Due to legally grey private land access, getting to some of Colorado’s 14,000 foot peaks for climbing or backcountry skiing can be like driving with a cop a few cars behind you. You know you’re legal — but you got a tail light out or something?
In the case of climbing, you see the trespassing signs, know the land is private, but also know you’re probably got some sort of historical easement situation. Or you’re pretty sure the local mounties have better things to do than bust hikers on a trail that’s been used by the public for more than a century (and the same cops have probably been hunting on since they were kids).
Yet even if the cops are distracted, perhaps those pesky land owners are lurking, scheming how to ruin your day. So you can’t help but stress a little.
Such has been the case with Silver Pick basin access to El Diente and the Wilsons, a group of three 14ers in central Colorado.
The good news (which I’m happy to blog about after so much dire blinning (blogging + whining) about land closures and access restrictions, is the Silver Pick land has been acquired by the Trust For Public Land, an organization that buys private land and makes it public in various ways.
According to an article in the Telluride Daily Planet newspaper, the “hushed” deal with land owner Rusty Nichols was in the work for three years, and ended up costing around $3 million.
Since Nichols declared the land “closed” in 2004, cops and robbers antics of avoiding Nichols has been at times hilarious, other times just a demonstration of human nature that reminded me of feuding neighbors in a subdivision (e.g., don’t drag your lawnmower over the corner of my lot or I’m calling the cops!). Summer climbers tended to avoid the place because Nichols spent at least some time up there harassing people. But skiers and winter mountaineers continued to use the access as it is really the only practical way to reach El Diente during snow seasons (although a longish snowmobile ride and difficult approach does work from the southwest.)
|Forest Service Visitor’s Map shows approximate location of private lands in Silver Pick Basin area, indicated by red outlines. Arrows indicate 14,000 foot peaks reached from here.
My favorite story from those days is when some skiers took their mountain bikes up the gated but dry road in early springtime. They came back to find Nichols had padlocked their bikes. The heinous trespassers had to walk over to the man’s cabin and receive a lecture to get the combo. I guess that’s better than being shot at, but since today’s mountain bikes are the equivalent of yesteryear’s horses, Nichols was actually getting into some serious stuff (as heard in Telluride: “You can have my Subraru and steal my girlfriend — but don’t touch my $6,000 mountain bike…”)
I recall a few trips up there myself when we’d tiptoe past Nichols’ place, wondering if he was there and was going to rage out on an ATV and ruin our day. Luckily that never happened.
Tricky part of this is they say the lower portion of the trail will be re-routed on the west side of the basin to avoid a homesite. No word if this will provide any viable winter access, or even springtime over-snow travel that doesn’t involve intense sidehilling and possible avalanche danger. For a while the existing road/trail will probably still be poachable when owners are not around, thought he legality of doing so will be more cut and dried.
|El Diente Peak from Silver Pick area where the recent land purchase will open previously closed access.
In the end I don’t doubt someone will eventually live up there year around. When that happens, traditional winter access will probably be blocked and we’ll be forced to the new western trail. Thus, while on the surface this is good news, the details could be less than exalted.
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WildSnow.com publisher emeritus and founder Lou (Louis Dawson) has a 50+ years career in climbing, backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering. He was the first person in history to ski down all 54 Colorado 14,000-foot peaks, has authored numerous books about about backcountry skiing, and has skied from the summit of Denali in Alaska, North America’s highest mountain.