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RMYC Crews Wrap-up on Mt. Elbert 

Hikers climbing Mt. Elbert, Colorado’s highest 14er at 14,439 feet and the second-highest peak in the contiguous U.S., can thank Rocky Mountain Youth Corps for making their stairway to the sky a little easier. 

Conservation Corps 4.HEIC

A longtime partner of the nonprofit Colorado 14ers Initiative (CFI), RMYC crews wrapped up this season’s trailwork on the peak in early September, capping off a pinnacle project coveted by highly trained RMYC crews.


 “It’s a pretty extreme experience,” says RMYC programs manager Ryan Banks. “The work days are intense and you have to be off the mountain by 2 p.m. when the storms roll in. But people want to work there.” 


This summer, RMYC crews worked on the North Elbert trail before turning their attention to the Black Cloud trail, a 5.5-mile, one-way alternative route to the more heavily used North and South trails, with an elevation gain of 4,713 feet. 


CFI was formed in 1994 as a partnership of nonprofits, private donors and public agencies. to preserve and protect the natural integrity of Colorado’s fourteeners. Mt. Elbert has long been a recipient of its trailwork attention, with its northeast route the first 14er-specific route it ever worked on. This season, four CFI leaders worked with a nine-person RMYC crew at two sites on the mountain. Near timberline the project utilized timber features to reconstruct 2,500 linear feet of trail, including felling 27 trees, and stripping 125 logs to use as steps and them to the project site. Higher up on the peak, at around 13,500 feet, RMYC crews also built 900 feet of new bypass trail, hauling rocks to construct walls, staircases and other features. The location of the quarry site entailed using a griphoist to haul the stones—some upwards of 500 lbs.—uphill 200 vertical feet and then 300 feet laterally to the project site. In all, the team installed 41 cribbed rock steps and built 1,380 square feet of retaining walls at the upper site. Over the course of an eight-day hitch, or typical work session, a crew would work two days on the lower site and six days on the upper.  


RMYC is a longtime partner of ours, and one of our most reliable,” says CFI field programs director Ben Hanus. “They’re an integral part of making our projects happen—particularly, this year up on Elbert on the North and Black Cloud trails. They’re always willing to do what needs to be done to get a project finished.” The new re-routes are expected to be completed this year on the North Elbert trail, he adds, with RMYC crews returning next year for one more season on the Black Cloud trail.  


He adds that the work isn’t for the faint of heart. “It’s a really strenuous place to work,” he says, adding that the crews put in 10-hour days and have to hike 3,000 vertical feet each morning from base camp up to 13,500 feet just to begin their “work.” But they’re extremely grateful for the RMYC’s help, and the training they give their crews beforehand.  


“The crews we get from RMYC are way better than volunteers,” says Hanus. “They come with training as well as crew leaders and assistant crew leaders. Next to my staff, which has a minimum three years’ experience, RMYC crews are the next best qualified to do this type of work.”  


He’s also glad for the experience it gives the kids. “It gives us an opportunity to introduce trailwork to people who otherwise might not get to see it,” Hanus says. “Our partnership with RMYC allows us to help create more future stewards of 14ers.” 


And working on Mt. Elbert, the state’s highest peak and one of its most popular to climb, is also considered a crown jewel for RMYC crews to work on. “It has a cult-like vibe,” says RMYC’s Banks. “We’ve had returning crew members request to go up there and become crew leaders. For some reason, people really want to work up there. It’s something about the kind of work we do; it’s an iconic peak and you’re building something on it that will be there for another hundred years.” 

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