Mountain Passages: My Last Word on Patrolling Front Range Cross-Country Trailheads

Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.”     —The Buddha

There is no one out at seven this morning but the other dog walkers in my Breckenridge neighborhood. We nod and smile at each other and encourage our dogs to take a dump so we can go back for that first cup of coffee. Willy is straining at the leash.

There are poop bag stations everywhere in Breck and I’m guessing there are at least twenty-eight Breckenridge city employee whose job it is to refill the stations Green Bagwith additional bags. But I’m carrying a green bag that once housed a Boulder Daily Camera. Boulder is my life-long base camp. The green poop bag is often the only thing of real value that I get from the Camera. I also keep the blue bag from the Sunday New York Times, the only edition of the Times I can afford. I feel particularly sophisticated picking up Willy’s poop in a blue New York Times bag.

Willy completes his dump and we both head back for coffee, breakfast, and kibbles. As we are walking, I get to ruminate on a number of things, including the lack of civility when people post on blogs.

By our independent nature, mountain people can appear to be uncivil in a hundred different ways. To an outsider, what we say and do may appear to be downright rude, but we are graced by the place we get to live. In most of our hearts, we want to do everything possible to protect this place and people.

As part of a mountain ethic, we also want to protect flatlanders from doing stupid things in the mountains. So when some fool finds himself above tree line, after noon in cotton shorts and a T-shirt with most of his liter of water he bought at the Jiffy Mart gone, he shouldn’t be surprised when a mountain person tells him to turn around and get off the mountain before the sky explodes with the usual afternoon thunder boomer.

To a certain extent, a lack of civility is in the eye of the beholder. That fool above tree line thinks we have been uncivil. All we are trying to do is prevent him from having a miserable time at best , and ending his vacation injured or hypothermic or dead at worst.

But let’s talk a little bit about posts to blogs and how a good number of people use their anonymity on the Internet to vent in an uncivil manner.

A couple of weeks ago I posted a blog (July 2, 1913) on Mountain Gazette asking what folks though of ski patrol volunteers working the high volume trails in the Front Range. Nothing was said about patrolling wilderness areas, mainly because most of the folks in wilderness areas know what they are doing. Go take a look at the post if you have time, you’ll find a good number of thoughtful responses mostly against ski patrollers in red vests and crosses patrolling trails in the Front Range. But not against mountain people looking out for folks who are unskilled in winter mountain travel in the backcountry.

I’m fine with the negative responses and appreciate the time and thought that went into the replies, negative and positive. The responses made me think about what we are planning on doing out on high volume Front Range cross-country trailheads. And no, we haven’t figured out the red vest and cross issue yet. I suspect that will resolve itself with time. Maybe yes, maybe no, on the red vests and crosses. But for sure we are going to propose to the Forest Service that Bryan Mountain Nordic Ski Patrol works out of Front Range trailheads next winter.

But what struck me was a kind of a self-involved, rabid ranting that generally lacked both civility and logic. This depravity struck me as sadly funny, slightly scary, and ultimately as pissing into the wind.

Let’s not name names, because to be honest, most of the folks who rant online hide behind pseudonyms. Let’s take Mike for example who said, “If I want to climb a Fourteener in the nude on a cloudy July afternoon, then I don’t want your volley buddies harshing my mellow.”

Say what?

“Harshing my mellow?”

Is that the same as calling bullshit on your total self-involvement?

Dave suggested that, “If Fayhee puts out a contract on you, I’m interested.”

First, There is a clear lack of civility when you want to kill someone because you don’t like their opinion. Second, I count Fayhee as a friend. Plus, the salient fact that he can’t put a contract out on me, as he can’t afford the $500.

Robert said, “There are a lot of Sierra Club/Bambi arse Wyatt Earp wanna bees who would like nothing better than to run around with quasi-official standing telling people what to do.”

This one goes to some logical gaps…it’s a real stretch to lump together the Sierra Club, for all it’s good and bad, Bambi, a cartoon character, and a semi-psychotic nineteenth century marshal. You can do it of course, but no one will understand what you mean. But Robert has probably run into that before.

So what to do with these kernels of depravity?

Pretty simple, I printed them out, crumpled them up and dumped them on the grass. Then I pulled out one of my handy-dandy green bags from the Camera and pulled it over my hand. I ever so carefully picked up the dumped paper, pulled the bag back over my hand and tied it off. Then I threw it in the trash as usual.

