strength and stamina, rewarding cyclists for saving their energy until the exact moment when the clock starts ticking.
This weekend, for the fourth time ever and the first time under a new name, fondo racing comes to the High Country with the Vuelta a Dillon. Known in 2014 as the Vuelta a Keystone — and the Vuelta a Salida for two years before that — the race is the only true fondo to touch Summit County this summer.
Here’s a crash course on fondo racing: Cyclists complete a lengthy course and are only timed on pre-determined sections, much like a lap split for track runners. Rather than reward the top overall time, the style combines the best times from each section to determine the winner. It’s not only easier on cyclists, but also easier on roadside sanity — there’s no need to shut down entire stretches of pavement for only a few minutes of cycling.
“These became popular in Europe years and years ago,” says Rob Quinn, the Vuelta founder and a part-time Summit resident of 12 years. “You close maybe one or two sections, and time them separately to get your time and your place in the race. You don’t have as much of an impact on everything around you.”
The 2015 Vuelta features three routes on the same course, split between 20 miles, 60 miles and 90 miles. Each route begins in the new host town of Dillon, with 20 milers winding east to Keystone and Montezuma road, while 60 and 90 milers head northwest through Dillon to the first timed section at Ute Pass. The climb is 5.4 miles, beginning at mile 21.4, before racers are rewarded with a brief rest stop at the county line.
Once distance racers complete Ute Pass, 90 milers split from the 60 milers to tackle Heeney Road around Green Mountain Reservoir for the next timed section. The 11.3-mile stretch is relatively flat throughout, giving racers plenty of leeway to make up time on competitors who tapped their reserves on the first climb.
Back in town, 20 milers begin the day with the only timed section of the race, an 8-mile climb up Montezuma Road. Once there, cyclists turn around for a fun and fast cruise past Keystone Gulch before looping around Keystone Ranch. Then, it’s back to Dillon.
Long after the 20 milers have finished near Keystone, 90 and 60 milers cruise back through Silverthorne on their way to the final timed section on Montezuma Road. After tackling more than 50 miles apiece (plus another 20 miles for the 90 milers), cyclists will skip the trip around Keystone Ranch and, instead, coast leisurely along U.S. Highway 6 back to Dillon.
For Quinn, Dillon is a welcome addition to the Vuelta family. He looks forward to the race itself — over the past 30, years he’s hosted races across the world, including the first-ever Mexican mountain bike race at Rosarita Beach in Tijuana — but he’s just as excited for the post-event party, held in the heart of downtown Dillon with free music from Robert Randolph and The Family Band.
“This is a labor of love,” Quinn says of the Vuelta. “It really is because I love putting these things together, and I think we’ve found our home in Dillon. Even though it’s a lot harder putting it on without a giant corporate sponsor like Keystone, Dillon has taken us in, so to speak, and I know we have the same vision for the race.”
When winter turns into summer here in the High Country, residents and tourists alike put up their skis and snowboards and wheel their bikes back out into the sunlight. Once the necessary tune-ups are complete, they will have miles upon miles of trails — whether paved roads or hard-packed singletracks — to explore during the halcyon summer days.
Beyond the joys of everyday biking, Summit County has plenty of bike-related events to make your outing that much more special. From local competitions to rides to support charity, there are myriad options for bikers of all abilities:
Formerly Breck Bike Week, Demo Days offers mountain and road demos, a poker ride and guided tours. Enthusiasts can try out the latest rides from Trek, Raleigh and Scott, plus demo bikes with the newest components from SRAM and Shimano.
When: June 27-28
Thirteen years ago, it started as an idea; now, this race is a mainstay of Fourth of July festivities in Breckenridge, often leading off the Independence Day parade down Main Street.
When: July 4
BRECKENRIDGE 100 MOUNTAIN BIKE CHALLENGE
The “100” in the name isn’t just for show. This race spans 100 miles and goes 13,179 feet in elevation. The course crosses the Continental Divide three times and utilizes backcountry trails, double track, roads and bike trails. It’s the cap to the Rocky Mountain Endurance Series.
