The newsletter of ESWA - EAGLE SUMMIT WILDERNESS ALLIANCE apprises you of important activities in and around Eagles Nest, Holy Cross, and Ptarmigan Peak Wilderness Areas.
A special welcome to Leanne Veldhuis, the new District Ranger for the Eagle/Holy Cross Ranger District. Here she is being introduced (socially distanced) by ESWA Chair Mike Browning to iconic Gore Lake in the Eagles Nest Wilderness
BEFORE WE BEGIN...  some brief updates of ESWA programs
  • NOMINATE your favorite Wilderness champion for the Second Annual CURRIE CRAVEN AWARD FOR WILDERNESS STEWARDSHIP. Click HERE.

  • SUBMIT your favorite Wilderness photos for the Second annual PHOTO CONTEST. Click HERE.

  • olunteer Rangers: While some ESWA programs are curtailed due to the pandemic, our VWRs are getting out on patrol. So far, 236 patrols (each ~4 hours) have occurred, covering 1800 miles. 7300 hikers have been encountered (6800 day hikers, 500 backpackers). Of 970 dogs encountered, 273 (28%) were off leash. 2500 vehicles were counted at trailhead parking lots. A total of 38 VWRs have been on patrols; 17 have already met the annual requirement of 4 patrols; Tom Lawson leads the pack with 36, and Ellie Finlay (32), Frances Hartogh (30), and Mike Browning (28) are close behind. We are currently recruiting - apply HERE

  • Advocacy: A few of our campaigns are heating up, including renaming the Gore Range and preventing an open pit mine on the Lower Blue River. Read about these and our other campaigns at our website.

  • Construction of the fantastic 100 foot-long Mesa Cortina Boardwalk in memory of Beau Schuette was recently completed. Check out the illustrated story HERE.
September 2020
Dear *|FNAME|*

Greetings! Our topic this month:

The Amazing Llama Rescue
By Brad B. & John Fielder
Grit, determination, intelligence, and modesty are qualities that could describe many of ESWA’s Volunteer Wilderness Rangers (VWRs). Rarely do these qualities combine to such a degree as in the author of this month’s essay. Wishing only his first name to be used, VWR Brad provides a detailed and informative account of his impressive rescue of Earl, photographer John Fielder’s lost llama. John’s introduction precedes Brad’s essay, below. Note: The remote location where this event took place is not identified, due to concerns about impacts from the increased number of people and dogs visiting our Wilderness Areas, especially in fragile high-alpine terrain.

Introduction by John Fielder: For years I have leased llamas to transport my photographic and camping gear far into the backcountry. These gentle-yet-strong creatures have allowed me to access some incredibly beautiful and remote terrain, while maintaining little impact on the land. They are also welcome companions. But on a recent trip in a remote location of the Eagles Nest Wilderness, a bear came into camp at night. My two llamas, Earl and Soledad, pulled their stakes and took off. The next morning, I found Soledad, but Earl was still missing. I searched unsuccessfully for two days, and with a heavy heart returned to the trailhead to post notices about Earl’s loss. The llama owner’s son subsequently searched, as did Vail mountaineer Jon Kedrowski, but to no avail. While llamas are hardy creatures, the fact that Earl was towing a rope and stake increased the risk that he would get caught up and fall prey to a predator or succumb to dehydration or starvation. Knowing that ESWA’s Volunteer Wilderness Rangers regularly patrol the Eagles Nest Wilderness, I asked ESWA to notify their VWRs to keep an eye out for Earl. I am so glad I did.

The story of Earl’s rescue, by Volunteer Wilderness Ranger Brad:  I enjoy spending time in the Eagles Nest Wilderness, often working as a Volunteer Wilderness Ranger for ESWA. So when I received an email on July 15th from Bill Betz & Mike Browning about John Fielder’s trail llama “Earl,” who had been missing since July 9th, I decided to join the search. The email outlined an area to the west-southwest that John and others had not searched, encompassing a drainage area that travels through a deep timber forest on steep terrain. There are several open meadows on shelves throughout this area. John’s email to Bill stated that Earl had been spooked in the middle of the night by wildlife, which caused him to pull the corkscrew attached to an 18’ picket rope from the ground. He stated that dragging a rope and corkscrew would likely lead to entanglement in the rugged terrain. John had searched for two days and was asking for help to find Earl, dead or alive.

On July 16th, I set out from Buffalo Mountain trailhead and made the approximate 5-mile trek to Red/Buffalo Pass, and then travelled a 1.5-mile route along a game trail to enter the search area suggested by John. My search route covered some very difficult terrain. The entire time was spent looking for any sign that a llama dragging a rope could leave in the Wilderness, i.e. broken branches on fallen timber, corkscrew marks in dirt or through meadow grass, scat, hoof tracks, and any sign of scavengers from the sky or land. Signage did not indicate a llama had passed through these areas. I took lunch in a good location to look for anything moving through the valley. The western sky was growing dark with rain falling in the direction of Holy Cross Wilderness, so I made the decision to head down through the drainage and head over Red/Buffalo Pass before storms entered the area. The worst part of my 16-mile trek was not coming up empty handed, as I believed Earl could still be alive given the lack of llama sign deep in the Wilderness, but the steep hike on tired legs back to the trailhead.

