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Monday, September 2, 2019

The Highly Eroding New Face Of Outdoor Recreation, & Rough Day On The Trail To Little Giant

Bobbie and I decided it was time to go in search of some new "dots." One of her suggestions peaked my interest...a summit on 13,400 foot "Little Giant."  Turned out my "spirit" was raring to go. But the flesh...not so much.

The access road to Little Giant was a few miles east of Silverton—a once quaint and proper mountain town now whored out to the burgeoning ATV/OHV crowd. I'm not referring to the quiet little putt putt Quads of yesteryear so much as the new bigger-and-faster-is-better trend perfectly exemplified by "Razors."   

The new face of "recreation," getting bigger,  louder,  more powerful, more obnoxious and, unfortunately, more popular.
Pardon my prejudice, but I fear this is the new face of outdoor recreation, especially out here in the Wild, Wild West. Dust raising, rock throwing, decibel shattering all-wheel-drive ATV/RAZORS (et al.) equipped with rugged suspensions and powerful engines to handle the roughest terrain with speed. Throw in four knobby tires and put the pedal to the metal, baby. 

Once upon a time, sleepy little ole Silverton was a cute and respectable mountain town, known as being the turnaround point for the Denver and Rio Grand olden-days/narrow guage Steam Trains headquartered in Durango. Most residents agree that the D & R Railroad is the best thing that ever happened to Silverton. It disgorges railcars full of fat-wallet tourists up to three times a day all summer long. Except for the arriving/departing toot of a nostalgic and harmonious steam whistle, Silverton modestly prospered in peace and quiet. 

Unfortunately, a few years back, Silverton sold its soul to Satan by opening their hearts, minds, and street ordinances to embrace raucous ATV/Razors. And now the town, as well as the surrounding "Jeep trails" are over-ruined with noise, dust, and the erosional effects of spinning knobby tires that steadily loosens the dirt/soil that once made for smoother and safer Jeep rides. Once the soil is loosened it gets carried away by snow and rain, leaving a roadbed of rocks and ledges. 

Today Silverton is a train-wreck of lengthy ATV trailers that disembark payloads of irritating 4WD super-bugs. And, in case you don't have one to call your own, there's no shortage of rent-a-razor shops to satisfy your "inner destructive juvenile delinquent," as they proliferate about town like rabbits in heat. Trust me, Main Street Silverton is not nearly so "quaint" when lined with car lots full of rental Razors. It looks more like Colfax in Denver.

"The times they are a changin," warned Mr Dylan, and along with those changin' times, I fear, is the face, if not the definition, of "recreation" in the eyes of the upcoming generation. I've seen the monster coming—watched in horror as it grew like an all-consuming Sci-fi Blob—starting in the pristine red rock deserts surrounding Moab. And now the "blob' has found southwest Colorado. Run for your lives, people. 

Bobbie and I are life-long campers, so we've seen the change from hikers, to hikers and mountain bikers, to motorized ATVs. Today, especially in Utah for some reason, a "typical" camping/vacationing/RVer family rolls into camp in a humungous "Toy-Hauler" full of clamorous ATVs/Razors. We watch as well-meaning, but shortsighted (if not misguided) parents unknowingly teach their impressionable offspring that the rip-roaring, high powered, knobby-tired, super suspension-ed  ATV/Razor/dirt-bike is how we recreate in the great outdoors.  

I am both saddened and maddened by this societal/cultural shift in values that, more and more, favor the thrills of horsepower, noise, speed, and dust, over quieter, slower, less damaging intimate recreational pursuits like walking, hiking, mountain biking and other viable, motor-less ways to explore and experience the peace of wilderness settings. 

To be clear, I am not against the use of "Jeeps" or SUV type 4WD type vehicles to explore existing backroads and trails because, quite frankly, they are quieter, slower-going, and less apt to produce clouds of dust or pitch rocks in their wake. 

I can assure you, I'm no Sierra Club, tree-hugging whacko environmentalist who wants to padlock government lands. I'm just a guy who wishes the ATV/Razor/dirt bike enthusiasts would ease up on the gas a little, muffle their motors better, and/or, in a perfect world, just go back to "Jeep-type" vehicles.
Digression over...back to Little Giant.

Sue Bee,  parked on a switchback near an old/defunct mine operation.

We met no one as I eased Sue Bee up a few miles up a narrow, rocky, switch-backing Jeep trail. Finally I drew the "line," just below timberline, where rocks in the trail grew large enough to poke a hole in our oil pan. I parked near an old mine ruin located in a still, isolated basin. Ahhh. We are alone...first to don packs and greet a picture perfect morning.  

Dead, but still standing...
Stumbling along the remaining Jeep trail, I noticed my pack felt heavier than normal. I couldn't seem to pick up my feet or walk in a straight line. I'll come around, I thought. Just need to warm up...get the ole blood flowing.  

I don't know...perhaps my legs hadn't recovered from the bike-grind up to Blue Lakes Trailhead with Leon. Or maybe too many days in a row of doing laps at the pool. Whatever, it's rare for me to have an adrenalin-less "off day" above timberline, especially in a new and dramatic mountain setting with a 13er to climb.  

A mile or so later, we reached a spectacular upper basin. It had a serene lake that reflected our "Little Giant" summit goal.

Little Giant

A steep ascent carried us toward a saddle. If you look close, you can see the trail etched into the upper mountainside just left of center.

