Reopening the West Trout Trail

By Natalie Rockett, CMC Stewardship Crew Member

Early Monday one late summer morning I’m sitting at a gas station waiting to meet my crewmates to start another week of work. Once they arrive we fill up our trucks and begin our journey together towards the small, charming town of Creede. We make our way through town and shortly afterwards find the dirt road that will lead us to this week’s adventure. Several miles down the road we come to a gate. No motorized vehicles are allowed beyond this point so we pack our backpacks and prepare to hike. While looking at the map confirming that we all understood our route it began to rain. The weather report predicted clear skies all week. However, after my short time living in the Rocky mountains I’ve learned to not to be surprised by afternoon thunderstorms. We waited for a bit while the rain poured down. Luckily it blew over us as quickly as it blew in and we were on our way. We hiked a few miles down a mining road before splitting off to intersect the West Trout Trail. After crossing Trout Creek we found an old sign marking the beginning of West Trout Trail. Finally, we came to our destination for the day. A flat meadow sitting right above the creek and surrounded by hills and cliffs. We set up camp and enjoyed our view of the nearly full moon rising over the cliffs. I took one last peak at the night sky from my tent door before getting into my new sleeping bag. I had bought a warmer one just in time for the cold weather. When we woke up there was frost on the ground.

The next morning we began walking through the large burn scar that had more downed trees than standing ones. We cleared trees from the trail as we went and often had to walk ahead to find the old trail before cutting. The fire burned seven years ago and all of the downed trees caused the trail to become lost. After clearing about fifty trees we came to the edge of the burn scar. There was no shortage of trees to cut in this section either due the beetle kill. The trail winded its way up through the hills alongside the cascading creek. We stopped for lunch next to a waterfall. The sound of the rushing water was soothing. 

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On our third day we reached another meadow and this one stole our hearts the moment we laid eyes on it. It was massive and so lush! It was almost completely surrounded by cliffs and the creek ran through the middle. It took over an hour to find the correct trail that skirted through the trees surrounding the meadow. There were many elk paths all around. We began to cut the dozens of trees blocking the trail. We headed back to camp knowing we wouldn’t be able to return to the higher meadow until the next week. On our last day we worked on building large post cairns to mark the way in the grassy overgrown areas and redefining a flat path on a steep side hill. Cows had obviously been making their own paths through the grasses and also causing the edge of the trail to fall off on the side hill. As we were working on the hill, focused on our digging we heard a “MOOOO!” behind us. A cow had appeared and soon many others followed him. They were soon all around us some downhill near the creek and others coming toward us on a steep trail above. One cow stood above me watching intently as I shoveled dirt. We sat above the trail on our break giving the cattle a clear path on the trail to pass, but they were too timid to cross us. The cow that had been staring at me earlier bravely slid down the hill toward the creek. The others followed one by one and we saw first hand why the trail had huge chunks of tread missing. All of the cows made their way past us and we continued working then a huge bull appeared after the others were gone. He stood on the trail waiting for us to move. As we were leaving he followed about 10 feet behind us. We laughed at the cows funny behavior and how they must have snuck past our camp early that morning. We hiked the old mining road back out to our trucks knowing we would be back the following week to finish the project.

However, Sunday evening we were notified that we would be assigned to a different trail where we could frontcountry camp due to weather. By Tuesday at noon a big snow storm was rolling in and expected to cover the entire state of Colorado. We were sent home and I watched the snow fall from my window at home on September 8th. In the morning there was over a foot of snow covering the ground! After a couple days the snow had melted and we were all set to return to West Trout and finish the project. Luckly, almost all of the snow had melted and we were able to camp in that glorious high meadow. When we arrived Monday there were at least fifty elk running across the opposite side! Patches of snow sat on the cliffs and the fall colors had started to appear. Now it was nearly the new moon and that first night I could see the milky way stretching across the sky. 

We knew we had our work cut out for us and that we would be the last crew to work on this trail. We all felt very motivated to finish logging it out and clearing the path up to the West Trout’s intersection with the Continental Divide Trail (CDT). We were not sure how many downed trees there were so we worked as efficiently as we could. By the end of Tuesday we had come to a huge waterfall! After the work day was over we all sat on the cliff next to the falls and watched the creek flow into the meadow below.

By Wednesday afternoon we had made it all the way into the alpine, past Trout Lake, and to the connection with the CDT. The views were spectacular and we all felt good about what we had accomplished. We had cut 162 trees. Now people would be able to find their way up this trail again after seven years. It truly is a special place. I hope the few people who do go there will treat it well. 

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