On July 18th, I made a second attempt to find Earl using Gore Creek trailhead near Vail. My plan was to widen the search area, assuming Earl managed to not get tangled or trapped by his picket rope. I approached the area where Earl was last seen from the SW, and then searched two different drainages before joining the Gore Lake trail for my return to the trailhead. The 16.5-mile trek included significant bushwhacking through thick forest. No sign of wildlife was observed in this area. I also talked with at least 10 groups of backpackers throughout the day and asked them to keep an eye out for a llama. I went home empty handed again, but still had hope Earl was alive. Nothing in my search suggested otherwise.

On July 20th, I made a third attempt to find Earl using an approach from Buffalo Mountain trailhead. After making the long hike to Red/Buffalo Pass, my search went back to where Earl disappeared, a ponded area and the creek leaving those ponds. To gain a wide view of the basin, I ascended a ridgeline above the ponds from Red/Buffalo Pass side of this ridgeline. After spending 15 minutes looking for any movement in the basin, I descended through the rock glacier that separates the ridgeline from the ponds. I crested the glacier edge, and looked down toward the creek. To my surprise Earl was bedded down between the rock glacier's edge and the creek, with his picket rope and corkscrew stuck in the rocks! He jumped up when I yelled his name. I climbed back up the rock glacier toward the ridgeline, where I got a cell phone signal to call John Fielder. John was ecstatic that I found Earl. Based on the amount of free rope, it appeared Earl had access to water, alpine willow leaves, and some grass along the creek. He was found about 400 yards from his campsite with John. Earl had bolted down the steep grass south of the ponds and instead of turning down the game trail like Soledad, John’s other llama that he found the next morning, Earl had crossed the creek and become trapped between the rock glacier and creek. In the end, a safe location to be trapped.  

As soon as we crossed the creek where Earl had been trapped for 12 days, he put his head down and started eating the lush grass. It took about an hour to travel the first 0.75 miles along the game trail, as Earl took every possible chance to eat. I couldn’t deny him a meal after being trapped for so long. We took a 20-minute lunch break 0.75 miles along the game trail, and Earl never stopped eating. After lunch we headed toward Red/Buffalo Pass, and along the way Earl took his first drink of water at one of the mountain run-off crossings along the game trail. On the Willow Creek side of Red/Buffalo Pass, Earl ate all the way through the meadow, and once on the Gore Range trail we started to cover some ground without stopping. I assumed he was content with his food consumption at that point. It was easy going down the Gore Range trail for the next several miles. In my mind were the upcoming creek crossing on the Buffalo Cabin Connector, which caused us to ford South Willow Creek twice, and the steep climb after leaving the old mining water ditch. We went off trail a few times on this section to manage the steep/rocky terrain, which Earl handled with ease. I text messaged John Fielder just before arriving at the 4-way trail junction and told him we would be at the trailhead in 20 minutes. From the 4-way junction, we travelled through the Ryan Gulch burn area, which should have been a non-event, but the trail had other plans.  We were forced to leave the trail just after crossing the Wilderness boundary for one last thrash through a section of the burn area to avoid a bull, cow, and calf moose. The approximate 6.5-mile trek out took 4.5 hours – but with a happy ending!

Afterword from John Fielder: When I received the call from Brad that he had found Earl, I was truly ecstatic. What a weight lifted from my shoulders! The time and determination that Brad put into the search – and rescue – are so impressive. I am eternally grateful. Brad reluctantly accepted a monetary award from me and some excellent llama-wool clothing from Earl’s owner.
CAN WE TALK? It's not something people like to talk - or even think - about, but it's a growing reality: human waste in the wilderness is a problem, and it's getting worse, especially near backcountry lakes. For example, in 2016, Rangers removed 273 PILES OF HUMAN POOP from the Maroon Bells Wilderness, where a mandatory permit system for overnight backpacking is now in force. Here in Eagle & Summit Counties, we are headed in that direction - our volunteers report increasing signs of improperly disposed human waste in the Wilderness. 
Enter RESTOP, the leader in personal sanitation and hygiene in the backcountry, as well as other venues. They have GENEROUSLY DONATED WAG BAGS to us.  While COVID-19 regs prevent us from handing them out on the trail, if you send us an email before your next backpack trip, we'll figure out a way to get some to you. THANKS RESTOP!
By the way WAG is an acronym for Waste Alleviation and Gelling. Yeah, someone got paid to come up with that. A powder absorbs the moisture (and the smell). The bag fits conveniently inside another bag and is good for 2-3 uses.

A huge thanks to ARAPAHOE BASIN SKI AREAFor more than two decades, A-Basin staff have donated generously to their Employee Environmental Fund, of which ESWA has been a steady beneficiary. Last year, more than 150 employees donated, led by A-Basin Director Alan Henceroth. Our enduring THANKS to them.

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