Area high country access increasing

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— Wilderness hikers will find increasing access in the high country today, but can expect to deal with mosquitoes and snow drifts.

Buffalo Pass Road (Routt County Road 38) is open to the Continental Divide at Summit Lake. However, a spokesperson for the Hahn's Peak/Bears Ears Ranger District said the Summit Lake Campground might not open until the middle of this month due to lingering snow. Motorists are unable to continue over the pass to North Park.

Buffalo Pass offers backpackers access to the south boundary of the Mount Zirkel Wilderness without the pain of elevation gain. It also offers an appealing day hike for people heading north on the Continental Divide Trail. A three-mile round trip offers dramatic views of snowy Mount Ethel (11,924 feet).

Parks District Ranger Anne Kiser reminded hikers and campers that fires are restricted to improved campfire rings. That means backpackers must rely on their stoves for cooking.

Motorists in passenger cars are cautioned that Buffalo Pass Road is rough and demands slow speeds in rocky stretches.

South of the wilderness, on Rabbit Ears Pass, snow is melting quickly. However, one persistent snowdrift was blocking vehicles trying to access the trailhead to Fishhook and Lost lakes on Sunday. The snowdrift is about two miles above Dumont Lake on Forest Road 311, leaving about another mile to the trailhead either on foot or mountain bike (bicycles are not permitted to enter wilderness areas).

On the east side of the Continental Divide, popular trails to Rainbow, Katherine and Bighorn lakes are accessible, Parks District Ranger Anne Kiser said.

Kiser said, on a recent horseback trip up the Lake Katherine trail, she encountered a large downed tree that blocked her from continuing. She said hikers could have negotiated it. Her trail crews are removing downed timber from the trails this week.

Kiser urged caution at creek crossings that are still rushing with snowmelt.

The Katherine and Rainbow trails are intermediate, but visitors unfamiliar with them may want to consult a guidebook to navigate the Jackson County Roads that lead to the trailheads.

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