A look back

A few waning wildflowers left

The trail had been steady, angling up the mountainside in a steep, but manageable rate of ascent. Then, suddenly, the trail shot straight up, on a surface of hard-packed dirt sprinkled with "marbles." We couldn't carve a foothold to save our lives (literally). It was a miserable and frustrating section that took its toll. And we knew it would be worse going down.

By the time we reached the saddle I needed calories and a break. No energy. Light headed. Just Low blood sugar, I thought... 

Bobbie checks a map for names of our new dots
About halfway through a Cliff Bar, I felt the familiar symptoms of a pre-migraine. It always begins with vision problems...a sparkly aura of blind spots that twinkle and blind. As it progresses, I become extremely sensitive to light and feel an overall malaise. These episodes come and go every 6 months or so...usually first thing in the morning. Eventually the symptoms pass within an hour or two, leaving me with nothing more than a dull headache and unsteadiness. My dad used to complain of the same symptoms. The wonder of genetics...

Little Giant (right). We must navigate around and behind the sub-peak on the left in order to gain a ridge to the summit of Little Giant

After an hour the symptoms began to fade. I felt weak and unsteady, relying heavily on my hiking pole to stay upright. I didn't want to turn around short of the summit after all the 'investment" to get this far. I slung on my pack, wobbled along behind Bobbie, hoping for no missteps on the diminishing, off-camber trail.  

No Name Lake from the saddle

View Southeast from our scant trail...Still Green

We hiked around behind the aforementioned sub-peak...somewhere behind hid Little Giant. Our lame guide book told us we needed to scramble up to the ridge in the above photo and hang a right to the summit. The trail pretty much disappeared, but figured we needed to cross that patch of light colored scree center-photo. From there, maybe we could spot the best route up to the ridge. 

Not an easy task, though, getting to the scree on a slippery side slope. Just short of the scree I spied a potential route...if we could safely connect a few ledges. About that time, however, unsteadiness had pretty much sapped all my strength and will. Better judgment convinced me to throw in the proverbial towel. Shit. So close, yet so far away...

Below: A moose family near Crystal Lake on the way to Little Giant. 

Panoramas:  Scroll  →

Little Giant and Sub-peak from saddle

Peace out, mates.
mark and bobbie


  1. Looks like Silverton has gone the way of Moab, last time we were there we felt like we were in a damn Mad Max movie, depressing to say the least. Sorry about your migraine, glad you guys got off the mountain safely.

  2. I HEAR YOU about the ATVs. For the life of me I don't understand why this is fun. We're never going back to Moab, last time the noise and dust just finished us off. Happy to see you made it off the slopes in one piece.

  3. Better safe than sorry, hopefully you can connect those dots another day.

  4. This year was certainly bad for traffic and the worse that we ever remember. We're hoping part of it was due to many people delaying their trips due to the heavy snow packed trails and also less trails to spread everyone out due to snow. The ATV's are definitely worse over by the Silverton trails. Chris thinks if they would at least put a muffler on to help with noise that would be a start, let alone slowing down on the trails. As a slow jeeper, one of our big pet peeves is the large groups of jeeps that seem to be traveling together. All of the rallies that are going on jam up the trails. Hoping this year was just an anomaly but our hopes aren't very high. Now I have to look up on a map where Little Giant lies.

  5. Was excited to find a new post on the BCB this afternoon, along with a new direction and an unknown mountain to us, but we have experienced the "new look" of Silverton last year, ATVs were everywhere, we are seeing the beginning of the end of Nature at every turn it seems.The main sandwich joint was mobbed, won't name it as it's too popular as is so next time we will always carry lunch when heading in that direction.
    Sorry to hear you had to bail but just glad you still had the capacity to due same.....better safe than sorry and it will be their always....maybe the roads won't be though.
    Will be searching out that Moose family around Crystal Lake for sure, can't wait......

  6. Silverton was always so special to me. I am sorry to hear it has become a whole different town than it used to be.

  7. Us Sierra Club whacko treehuggers are one of the only entities helping to stop destruction of your environment. Before making stereotyped comments about us please do some research on us regarding what we are doing to stop environmental destruction. You don't have to agree with us but recognize that in the long run we want what you want.

    1. Perhaps I shouldn't have used sarcastic vernacular, it always seems to offend somebody. Lord knows I would get out my checkbook if they could put a dent in this growing problem. But if this country can't agree that there are too many assault weapons in the hands of "whackos," in spite of the near daily slaughter of innocents, I'm not sure the motorized recreational vehicle users, nor their "lobby" in DC would be extending "olive branches" anytime soon. The good ole USA seems split down the middle these days...polarized, no more middle ground, not to mention a shrinking middle class. But that's another subject altogether...
      Thanks for you comment. mark

  8. I agree with your take on the ATV/RZR. In short, if I can't get there in my Jeep, I don't need to be back there any further. Leave some of the quiet. I have enjoyed our quad, but rarely use it anymore; it's harder on the old bones now. Yet even when we did use the quad, we never tore up the roads/paths or went roaring around at warp speed. How can you enjoy anything around you when it's all a blur? I'm far FAR from an environmental whacko myself, but I do appreciate just getting out in nature.


  9. So .. we should leave the Razors at home when we come in October ;) I guess we’ll prevail on foot!


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