Conundrum Hot Springs

Conundrum is the highest hot springs in North America, at about 11,250′ in the Snowmass Wilderness, a 9 mile hike from either the Aspen or Crested Butte sides. Dogs are now prohibited from Silver Dollar Pond (6 miles from the Aspen side) all the way to the top of Triangle Pass. Fires are prohibited within 1/4 mile of the Springs. The Forest Service recently took the roof off the old cabin, so don’t go up without a tent!

Here is the August issue of the Friends of Conundrum News, which you can get 4 times or so a year by emailing me: evan at vote dot org

Dear Friends of Conundrum Hot Springs,

After all the fear and worry about how the dead cows at Conundrum (which made national news) would contaminate the water and bring lions (no tigers) and bears into conflict with people, it’s been a pretty typical summer. There’s still what’s left of a dead cow between campsites 6 & 7. The smell kept people away in June, but wore off. There’s been some signs of bears feeding on another carcass nearby but not much. This is probably because only about 14 carcasses have been spotted, and since there were about 29 cows total, the other half must be farther away from people and thus more popular with predators.

GOOD NEWS for women -everyone really. A National Park Service experiment shows that bears (except polar bears) are NOT attracted to women on their period:

My brand-new rough-cut Conundrum film, mostly timelapse video:

And last year’s:

PLEASE don’t build fires up there -even the fire sites are getting denuded of wood. Again, alcohol stoves weigh almost nothing. The stove SYSTEMS from Flat Cat are SUPER-efficient. I warmed my oatmeal daily with 1 TEAspoon of denatured alcohol!  To further conserve heat, make a pot cozy

PLEASE let other folks know about this email list. In particular, there are lots of people who signed up whose writing (or mine!) I can’t read, so they’re not getting the news. So ask the friends you went with if they’re getting this and have them email me if not. We have about 700 signed up.

I recommend Wild Food Girl for wild edibles:  She lives at 11,000′ elevation in Colorado, so I’ve learned lots more edibles besides the ones around Conundrum I’ve written about before: glacier lily leaves (and their pods later in the season), Osha leaves, watercress and bluebells.

For everyone worried about Giardia (and Amoebic Dysentery in the 3rd world) here’s how to cure intestinal parasites naturally. I never purify mountain water, but always carry the final solution, which I’ve used once in Colorado in 42 years and half a dozen times in Mexico and Guatemala:

PLEASE remember to take the (human) poop bags that the Forest Service provides at the trailhead. It’s not well-marked and the majority haven’t been using them. TELL others. Or, dig a hole about 6″ deep with a stick and bury that shit! Don’t just hide it under rocks.

For an exciting winter hot springs adventure, don’t miss my guide service in Mexico’s wonderful Copper Canyon, made famous by my old friend Caballo Blanco, of Born to Run fame. They’re making TWO movies about him.

Finally, these days when I’m not in the wilderness I’m house-sitting and taking care of people’s pets, gardens, etc. If you live in or near Boulder and are going on vacation, consider my services

Below is a long letter I wrote to the Forest Service honchos, which gives some history of Friends of Conundrum and what we’ve accomplished…

Happy trails,

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Evan Ravitz
Date: Tue, Jul 24, 2012 at 5:43 PM
Subject: Future of Conundrum Hot Springs
To: Andrew Larson, Scott Snelson, Martha Moran (etc.)

To those concerned with Conundrum Hot Springs,

About 10 years ago various Forest Service employees told various Conundrum users that there was a plan afoot to close half of the 16 numbered campsites at Conundrum and put the rest on a paid permit system.

This caused users to start Friends of Conundrum Hot Springs, who now number some 700. It was about time. Things had been deteriorating at Conundrum. People were leaving hundreds of pounds of abandoned clothes, towels, etc. each year, mostly by the Springs. There was lots of human excrement under rocks, trees, etc. The official Forest Service trail to Campsites # 8-11 and especially a shortcut to it were carving up a wetland adjacent to and above the Springs, threatening to sometime bring the hillside slumping into the Springs itself.

Thanks to former lead wilderness Ranger Kevin Weaver, the trail was re-routed out of the wetland and onto our dry social trail. Photos of both are here.   Thanks to Kevin, the Aspen Ski Corp. has for several years funded human “poop bags” which have largely reduced the excrement problem. However, the majority of people I talked to this summer were unaware of the poop bags offered at the trailhead. Better signage is needed.

Kevin also got us a sign we suggested. It’s the closest to the hot springs now and reads “No glass in the hot springs. Don’t disturb the spillway. Don’t abandon wet towels, clothes…” In its second year, this summer during my two 2-week stays, I saw a total of 3 pairs of briefs and a flashlight, instead of the usual hundreds of pounds. You can ask Rangers Carlos, Mateo and Dylan who saw it themselves, and didn’t have to carry much down. There was no tearing down and almost no building up of the hot springs spillway. (“Building it up” usually means blocking off the surface-clearing effect the mostly-level spillway gives the springs, like a pool skimmer.) People are still bringing some glass bottles in, but hopefully time and peer pressure will get them to switch to plastic and metal.

The sign’s success proves what I’ve been telling rangers for years: Conundrum hot springs hosts a “captive audience” for a “teaching moment” better than ANY other vehicle for the Forest Service to educate users. Ranger Dylan mentioned that the FS doesn’t want a forest of signs. This is one of several dozen at Conundrum, about 1 foot square.

