Last Wednesday was my first day as a trail volunteer with the Mancos Trail Group. For a few years now I have wanted to join them on a trail maintenance day but the timing never worked out. This year due to COVID-19 they have adjusted the format to an adopt a trail methodology. This allows the volunteers to help maintain the Mancos Spur trail safely. It also means I can go do trail maintenance anytime I want.
Mancos Trail Group
The Mancos trail group is a non-profit organization of volunteers who:
Mancos Trails Group promotes trail stewardship and etiquette for all trail users in the Mancos Valley.About Mancos Trail Group
As I mentioned before I haven’t ever made it to one of their trail maintenance days, but I was on their email list. On May 30th they sent out an email titled “2020 MTG Update: New Adopt-a-Trail opportunity in the works”. They asked for replies from people who would be interested in the program. Part of the proposal was that they “will be loaning out tools to our adopters to use for the whole season” and I was sold.
Apparently I am not the only one interested in the program and the group had the best turnout in its history. I and 16 other people signed up to adopt a section of the Mancos Spur Trail and maintain it for the season.
On June 10th they conducted a Zoom call run by the United States Forest Service(USFS) trail ranger for the Dolores Ranger District. 90% of the call was about safety including COVID-19 precautions. 8% of it was about the GIS app we would use to help the USFS trail department identify trail issues that they need to maintain.
The app is pretty slick. It uses GPS to create a pin and then asks for details about the trail issue. You add up to 2 photos and the report is sent to the USFS. According to the ranger this data is helpful because he generally gets a report along these lines: “There is a fallen tree about 3 lefts from the start next to the big rocks.” Since our maintenance activities are limited to “brushing back the growth on the sides of the trail, maintaining drainage features, removing small trees crossing the trail with a handsaw, etc” the Forest Service comes in with the chainsaws and other major trail repairs. It seems like they should promote this app to anyone using the trails…
On June 28th I was assigned my segment and given the tools to work it. I figured my first day of vacation would be a nice day to get started. Since it is during the week the trail would be empty and I would have the place to myself.
Mancos Spur Trail
The Mancos Spur trail is actually a route made up of multiple existing trails. It starts off of a section of the Colorado Trail known as Big Bend. It ends at Mancos State Park 23 miles to the southwest. Trail Forks has it listed as a Mountain Bike trail but I would only recommend it to people looking for a suffer fest. The trail starts above 10,000 feet of elevation for the first 7 miles and ends at Jackson Lake in the Mancos State Park.
The first section is the Sharkstooth Trail which begins at the Colorado Trail and finishes as the Sharkstooth trailhead. The trail is 7 miles long and goes over Sharkstooth pass near Sharkstooth Peak. 6 miles of the trail is above tree line and fully exposed to the elements. The peak is described well here:
Sharkstooth Peak is in the La Plata Mountains, part of the San Juans, and is a prominent landmark although it is not nearly the highest peak in the area. Despite its distinctive shape, its “low” height (for Colorado, that is– it would be considered a very high peak indeed in almost any other U.S. state) makes it easy to dismiss in Colorado. That is a mistake because this is a beautiful peak in a beautiful area that offers an easy approach, a fun but moderately challenging climb, and solitude that is hard to find atop Colorado’s more famous summits. In short, you get San Juan conditions and San Juan views but without the San Juan crowds (and human impact) found on the 14ers, a few of the better-known 13ers, and on the popular trails.Summit Post – Sharkstooth Peak
You can even see it from my home:
A funny thing happened with the trail segment I was assigned. In the email for the assignment they told me I had adopted Segment 12, but the .gpx file they sent was for Segment 15. I am a map oriented person. If I look at something on a map I have that image in my head when I think about the route. So, I associated Segment 15 as the one I needed to work on. 😂
So I maintained someone else’s trail segment. 🤷♂️
Segment 15 begins on the north side of Sharkstooth pass and continues for 1.5 miles to the headwaters of Bear Creek. 90% of the trail is above tree line and crosses a large scree field. To get to it I drove to the Sharkstooth trailhead about 20 miles from my home. The drive turns to dirt at Transfer Campground and heads up into the La Plata mountains. The last mile of road is pretty rough and I got to test out the all wheel drive of my Element.
To get to the north side of Sharkstooth pass from the trail head you have to go over the pass. So the first 2 miles of the day were uphill but the temperature was perfect for work jeans and long sleeve shirt. The jeans protect my legs from flying debris and the shirt means I don’t have to wear sunscreen. I also wear a big dorky hat, again so I don’t have to do the sunscreen thing, but also cause it keeps the sun outta my eyes.
Once you cross over Sharkstooth pass the only sign of humans is the trail. Its a very peaceful place to be, when there are no storms. In Colorado you pretty much always want to be back below treeline before the afternoon. The rain and wind can be pretty bad, but its the lightning that you mainly want to avoid. With that in mind my plan was to get to the trailhead about 8am, hike to the end of the segment in just over 2 hours, have a quick lunch, then take my time coming back to focus on trail maintenance and be off the mountain before noon.
The entirety of Segment 15 is pretty much downhill till it ends at Bear Creek. So I knew I would have a nice hike out. Fortunately all that bike riding I did this spring paid off. While I was definitely huffing and puffing at 11,950 feet at the pass, I was able to keep moving and working the trail.
Maintenance for trails at this altitude generally involves trimming small vegetation back, moving rocks that have fallen onto the trail, and repairing drainage features built into the trail. On the way down into Bear Creek Canyon I took note of various rock issues in the trail that I would tend to on my way out.
Once I got to Bear Creek I stopped and had my lunch of Peanut Butter & Jelly sandwiches and a couple apples. At this point I have been hiking around 2 hours and had not seen anyone else. The peacefulness was very nice and I was happy I chose that spot for lunch.
Then it was time to get back to work and eventually my car. I noticed a section of trail that was really muddy. In the GIS app they had an option for “trail spring/seep” and that matched what I saw the best. I took some photos and made a few notes in the app. Once I was back in cell phone range it would upload to the USFS system. My thinking is that it would be good to place large stones in the path like pavers. However that seems like pretty extensive trail construction that may or may not be what the USFS wants done. Better to let them know about the issue and then I will hike back after they work on it to see what they chose to do.
After that I spent the rest of the time pulling large rocks off the trail. The Rogue Hoe came in handy for this as well. I was able to use the steel head to pull up one corner and then pivot the rock on the opposite corner. Using this technique I was able to move some impressively large rocks without compromising my back or hands.
Overall there wasn’t a whole lot of trail maintenance to do on this section. Maybe the person who was actually assigned the segment had already done the hard work! 🤣 It was nice to hike the segment since I had never been back to Bear Creek at this elevation before.