National Forest Foundation

Restoring Mount Eolus, A Beloved Fourteener

NFF Grant Partners and Projects, Treasured Landscapes


With support from the NFF’s Matching Awards Program, the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative (CFI) completed the final stages of trail construction and habitat restoration on Mount Eolus in 2016. The new trail is the 31st sustainably designed summit route built in CFI’s 22 years in existence. Located in the remote Weminuche Wilderness of the San Juan Mountains, the undertaking was one the most logistically complex and labor intensive projects CFI has ever completed.

Getting the nine-person crew to their basecamp involved a two-hour train ride into the Chicago Basin and a six-mile-long hike deep into the wilderness. Working on ten day hitches, the crew would wake each morning to an additional two to three-mile hike to reach the project work site. By the end of the season the team had cumulatively hiked nearly 4,000 miles and recorded 1.42 million feet of elevation gain. That’s the equivalent of hiking Mount Everest from sea level to summit 49 times!

With three of our most experienced and technically skilled crew members leading the project the crew was able to construct several intricate staircases and erosion prevention features, all at high elevations. Their expertise allowed them to build 1,600 linear feet of new trail by mid-August.

The opening day of the new route just happened to align on the calendar with the Perseid Meteor shower. While hiking to the worksite at 4:00 a.m. that morning, the crew saw hundreds of meteors streaking across the sky above. Shimmering silver-blue streaks racing in opposite directions overhead was like a fireworks display celebrating the opening of the new route.

With roughly a month left until the early fall snows would arrive and cover all of their hard work, the crew focused their efforts to closing and restoring the old socially-created trail. The previous route was extremely steep and was washed out due to rains and snowmelt running through the trail, contributing to rapid erosion.

The team worked to disguise the old trail with large rocks to prevent future hikers from following the unstainable route. In addition, they transplanted native alpine grasses that were saved during the construction of the new trail. In total, they restored roughly 2,000 linear feet of trail cutting through the fragile alpine tundra.

With 3,396 human hours worked by nine people over the course of four months, CFI could not be more pleased with the results of this project. Our organization is extremely thankful for the support of our individual donors, volunteers and partner organizations. This work would not be possible without the funding of the National Forest Foundation. We hope you can make the trip into the Chicago Basin to see our work and enjoy the majesty of one of Colorado’s most remote locations!

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