How Western Began
By Stephen Mead
Anne and I feel strongly that Silverton, CO, is one of the greatest hidden treasures in the West, and we have always wanted to share it with people who appreciate the outdoors, especially with Green River Preserve families. So we created the Western Expedition, a superior trip for kids in high school.
In addition to the guaranteed adventures of our other Expedition trips, we added walks with a geologist and historian, partnered with a local non-profit to teach data-collection skills and provide exposure to some of the “real world” opportunities in science and research, and set up the group with one of the best viewing spots of the July 4th firework display. Basically, we created a trip that we would embark on if we had three weeks to play.
One of the best Western components is a walk with Scott Fetchenhiener, a county commissioner, who first came to Silverton in the 80’s as a geologist for the then-operating mines. Along with his knowledge of geology, he is a historian by hobby and volunteers many hours with the historical society. Scott leads our group on a hike to the Old One Hundred boarding house, a lodge perched on the side of the mountain named Galena. Galena is a 13,000-foot peak that has an average pitch of 45 degrees. Needless to say, it is quite dramatic. Back when it housed miners, the men and women commuted via tramway. Now it is maintained by the historical society. This not only created an amazing learning opportunity, but the day trip helps get the participants more comfortable with the mountain terrain. The leaders found this to be an invaluable experience for the participants before backpacking through the rugged San Juan Mountains.
For the boarding house hike, we also hire a local outfitter to drive the group 12,000 feet up one of the many incredible roads built with the use of mules. Then the group joins the outfitter for a ride back down to the valley floor and the boarding house below. Utilizing vehicles for this hike ensures participants are not left exhausted after climbing and descending the steep grade, and by scheduling it at the beginning of the Expedition, provides excellent acclimatizing for exercise at high elevations and sleep at low.
Another component that developed from our time spent in Silverton was partnering with the Mountain Studies Institute (MSI), a non-profit research and education organization. During the Expedition, the group spends an evening training for Pika monitoring, a program created by Anne five years ago while working for MSI. Pikas are small mammals that live in mountain ranges in the West and have become significant as indicators of climate change. Once trained, the Expeditioners take this new knowledge to the mountains and monitor pika as they backpack. The data the 2013 Expeditioners compiled was added to the MSI system.
Another opportunity with MSI is surveying high alpine fence restoration. On day two of their backpacking trip, the group joined some of the MSI staff to help restore a fence at over 12,000 feet near Ophir Pass. This was one of the highlights of their trip for our 2013 Expeditioners.
We created the final component of the Western trip because of our local knowledge, and so we added a stay on the Shrine Hill to watch the fireworks on the Fourth of July. Silverton prides itself on their July 4th firework display and it is considered the best on the Western slope. If you ever have the chance to see it, it is a real treat: the skyline of peaks behind beautiful fireworks and the report of the blasts rolling through the valleys creates fabulous sensory excitement.
Not only should you give your children this Western Expedition opportunity, but we also hope that your entire family can visit this magnificent place. We want those who would appreciate such a place to experience it.
by Steve Meade