The poop bag fix may not always be there. The Forest Service should consider building on the success of the sign to teach the ever-increasing numbers of first-time backpackers (due in part to newer lightweight gear) at Conundrum how to “shit in the woods.” My words would be: “Bury feces 6″ deep away from water. Dig hole with stick.” Most people want to do the right thing, but when they have to go, they will quickly do what they know. Many think covering it with a rock is what you do, because they’ve seen or heard of it.

Some 5 years ago I spoke on the phone with District Ranger Irene Davidson. She told me, “If you knew what was in that water, you wouldn’t get in it.” Having gotten in it during some 600 days over 34 years and staying in for over 4000 hours, if it were dangerous, at age 60 I’d be a wreck. Instead I’m a wilderness guide in one of the most difficult reaches of Mexico’ Copper Canyon, and a former professional tightrope artist. I asked Irene what was in it and she said, “You’ll have to file a Freedom of Information request.” I did and here’s what I got.   As you can see, there has been NO numerical (scientific) testing of water since 1997! Having coliforms “present” is meaningless as coliforms are present wherever mammals reside, including most everywhere in your dwellings except the ceilings and upper walls. Ranger Dylan told me that just recently REAL testing showed no elevated levels of contaminants, in spite of the 29 errant cows which escaped their Forest Service grazing range to die last winter in the Hot Springs area, leaving TONS of rotting meat and cowpies.

The actual numerical data (not ignorant fear-mongering about cooties) should help drive Forest Service policy about Conundrum and other places people love. Here are a few dramatic examples of how overblown the fear is:

1. One unusually successful medical treatment for people with certain serious digestive diseases is euphemistically called a “stool implant” or “fecal transplant.” See, for example, here.

2. Since I spend a lot of time at Conundrum and hot springs in Copper Canyon and other places, each year I dig a “slit trench latrine.” about a foot deep and long and 6″ wide. A few years ago I lost track of where I’d dug and accidentally redug an old latrine. I found ZERO evidence of paper, feces or smell. It was like the fine commercial compost we made and sold at a biodynamic farm I once lived on. Now I redig them purposely to save space. This works at Conundrum, in Copper Canyon and near Boulder. These are healthy ecosystems and most of the users and excreters are MUCH healthier than people who don’t go deep in the wilderness.

3. I’ve drunken from thousands of Rocky Mountain Streams for over 40 years and have never gotten sick, including during 40 days on the Continental Divide and Colorado Trails in 2001. Sometimes I realize after drinking that there’s deer feces in the water above, and once even a whole field of horse, mule and goat feces.

4. Here‘s an article illustrating how powerful the sun -which at Conundrum’s 11,250′ altitude is about 40% stronger than at sea level- is at purifying water:

This year’s FS warning about contamination from cow carcasses and pies did reduce usage noticeably -on the weekdays. We enjoyed the cozier feeling .The weekends were about the same as before. But “crying wolf” won’t work year after year, and very few want a permit system.

We’d like to work with FS personnel to minimize this problem

Few enjoy it on the very few days (usually several Saturdays a summer) that the campsites can’t accommodate everyone who comes. Several people have suggested leaving the big washout (at the 3rd river crossing on the way up, which used to be a ford, but is now a large mess .) But this doesn’t stop many  people except during the highest water levels.

Perhaps a VOLUNTARY web-based signup calendar could be established as a joint it can be crowded. Then people could re-schedule if it looks like it will be crowded. Some weekends are not crowded and a few weekdays are.

Remember, there is NOBODY at Conundrum hot springs for over 200 days a year. There is almost nobody from midnight to 7AM any night of the summer. And almost nobody from noon to 5 on hot sunny days. This leaves plenty of time for those seeking the “solitude” the Wilderness Act seeks. Solitude is also easily attained merely by going 1/4 mile from the springs, almost anywhere in the Conundrum valley.

Finally, thanks to those who decided NOT to blow up the cabin some 1000′ downstream from the hot springs to deal with the cow conundrum. As Rangers Larson and Snelson heard from our members, the cabin has saved many peoples’ trips (and sometimes, lives) when Conundrum experiences its big storms. These sometimes mean pileups of 6″ of hail in the summer, turning it into winter for 24-36 hours and collapsing or shredding tents. Otherwise the FS could become liable for many more rescues.

As most climate scientists say, bigger storms are going to be the norm. Here‘s what happened in a 700-mile path on July 1.   It bears saying that one of the greatest contributors to climate change was the old Forest Service policy of allowing clear-cutting of gigantic areas of US forest, also suspect in certain floods. It’s notable that the first and second bridges were washed out 5 yrs ago, the second 4 years ago, the big washout happened 3 yrs ago and got bigger 2 yrs ago. The ONLY other damaging year in the last 34 was about 1995 when there was a smaller washout.

The little sign at Conundrum could point to a new direction for the USFS: use popular areas to educate the public instead of trying to chase us off. The more people having good experiences in the wilderness the greater the support for wilderness and the FS. The 29 Frozen Cows show that FS grazing risks FAR more liability and contamination than that caused by the some 2000 people who use Conundrum yearly. Even with that huge extra source of contamination, the FS’s own numerical data shows there is no health problem.

Friends of Conundrum will continue to encourage people to bring stoves instead of burning wood and to otherwise take care of this unique jewel, the highest hot springs in N. America. We welcome any feedback on any of these topics and hope the media will cover them in an even-handed way, based on facts and not the fears of people way out of touch with nature.

Happy trails!

Evan Ravitz
1109 Portland Pl.
Boulder CO 80304