Hiking Frontside

Francelia Lieurance hikes up Frontside Monday morning. The south-facing trail is typically one of the first to dry out after Salida gets some snow.

With floods, fires and now snowstorms hitting the area, the trail systems in Salida have gone through a lot over the last few months.

New trails, however, have been completed while others were being repaired. Depending on the day’s weather and recent snowfall, some are still hikeable and rideable.

“Luckily they weren’t impacted heavily (by the fire),” said Mike Smith, Salida Mountain Trails president.

In the Methodist Mountain system, the Decker Fire affected Sol Train East, Sol Train West and Sun Up. The trails weren’t in areas that burned, but fire crews did dig a bulldozer line through all three trails to help keep the fire from spreading.

“They’re in areas that are easily repairable, and they’ve already started to be repaired,” Smith said about the dozer line.

The fire began after an inch of rainfall in an hour caused flash flooding and massive damage to the Arkansas Hills Trail System. Volunteers, however, showed up en masse to get the trails back in shape. More than 100 volunteers showed up to work at SMT’s September and October ShinDig volunteer work days combined, both of which were focused on repairing the Arkansas Hills.

In addition to the ShinDigs, Smith said there were quite a few midweek efforts, with five to 10 people, to repair parts of trails. Fifteen people also showed up for a workday on the Cottonwood Trail.

“There was a great outpouring of love and attention from people,” Smith said. “There’s still some finishing work to get them back to where they were, but they’re all rideable.”

Two new trails have also been completed recently in the Arkansas Hills.

El Duderino, a 0.4-mile double black trail above North Backbone, is completed and has signs up to mark it. Smith said the trail has “some amazing rock work.”

Another new trail that starts at the northern end of Sweet Dreams and ends in Sweetwater Gulch is also done. The new 1.9-mile trail hasn’t been named yet so there are no signs marking it. Smith said they’re considering holding a contest to help choose its name. He described the intermediate cross-country trail as “more of an old-school contour trail.”

Next year, another new trail will be made at the west end of Double Rainbow in the Methodist system that will tie into Rainbow.

After all the trails have gone through, bikers and hikers are asked to tread lightly to avoid further damaging the trails now that the snow has started to fly.

“The big thing is to ride when it’s frozen or dry, not when it’s muddy,” Smith said.

Absolute Bikes owner Shawn Gillis owner said they update the trail conditions page on their website almost every day, letting people know what the trails are like before venturing out. After last week’s storm, the website said, “Conditions will not be good for riding dirt this weekend.”

After some sunny days, however, that could change.

Gillis said 10 a.m. is “a great dividing line” because it’s starting to warm up then, but the trails are often still frozen. Gillis said you can usually get a good one-hour ride or hike in if you leave at 10 a.m., and he encouraged people to start earlier if they want to go on a longer mission.

Gillis said south-facing trails, like Frontside, Chicken Dinner and Lower Rusty Lung, open up the fastest after snow. Burnpile, which kind of faces north, also opens fairly soon afterward because it doesn’t have many shaded areas.

“They melt faster due to the direct sunlight,” Gillis said.

He called Chicken Dinner a “very, very good up-and-down trail” people could ride in the winter.

He also noted that while Frontside is mostly south-facing, it holds more moisture when it goes around the curve near the junction with Burnpile. “If you’re running into snow at that part of Fronstide, it’s a pretty good estimate what other trails will be like,” Gillis said. “If you get into a section (anywhere) that’s already getting super muddy and you know it will get more north-facing, turn around because it will only get worse.”

On the flip side, he said ravines in North Backbone might still be snowy two weeks after the last snowfall because of how shaded parts of the trail are.

No matter where people venture, however, there are always some extra hazards to be aware of in late fall and winter.

“This time of year you’ll notice a lot of ice patches that can catch you off guard if you’re not aware, and they can cause you to fall,” Gillis said. Packed snow is “predictable,” he said, but along the edges it might be melting and totally different. A key to staying safe is “expecting the unexpected,” Gillis said.

Fat bikes, with tires ranging from 3.7-5.2 inches, can also help cyclists riding in the winter months. The tires’ extra surface area helps distribute people’s weight so they can stay on top of snow better.

“The bigger tires definitely help,” Gillis said.

Gillis said paved trails like the Monarch Spur Trail and CRs 120, 140 and 160 are also good options if people just want to get out for some exercise and “brain therapy.”

Noting that this area is called the Banana Belt, Gillis said most snow will melt in a week or two, depending on the temperatures.

“Some years the trails are amazing and some years they’re muddier,” he said.

In general, however, avoiding hiking and biking through mud will help keep the trails in the best possible shape.

“Be respectful,” Gillis said. “If mud is starting to clog up your tires, some people think they can just wash their bike. The big picture is it does a lot of damage to the trails.”

He recommended that cyclists who encounter muddy areas should note the time and then leave an hour earlier the next time they ride.