Wednesday, October 16, 2019

River closures expand, mountain passes still under deep snow

But Lake City flooding risk has decreased

By Kendra Walker

The abnormally long, wet winter season continues to have a big impact throughout the regional backcountry. Rivers are still running high, backcountry roads are muddy or still covered in snow and the high mountain passes are still buried deep beneath snow.

Rivers high and mighty

As reported last week by the Crested Butte News, sections of the Gunnison and Slate rivers are still closed.

Additionally, the Gunnison County Sheriff’s Office has expanded the closures and the following river sections are closed to all water vessels until further notice:

—Slate River from Gunsight Pass Bridge to mile 25.5 on Hwy. 135, and then from mile 25.5 downstream to the confluence with East River.

—East River downstream all the way to Almont.

—Gunnison River from Almont to the Whitewater Park at Hwy. 50.

The expanded closures on the Slate and East rivers are due to low bridges and waters continuing to come up this past week, according to sheriff John Gallowich.

“The good news is the water’s starting to go down the last couple of days,” he said. “But who knows what Mother Nature will bring.”

Streamflow conditions continue to be above average and much greater than last year. It appears the seasonal peak for many local streams most likely occurred on June 15, according to Frank Kugel, general manager for the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District.

“The East River at Almont reached 3,020 cfs [cubic feet per second] on that day, while the Slate River near Crested Butte saw 1,420 cfs,” he said. Gunnison peaked at 5,250 on June 15. But, he added later, “if a big thunderstorm rolls in this afternoon, then all bets are off.”

He also shared that both the East and Slate rivers peaked last year on May 11, reaching 948 cfs and 571 cfs, respectively. The Gunnison River peaked last year on May 26 at 1,300 cfs.

“It is anticipated that there will be a gradual decline in snowmelt and that streamflow conditions will remain above average for the next few weeks,” he said.

For river closure updates, contact the Gunnison Sheriff’s Office at (970) 641-8200.

Mountain passes frozen in

Water of the frozen kind is still impacting the high backcountry mountain passes and trails, so don’t expect to pop over to Aspen from West Maroon Pass anytime soon. According to Gunnison forest ranger Matt McCombs, his staff hasn’t been able to gather a lot of good information on the pass conditions in the National Forest because there is too much snow. “It’s going to be a bit longer before staff can get in to assess the passes,” he explained. “Trail crews made it as far as Avery up the Gothic Road over the weekend but turned around as the road is too wet for travel beyond. It’s safe to say that the majority, if not all, of those high elevation passes are still under considerable snow. It’s been a wacky year.”

Lake City feeling better

In other water news, Lake City is open and ready for summer, as the “threat of flooding has decreased significantly,” according to a post on the Hinsdale County Office of Emergency Management Facebook page.

The post also said the water is still running high and fast and “portions of the Alpine Loop are still closed as debris removal and snow clearing continues, but many campgrounds, trails and fishing spots are open. Restaurants and stores are open, and summer events are on schedule.”

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