Mountain Gazette is about an exchange of mountain ideas, poems and pictures, stories, lies, laughter, and anything you can make up about mountains—if you just want to piss into the wind, go someplace else to do it.


Alan Stark is a freelance writer and recovering book publisher who splits his time between Boulder and Breckenridge.

20 thoughts on “Mountain Passages: My Last Word on Patrolling Front Range Cross-Country Trailheads”

  1. Alan, I have the highest regard for you and your excellent writing. That I offered services as a hit man was totally tongue-in-cheek, although we do disagree about this particular issue. Best Regards.

  2. I read the previous blog and liked it. I feel like you were addressing the need for people to actually be helpful out there. Nothing frustrates me more than coming down off a peak and seeing all the people who started around 10am with a lack of gear. That being, I took a look at the previous post and the comments and thought that, maybe you could have looked into “PSAR” or preventative Search and Rescue – it was implemented at Grand Canyon and consists of uniformed rangers near the tops of trailheads who engage visitors and discuss with them the hazards of hiking into the canyon. They can’t actually stop someone from hiking in, but can discourage them. Of course, the Bright Angel trailhead on a summer day sees thousands of visitors, but this may be an approach you could consider. Here is a link to Grand Canyon’s PSAR page:

  3. Alan, do you ever sniff your finger to make sure you didn’t get any on it? So you like to use your pedestal to respond to people who do not agree with your views. Would this be due to your innate need to be right? Could this need also be the cause for your need to roam the backcountry advising people of current weather conditions and handing out band-aids? I and I suspect most people will respectfully disagree with your opinion that we need “Courtesy Rangers” roaming to woods charged with the duty to protect us from ourselves. I would go so far as to add that this mentality is leading to the further “Pussification of America”. Anonymity or not, I don’t agree with you and you might as well be anonymous to me as well, but thank for giving us some good laughter out here in interweb land, because that’s about all your article was good for.

    Mike, the “Nekkid 14er Hiker”

    1. Mike:
      I’m happy that I provide you with some laughter. Your posts do the same for me and everyone else who reads them.

  4. Don’t worry, Mike – when the scree field you’re running lets loose an ankle snapping, microwave sized boulder off its perch and onto your lowtops, Alan will still be willing to evac your ass, nekkid or not, even if you do it 200 yards from the car.

    Alan wouldn’t make you crawl there, even though your buddies might. Take care, and enjoy it. just don’t harsh the mellow of people that want to volunteer to do things in the mountains like make trails, preserve things, or rescue people.

    There’s a storied history behind MRA groups in america. people willing to hang it out on the line in the worst of weather to bring em back alive. far better than expecting other nekkid 14er peakbaggers to put themselves out to give an assist.

    Boy, colorado sounds like a sucky place to run into other mountain ‘enthusiasts’ out in the backcountry. Just kidding- sorta.

    1. Thanks Mike:
      Like anywhere, Colorado has its share of self-involved jerks, maybe more than average because the self-involved think they are bullet-proof. They are attracted the wide variety of ways to prove their immortality by doing really dumb stuff in the backcountry. It’s pretty hard to highpoint a snowmobile in Iowa. However, Colorado remains a magical place with mostly good people wandering the backcountry.

  5. Call me judgmental – many have – but after living in Flagstaff for almost thirty years and encountering outlanders ready to hike down Bright Angel Trail in their flip flops or up the San Francisco Peaks during monsoon season – I say, ‘What the hell? Let ’em make their mistakes. It’ll cull the herd?’

    1. Two things Mary, First, let ’em cull the herd someplace else besides the backcountry, it stinks up the place, and recovery is tough on everybody. Second, how about you posting some of your essays on this website? You write as well as anyone I know and we need to keep Mountain Gazette alive. The pay sucks and you have edit your own stuff but it keeps MG alive until somebody with great heart, vast amounts of money, and a small brain decides to start MG again as a magazine.

  6. I guess if you are a Boulder type, you would not see the connection between Bambi myth believers, the Sierra Club politickers and the volunteer Wyatt Earpy wabbabees who thrive on thinking they should interpose their greater knowledge on others.

    Nice you are so far along the high road. It is also nice to see you pick up after your dog :-).

    I kind of agree with Mary S. Cull the herd. Natural selection is an underutilized principle in our country.

