Crag Crest Trail’s blustery history

Hikers along the Crag Crest Trail find themselves dwarfed by the massive tangle of fallen trees from the blowdown of 2005. There is no problem hiking the trail, but going off-trail in this stretch is a challenge.

A trail-side view of the Crag Crest blowdown shows only part of the damage that occurred in the October 2005 windstorm. The Crag Crest Trail curves through the lower left of the photo. Butts Lake is off to the right and Bullfinch Reservoir to the left, both out of the photo.

It’s an ill wind ...

It’s unlikely you’ll find a summer’s day when there isn’t a small parade of outdoor enthusiasts enjoying the views from the Crag Crest Trail.

Hikers, runners and the merely unsuspecting take to the trail like frogs to water, and it’s improbable you’ll make the trip alone at most hours of the day.

You can start at either the west trail head, which takes off from a paved parking lot across from Island Lake, or the east trail head, which starts climbing near the upper end of Eggleston Lake.

Designated in 1978 as a National Recreation Trail, the highest part of the 11-mile loop trail traverses a hog’s-back ridge topping out at 11,189 feet, from which, it’s been reputed, you might see 25 or more of the mesa’s 300 or so lakes.

One section of the trail toward the east end winds through the remainders of the Crag Crest Blowdown from the fall of 2005.

Colorado’s high country is susceptible to violent weather events, and although lightning is the best reason to start your hike early on summer days, high winds can, and have, played havoc with hikers and the shallow-rooted evergreens sprouting in Colorado’s mountains.

Among the notable wind events that have affected the high country is the Routt Divide Blowdown in the Routt National Forest and Mount Zirkel Wilderness north of Steamboat Springs.

In October 1997, winds later estimated at nearly 115 miles per hour tore through the area, flattening 13,000 acres of old-growth forest and trapping two hunters for two days among the tangle of trees stacked 30 feet high.

Close behind that is the Crag Crest blowdown of the fall of 2005.

Lively winds aren’t uncommon along the Crag Crest ridge: Hikers have reported crawling hands-and-knees along the ridge while being buffeted by exuberant winds, and a friend recently reported crawling along the ridge through a “wind tunnel” formed when high winds arched over the narrow ridge and then dropped down the other side.

Like many backcountry events, the 2005 blowdown apparently went unwitnessed (did it make any noise?) but early the next summer, recreationists were being cautioned the “east trail access is completely impassable.”

The blowdown flattened nearly every tree in a mile-long stretch from west of Butts Lake across a low saddle to east of Bullfinch Reservoir. Most of the few trees not toppled were snapped off about 30 feet off the ground, testament to the force of the gale.

Time and chainsaws change the landscape, and although the trail is open and easily managed, there is something cathedral-like about walking between shoulder-high stacks of trees laid out in orderly, funereal rows, as though felled by a giant hand brushing across the landscape.

Drought slows Lake Powell rise

Lake Powell finished June at 3,600.7-feet elevation, only six inches higher than it was May 30 at 3,599.44.

Normally one would expect the lake to rise significantly during June, but this year’s runoff apparently came in May, when the reservoir rose three-and-a-half feet.

At 3,600-feet elevation Powell is 100 feet below full pool and 48 percent full.

An early runoff simply means an early drawdown to meet downstream demands for water and power.

This year’s April through July inflows to Lake Powell are forecast to be 42 percent of the 30-year average, which has some water users already preparing for the first ever water-shortage declaration coming as early as 2015, writes John Fleckstein, water blogger and science writer for the Albuquerque Journal.

It’s been forecast that water levels in lakes Mead and Powell next year may reach their lowest levels since June, 1980, when Lake Powell first reached full pool (3,700 elevation).

Should that level be reached, it’s almost certain water deliveries to Nevada and Arizona may be cut back in 2016.

You can read more of Fleckstein’s water reporting online at


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