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Hanging Lake Trail set to reopen in June — almost a year after mudslide closure

GLENWOOD SPRINGS - The trail to Hanging Lake in Glenwood Canyon has been closed since last summer, when mud and debris flowed down the steep burn scars left by the Grizzly Creek fire and made parts of the trail inaccessible.

Now, a temporary trail is set to reopen to hikers next month after some rapid work is done. The main priority is just getting the trail walkable again.

The White River National Forest awarded a contract to Summit to Sea Trails of Estes Park to accomplish that goal, and work began in late April.

“Sea to Summit has made speedy progress,” said Leanne Veldhuis, district ranger in the Eagle-Holy Cross District for the White River National Forest, at a well-attended news conference May 17. “They’ve expertly fixed and secured Bridge One back in place. The goal there was to get Bridge One back in place before spring runoff peaked. They removed the old Bridge Two, which was knocked into the creek. And now, they’re in the process of rebuilding the rock abutments and stabilizing the banks where a new Bridge Two will be installed.”

That progress means the trail will be open far sooner than initially anticipated. Reservations to hike Hanging Lake can be made starting at 10 a.m. Monday. Hiking will commence June 25.

Hanging Lake is a very popular trail, and Glenwood Springs is making 615 reservations available per day. The trailhead is 7 miles east of Glenwood Springs, just off Interstate 70 in Glenwood Canyon. The trail to the lake, which is a National Natural Landmark, ascends 1,000 feet.

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Caroline Llanes
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Aspen Public Radio
Workers used grip hoists and rope to get the heavy wooden planks for new bridges up to their worksites.

Along the trail, there is evidence of the repair work already completed. Workers used a grip hoist — a portable winch used to transport heavy loads along a wire rope — to transport heavy wooden planks over the boulders that make up the first part of the trail.

Bridge One on Hanging Lake Trail is sturdy and in place again after being twisted off its joists in a mud and debris flow last summer.
Caroline Llanes
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Aspen Public Radio
Bridge One is in place again after having been twisted off its joists by a flow of mud and debris last summer.

The first bridge was completely twisted off its joists during the debris flow last summer. In great shape now, it is safe for hikers to walk across, or to stop and snap a photo.

a pile of debris from the old bridge two that got destroyed in a mudslide on hanging lake trail
Caroline Llanes
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Aspen Public Radio
Bridge Two washed into Dead Horse Creek during 2021’s mudslides. Workers cut the debris into manageable pieces to transport it back down the trail.

Past the first bridge, there is a pile of debris left over from where the second bridge washed into Dead Horse Creek, which runs along the length of the trail to the lake.

A sign on Hanging Lake Trail warning hikers about the dangers of burn scars.
Caroline Llanes
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Aspen Public Radio
A sign warns hikers about burn scars and inherent hazards.

Workers have cut the remnants of the old bridge into manageable pieces to get them back down to the trailhead. Signs now warn hikers about burned areas and hazards such as falling rocks and debris.

A crew of five has been working on the second bridge. The foundational parts of the bridge were installed before spring runoff started.

“Just from when we were here like two weeks ago, the water is already up — you kind of see a rock wall down there, we were standing on that, now it’s completely under water, so the water’s come up a lot,” said Nick Allman.

Allman is working with Summit to Sea Trails. He and Joe Murphy were doing some rockwork on the trail leading up to the bridge.

Nick Allman (in blue) and Joe Murphy (in red) move a large rock into place as a part of the trail leading up to Bridge Two.
Caroline Llanes
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Aspen Public Radio
Nick Allman, right, and Joe Murphy move a large rock into place as a part of the trail leading up to Bridge Two.

“And we’re essentially building the retaining wall and tying in a step. Since the trail curves, we’re making like a fanned-step/ ramp, so it’s essentially gonna be a step right across to that edge of the abutment,” Murphy said. “It’s gonna be a beautiful work of art.”

“That’s right, only the best,” Allman said.

The sturdy bridge is made up of heavy wooden planks that Sea to Summit Trails owner Tommy Cogger estimates weigh a couple hundred pounds each.

“And we carried these up on our shoulders, so we just had some really tender shoulders, and that was a few long days,” Cogger said. “Honestly, putting it all together and everything isn’t that complex. But yeah, just getting the stuff to these remote locations, … it’s pretty tough.”

Cogger and the rest of the crew have spent a lot of time on the bridge, with many workers hammering or screwing different components of the structure into place. He said the work is hard but rewarding, and it’s an opportunity to get people out and connect with an iconic piece of Colorado.

Tommy Cogger, a man with an undercut and a work vest, takes a break from working on a bridge on hanging lake trail
Caroline Llanes
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Aspen Public Radio
Tommy Cogger takes a quick break from working on Bridge Two to answer questions.

“Not only are we helping people recreate on public lands, we’re building a space in which people can live an active and healthy lifestyle, and that’s just rewarding to be a part of that,” Cogger said.

But even with the work done so far, the improved trail is not permanent.

The National Forest Foundation and the White River National Forest estimate that the design work for the permanent trail will begin late this summer. The nonprofit organization Great Outdoors Colorado, or GOCO, provided a $2.3 million grant to fund that design and construction.

The goal with the permanent trail is to create something that will last for generations, something that can withstand severe weather events such as the mudslides that wrecked parts of the trail last summer.

Jamie Werner, who is the White River National Forest stewardship coordinator with the National Forest Foundation, said it may decide to move the trail entirely in order to keep it from potential hazards. Also, trail composition will be considered.

“Maybe it’s more rockwork than dirt,” Werner said. “Looking at materials, looking at grade, looking at alignment, really trying to make sure this new trail lasts for 50 to 100 years."

Caroline Llanes is a general assignment reporter at Aspen Public Radio, covering local news and City of Aspen-based issues. Previously, she was an associate producer for WBUR’s Morning Edition in Boston.