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039 Debate on Accessibility 2009-01-30

trailhead Parking

My last entry on gear heads made me think about accessibility to the wilderness. Hold on, I am not talking about handicap access, I am talking about trailhead access.

Hiking in Colorado my wife and I have noticed that many hikers try to drive by car, truck, atv, or motorcycle as high as they can on the mountains before they start their hikes. Others drive to exactly three thousand feet below the summit before getting out of their vehicles as if that number defined a magical fairness. All seem to want to make the mountain as easy as possible.

Gear has definitely made the mountains more accessible. Some hikers feel they need an all terrain vehicle (4wd’s) to access the highest trailheads. Speaking of gearheads, what about the cost to own and operate those vehicles. Group mountain related web sites have posts inquiring what is the best vehicle or is their vehicle good enough. We would hate to walk another foot, if we could ride.

We don’t mind hiking another foot, we just hate to carry another pound! Even those of us that choose to start the hike at the two wheel drive trailhead (even when we drive our 4wd truck), benefit from being gear heads. For example, I carry a two pound pack with a total packed weight of less than ten pounds, wear hiking/running shoes of less than a pound, and use poles that also weigh less than a pound. The total investment in the pack, the contents (of the pack), and clothes I wear is well over two thousand dollars. Wow! But, that lightly weighted pack allows me to move faster and longer. The extra miles of starting lower on the mountain are not as much of a burden because of the lighter load.

The only problem with hiking the extra miles on the four-wheel roads is the four-wheel drive vehicles using the road. Mount Princeton Road is an easy walk up from the lower trailhead, if it were not for the noisy, fumy vehicles. Whereas Pike’s Barr Trail is also an easy approach and is also an enjoyable (vehicle free) walk along seemingly old four-wheel roads (once past the initial slopes). With the closing of the road going to South Colony Lake (still waiting to see), it will be interesting to see if it will decrease the crowds in the Crestones. I assume it will. As for me the road closure will enhance the overall trip and I don’t mind the walk.

For the sake of argument (this was a one sided debate after all), doesn’t closing the road blocks accessibility to lots of folks that can’t walk up the road? Probably, but is that bad? I can not climb a 5.13 rock climb but I don’t think the climb ought to be made easier for me so that I could access it. I accept the fact that I cannot climb a 5.13 and understand that if I am ever able to climb at that level, it will be because I improved my overall fitness and climbing skills. Being pulled to the top of the cliff by an electric winch might make the 5.13 climb accessible but it would not be a fair means.

We all determine or own criteria for "fair means." Some folks might feel like driving as close as they can to a summit is fair for them, driving or riding up those rough roads is also very hard. As for me, my wife and I are going to try and do the Fourteeneers by using only the two wheel drive trailheads. But after all a main reason we are trying to climb the Fourteeners is to improve our fitness levels, hmm then we might even be able to climb a 5.13, but I doubt it!

Happy trails


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