When: July 18
THE FALL CLASSIC
The last race of the summer, the Fall Classic has been around off and on since the early ‘80s and is beloved of locals.
When: September 6
Copper’s biking events pair challenging courses with charitable events, which draw hundreds of participants each year. This year, a Stage 3 start for the USA Pro Challenge rounds out Copper’s cycling calendar. For more information on any of these events, visit www.CopperColorado.com.
CHILDREN’S HOSPITAL COURAGE CLASSIC
Over 2,000 riders hit the road to raise money for the Children’s Hospital in Denver. All starts and finishes are based out of Copper Mountain, making Center Village the hub for entertainment throughout the tour. This year’s routes include climbs of Vail Pass and Hoosier Pass as well as towns across Summit County and Eagle counties.
When: July 18-20
THE COPPER TRIANGLE
The famous Copper Triangle has long been considered one of Colorado’s classic alpine road rides featuring three iconic climbs.
The Copper Triangle is a 78-mile ride with an elevation gain of almost 6,000 feet over three mountain passes: Fremont, Tennessee and Vail.
This year’s event is raising money for the Davis Phinney Foundation, an organization dedicated to helping people living with Parkinson’s disease.
When: August 1-2
Dillon will catch a piece of the USA Pro Challenge action during the Stage 2 push from Steamboat Springs to Arapahoe Basin Ski Area. The riders will be blazing down Highway 6, take a detour for a mid-race spring on Lake Dillon Drive, before returning to the highway and the A-Basin finish.
VUELTA A DILLON
Previously the Vuelta a Keystone, this Fondo-style road event offers 90-, 60- and 20-mile options. Cyclists of all skill levels — novice, intermediate, advanced and professional — will enjoy the Vuelta a Dillon and its festivities. It starts and ends in Dillon and is followed by the Robert Randolph concert at 7 p.m. that night.
When: June 27
CIRCLE THE SUMMIT/BOB GUTHRIE MEMORIAL RIDE
Put on by the Summit Biking Group, a local nonprofit organization dedicated to all kinds of biking, Circle the Summit is both a memorial to local biking enthusiast Bob Guthrie and a fundraising event for Summit Biking Group projects and programs.
Its funds have gone toward creating the Swan Mountain Road bike path, installing lighting in the tunnel near the top of the Vail Pass bike path, providing striping and signage on the Silverthorne bike path and funding for the Summit Bike Group’s youth program, among others.
Circle the Summit is a family-friendly event with the option of four different routes — 21 miles, 45 miles, 60 miles or 100 miles. Each route starts and ends at the Frisco Day Lodge.
When: August 16
All ages and abilities can take advantage of Keystone’s biking events this and every summer. Plus, visitors can take advantage of the gondola to take them and their bikes to the top of the mountain, from which they can let gravity take hold and explore a number of trails of varying levels of difficulty.
STRYDER BALANCE BIKE SERIES
This one’s for the little ones, ages 2 to 5 years old. Running from June 14 through early September, the eight-race series takes place from 10-11 a.m. in River Run Village. Registration is from 9-10 a.m., helmets are required and prizes are awarded to top finishers.
When: July 5, 12, 26; August 9, 23; and September 6.
THE BIG MOUNTAIN ENDURO
Part of the North American Enduro Tour, these courses will challenge riders to the fullest and combine the top trails on the mountain, along with unique course designs never seen before at Keystone. Throughout the weekend, expect to see at least seven rowdy stages and a nonstop festival taking place in the village.
When: July 11-12
WOMEN’S WEDNESDAY CLINICS
Each Wednesday from June through August, women interested in improving their mountain biking skills can get a lift ticket, bike, helmet and protective gear rental for $30.
They will then spend an hour and a half riding down the mountain with a coach from the VIDA MTB Series.