Celebration will have to wait

Cold spring prolongs snow season in Flat Tops Wilderness Area's 30th year

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Hikers eager to begin observing the 30th anniversary of the Flat Tops Wilderness Area may want to wait until July.

John Anarella, wilderness manager for the Yampa Ranger District of the Medicine Bow Routt National Forest, said most of the wilderness lakes still are inaccessible.

"It's a little goofy now for all the Flat Tops," Anarella said. "Getting to any of the lakes is problematic. It's about two to three weeks behind. It just hasn't had its snow melt yet."

The Flat Tops received below-average snowfall last winter, but the long, cold spring, which saw flakes falling in the Flat Tops as recently as June 12, has put the brakes on summer.

One possibility for this week is Slide Mandall Lake, accessible from Trailhead 1121 between Yamcolo Reservoir and Bear Lake, southwest of Yampa.

The U.S. Forest Service reports that the trail is muddy beyond the Twin Mandalls to Slide Mandall. The surface of the Slide Mandalls remain partially covered with ice. Creeks are high, but crews have checked to ensure there are logs over the crossings. Beyond Slide Mandall, the trail to Black Mandall is snow covered.

"Some people have hiked in early when the snow is still hard, but by the time they come out, they're breaking through," Anarella said.

Snowshoes might seem like the answer, but there are enough patches of bare ground between snowbanks that it's impractical to repeatedly take them on and off.

The last cirque to the nearby Devil's Causeway can be dangerous on spring mornings when the snow is hard -- hikers who pushed their luck have been known to fall and suffer significant injuries there.

The North Derby Trail to Hooper and Keener lakes typically serves as an alternative to the Causeway route, but Anarella said he would be surprised if it's passable this week.

The last check on trail conditions was made more than a week ago, but rangers immediately encountered snow on the east side of the Stillwater Dam.

"It's north facing, and there's a lot of dark timber," Anarella said.

Motorists will have no problem driving up Hunt Creek from Phippsburg and over the top of Dunckley and Ripple Creek passes on the way to Trappers Lake this week. Ripple Creek is outside Anarella's district, but he knows from a recent visit that the snow cover still is heavy on popular horseback riding trails such as the one to the Lost Lakes Peaks.

Snow melt is a season when areas adjacent to wilderness trails are vulnerable to damage, Anarella said. People who aren't wearing waterproof hiking boots are tempted to walk to the side of the mucky trails, scarring wet meadows. He urges people to wear proper footwear and stay on the trails, no matter how muddy.

Anarella also urges wilderness visitors to observe "leave no trace" practices such as pitching tents at least 200 feet from streams and lakes.

For more details, visit www.LNT.org.

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