    1. Yeah, I checked with some other Boulder types and many of them suggested that it takes really bad dope to connect Bambi, the Sierra Club, and particularly Wyatt Earp. Sorry, you’re probably a good guy who also picks up after his dog.
      When I think about this minor shit-storm over patrolling the high use areas near trailheads in the backcountry, I don’t think the opposition has much to do with Ski Patrol, I think it’s all about none of us liking ‘authority’ figures. As backcountry patrollers we don’t want to be authority figures. It’s the reason many of us are in a Nordic patrol and not an Alpine patrol. So as we get ready for the next season, there are going to be long and contentious discussions at the first aid training that we do for teachers and our Outdoor Emergency Care Technician refresher about whether or not to wear our vests and crosses. I think it’s a toss up as to what we’ll do. I’m fine with tossing the first aid gear in a pack. My only concern is figuring out a way to let folks know that there are patrollers around should they need help. Maybe a sign at the trailhead? Maybe just a small cross on our packs? It’s a tough one to decide.

  7. I think the issue along the Front Range, and in other highly populated areas, is educating novices on etiquette and the unspoken ‘code’ of the backcountry, trails, etc. I see this all the time with mountain biking around here. People with no clue are out blowing off trail, widening singletrack (this makes my blood boil), not yielding correctly, and generally giving a bad name to the sport. I feel that if these people area generally interested in the activity and will continue to pursue it then it is beneficial to educated them early on. Same with winter sports and not snowshoeing in the skintrack, poaching lines, etc.

    I’m also of the ‘culling the herd’ mindset though, so not really sure what the right answer is.

    Appreciate the writings as always Alan.

    1. Hey Matt:
      Two good things have come out of this “patrolling the backcountry” controversy. First, while there have been some really dumb responses, a good number of thoughtful mountain people have made any number of good points, stuff that I don’t agree with like “culling the herd” but meaningful points of view worth reading. Second, I’m liking the idea of Pre Search and Rescue. The patrols are at or within a mile or two of the trailheads where if you see someone in flip-flops headed up a gnarly trail you simply point out in a respectful manner that their gear sucks and could be dangerous. And then move on. You are not an authority figure, just a person trying to keep someone from hurting themselves. Half of us would do it as a matter of course whether we were officially patrolling or not.

  8. You appear to be a stubborn old sod intent on pushing your idea of “keeping everyone safe” regardless of the overwhelming negativity to this idea expressed by people responding to your article when you had raised your idea a few months back. What we are trying to tell you is ” LEAVE US THE F*CK ALONE”! No outdoor nannies thanks.

    1. Gary:
      One, you obviously only read what you wanted to read. There were a number of positive responses. Two, we’ll take this as your wilderness DNR, don’t bother to ask for help if you get in trouble.

      1. Alan,

        One,I’d love to know how you’ve determined ” I only read what I want to read”?! I’ve followed your story from the start, and if you take the time to compare the responses saying yes or no to your idea, the negative responses are FAR more numerous. This leads me to believe, that perhaps YOU are the one who reads only what he wants to read.

        Two, you are correct with that assumption.

        You are batting .500 now.

        Also, before you make any more incorrect assumptions, I was a member of a Search & Rescue group for several years, and have many times helped others who ran into trouble, so I’m not insensitive to assisting others and caring only about myself.

        Your turn.

        1. Gary:
          When you take an contentious position you can be sure that the folks who absolutely hate the position will be vocal. The folks who agree with your position will be less vocal. In talking to patrollers and rangers who have done this sort of work for the Forest Service the consensus is that maybe 30% of the trail users will express something positive about a patrol presence, 60% won’t give a damn one way or another, and 10% will be offended.
          As to assumptions, it’s pretty easy to make assumptions about someone who starts a post by calling the writer a “stubborn old sod.” One thing that slightly intrigues me…why did you give up SAR work?

          1. Alan,
            Why is it that people on your side would be less vocal? Personally, I’m just as vocal whether I’m for or against something. That makes no sense to me. Next, I moved to Colorado from another state and shortly thereafter inquired with the local SAR, but was told they had the volunteers they needed. I checked back another year or so later and was told the same thing. It’s a pretty rare SAR that has the luxury of turning away volunteers, but that’s what it is in my ‘hood. Life seems to have filled up most of the free time I used to have, so even though I loved SAR, I’m not sure I’ll ever get back to it. Apologies for the boring explanation.

  9. Alan,
    I count myself in the “half of us” you mentioned. Seems like there has always been an adequate amount of people helping each other out in the woods. Judging from many of the comments posted here, the “official” part could actually come between good intentions/advice, and the people that might need a little help.

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