Preserving the Main Range Trail to Mt. Massive
(A Colorado Fourteeners Iniative Service Project)

28-30 Jul 2006 - by Michael Ciccone

On August 28th, 2006 I headed out for a 3 day service project to reduce erosion and make the trail to Mt. Massive more user friendly. This was part of a court ordered community service project for me, but I thoroughly enjoyed the trip.

The Trailhead was about 100 miles from my residence in Golden, CO. On the way there my car began to overheat and stall. However around 4PM I finally arrived at the Main Trail to Mt. Massive. I was not sure if I was at the correct Trail so I asked some guys with backpackers if they knew anything about the Colorado Fourteeners Iniative, and if I was on the correct Trail. They quicky said that they were Colorado Fourteeners Iniative Trip Participants. With that I grabbed my backpack out of my car and began strapping my tent, sleeping bag and all other essential gear for a three day backpacking Trip. I am not an avid backpacker and all of my gear was rented from REI for the weekend. When I placed the pack on it was a bit awkward (probably 70 lbs of more) but I got it adjusted and began hiking up the trail with CFI volunteer who had brown dreadlocks. The other participants hiked ahead. It was about a 3 mile hike from the trailhead around 10,400 feet in elevation to where we set up camp for the weekend at 11,400'. I was told that we would cross three streams and turn up a hill. With the heavy pack I kept wondering when we would ever get to the first stream. On the way up through subalpine forest I noticed some Canada Jays in the pines. They seemed inqusitive and came quite close. The first stream appeared more than halfway up, and was more of a trickle than a stream. The next 2 streams, however, were more substantial. When I finally arrived at the campsite I was amazed to see that it looked something like a Mt. Everest Base Camp that I had seen on TV. A large white-tan tent was erected, and inside was a large stove, and lots of food. Outside the diverse group of hikers were sitting and talking. The head leader introduced herself, and I began to set my tent up nearby. Throughout this weekend our meals were provided, and the first night we had a wonderful dinner of potatoes, with cheese, vegetables, bacon, etc. This was just the type of food I needed to work at high altitude. I wondered if the altitude would bother me as I had never really camped above 8,500' but I slept quite well. Although my dreams were a bit strange.

Bright and early at 5:30AM the next morning I heard my name being called for breakfast. After having a quick breakfast (many others were up at 5AM) we began our ascent from Base Camp to out high work area at 13,200'. The pace seemed quite fast and I became increasingly winded as we gained elevation. A short distance up the mountain, where the pines began to thin out and large medows appeared we stopped and performed various stretching excercises. Everyone stood in a circle and we each told something about ourselves (I think it was our idea of utopia), and then named a stretch which everyone performed. There were many leg and arm stretches, neck stretches, and various contortions. There was even one called the "playboy". After about 20 minutes we continued out treck up Mt. Massive. We were quickly above the treeline, and into alpine medows. After about 45 minutes to an hour hike we arrived at the work area. There a brief talk about safety and what our objectives was given and we began digging holes with picks and shovels, and gathering large rocks to insert tightly into the holes. Others gathered smaller rocks, chunks of black and white granite from the surrounding tundra, and placed them over braids in the trail. This was to encourage hikers to stay on the main trail to reduce erosion and impact on the fragile tundra ecosystem. I managed to place 3 large rocks in about 5 or 6 hours. To me this seemed pitiful, but it was actually more than the 2 that most people placed. At 13,200' the air is quite thin and I tried to do most of the work from a sitting position. When standing one or two swings of the pick would make me so out of breath that I would have to stop or sit down. The day was beautiful as we gazed over a large open valley looking toward Leadville far below. This was the only town we could see. At lunch we had veggie sandwiches which we had prepared in the morning. Around 2PM or 2:30PM it was time to head back to camp. I tended to fall behind but I didn't care. We all arrived in plenty of time for dinner.

The next day was Sunday July 30, 2006 and we voted to continue work at the high camp, and summit after the work was through. The day began much the same, and we stopped to stretch in a beautiful meadow near 12,000' elevation. This time, I suggested that we each describe the strangest thing we had ever seen. There were stories about people, animals, and more. When we arrived at the worksite we continued with the work of the previous day; placing rocks, and disguising braids. At the end of the workday we hiked to a higher location, and listened to a talk given by the leaders about the alpine environment. We observed marmots, and occasionaly picas (mouselike animals that live under rocks). At one point a marmot (the 2nd largest rodent) scared me, as I did not notice it was a few feet away! After the talk most of us decided to attempt summiting Colorado's 2nd highest peak. We hiked for about half an hour before a storm approached. The sky became grayer and grayer, and thunder louder. The threat of being struck by lightining was real, and although I only reached 13,600' (just below the ridge) I turned back. Some members of out expedition did reach the ridge. On the way down small pieces of hail began to pelt us, and then there was a cold rain. I was glad to have a rain jacket. When we arrived back at camp it was time for the volunteers to depart, although the 6 leaders remained for a few more days. I said goodbye to my new friends, (having earned my 25 hours of community service), and was shown the way to the trail leading back to the parking lot. My backpack seemed a lot heavier, and the walk was long and tedious, but by 7PM I was safely back at my car.

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