|988||Everyone is Doing It
- the Problems of Being Popular, part 1
We have visited Half Moon Creek area quite a few times through the years but have never camped there. A fairly descent dirt road (Half Moon Rd) leads to access points for Mount Elbert (the highest peak in CO) and Mount Massive (the second highest peak).
On a Friday in July, we we drove down Half Moon Road looking for a place to camp. Dispersed camping sites lined the road, but we wanted a bit more than that, we needed a site where we could get a good night's sleep. The dispersed sites were not defined or governed and a car load of loudness could arrive in the middle of the night and camp just feet away from your tent. Looking for a better solution, we entered Elbert Creek Campground which is across the road from Mount Elbert Trailhead. We had recently had some bad luck with finding camp sites and were not confident that we would find a spot, but as we entered the campground, the first site we saw was open. It was large, close to the water pump and trash dumpster, and not far from the privy. The drawbacks were the site was close to the campground entrance and road. We were not planning on being at the site during the day, so the proximity to the road did not seem to be an issue at the time. We set up our tent, paid our fees, and made a quick visit to Leadville for a few needs.
Back at camp, we finished packing and planning for our Saturday, hike on Mount Massive. The hike was supposed to be rather long and we would have to wake early to start walking at daylight. So it was early to bed in the idyllic mountain campground. We had not been asleep for long before it happened, Fourteener madness arrived. Soon the road turned from a quiet dirt road to a thoroughfare as busy as any Denver street.
Vehicles filled all of the available parking at the Mount Elbert Trailhead and spilled over unto the road. The wanna be summiteers, piled out of their cars and immediately began shouting with joy, they were in the mountains. Nosily, they packed and finally started walking, only to be replaced by two more car loads. The number of cars increased exponentially as the dark of night passed into morning.
Through the years, we have changed our plans a few times in the early morning, mostly due to weather. As the sleepless hours passed we lost the desire to climb anything. We changed our plans due to the crowds and lack of sleep, so instead went for a hike along the Colorado Trail.
Walking to the Mount Massive Trailhead, there were cars parked everywhere. Every spot where a car could pull off was taken. After the good spots were taken, the okay spots then filled - many of the spots were not big enough to allow the vehicles to move off the road. Then came the cars that parked even further into the road, blocking reasonable access. The two lane dirt road had transformed into a parking lot with a narrow path between the alley of cars. It was crazy.
Simply put, there were too many folks visiting the area. The area resources were overwhelmed, for example - no tp in the privies, there was camping in signed no camping area, campfires smoldering in no fire zones, coolers left outside of cars, cars blocking access, noise, etc. These were just the problems near the trailhead. On the mountain, in the fragile alpine tundra the impact of the masses would have to have been even greater.
Oddly enough the Mount Massive Trailhead was not overrun. Everyone was doing it, they were all in the area to climb the highest peak in Colorado, Mount Elbert.
The sad answer to the problem of overcrowding is regulation. Look for Part 2.
Happy Half Moon Creek trails