Gudy Gaskill left a lasting legacy of stewardship along the Colorado Trail
“This may be poor form, but do you have an extra beer?”
The sun sparkled across Celebration Lake, as thru-hikers and mountain bikers convened to refill water and camp to cap off an idyllic summer day on the Colorado Trail. The lake, sitting atop 11,200-foot Bolam Pass, signals the home stretch (50 more miles) for thru-hikers on the 567-mile trail linking Denver to Durango. After completing a sweaty trail run myself, I looked at the hiking trio and smiled — of course, I had beer to share.
After handing each of them ice-cold IPA’s, I stuck around and in exchange asked the seemingly requisite questions one raises to backpackers out on the trail: Where are you from? How long have you been hiking? Is this your first thru-hike?
However, one man’s motives for hiking along the Colorado Trail caught me off-guard. Steven Gaskill was hiking a portion of the trail to honor his late mother, Gudy Gaskill. As he sipped his beer, he explained that she helped dream up the idea to create the Colorado Trail in 1974. Gaskill was not just his mother, but the “Mother of the Colorado Trail.”
The name Gudy sounded familiar because of Gudy’s Rest — a bench sitting atop the Colorado Trail’s final vista before descending four miles to its terminus at Junction Creek in Durango. Gaskill’s portrait can also be spotted along the trail between Molas and Bolam Pass, where she is commemorated with a bronze plaque.
Gudy passed away in 2016 at the age of 88, and while many day and thru-hikers may recognize Gudy’s Rest on the home stretch of trail, many may not be familiar with the visionary “force of nature” that blazed the trail for their experience. The location of Gudy’s Rest was said to be one of her favorite spots, which speaks volumes considering the amount of lifelong effort and human-power she poured into every stretch of the Colorado Trail.
Today, thousands of hikers, mountain bikers and horseback riders pay homage to Gudy, whose legacy continues along the high altitude route (13,271 feet at its high point) through the Rocky Mountains.
The dream of the Colorado Trail was born in the ‘70s, with a plan to originally complete the pathway in 1978. Still incomplete in 1984, the route was deemed “the trail to nowhere.” For over a decade, with grit and determination, it was Gudy (eventual President of the Colorado Mountain Club) who rallied a crew of pure volunteers to complete the 567-mile route from Denver to Durango in 1987.
For the next three decades of her life, Gudy remained utterly devoted to the Colorado Trail. Her efforts were recognized with awards from President Reagan and President Bush. Though Gudy’s commitment to the mountains peaked with the Colorado Trail, her devotion to the outdoors spanned her lifetime — heading up a youth ski program, working as a ranger at Rocky Mountain National Park and serving as President of the Colorado Mountain Club (the first woman to do so).
Steven recalled his mother’s boundless energy during her peak years blazing the trail from 1980 to 2000.
“My mom ran somewhere around 15 to 20 one-week trail crews each summer,” Steven said. “She would plan all the food for them with my dad and coordinate all of the volunteers that we’re signing up to do it.”
Steven said during the trail crews, she would wake up early to make breakfast and coffee for the crew before they awoke. He said his mom would clean up before going to oversee the trail crews and labor into the late afternoon, then she would start dinner for the camp, and lead songs and talks around the campfire.
“And I don’t know how she did it all, because I think she probably stayed up until 10 or 11 p.m. every night and then got up the next morning at four o’clock!”
Adding to her busy inclinations, Steven noted that his mother also took the time to paint the mountain scenery and give the artwork as gifts to the volunteers. This fun familial atmosphere created by Gudy inspired volunteers to return year after year.
“They would even recruit friends to come,” Steven said. “You know, it was a great vacation that they felt like they were doing something.”
Gudy’s love for the mountains and ability to rally volunteers to maintain the Colorado Trail lives on through the Colorado Trail Foundation today.
Last year, COVID-19 canceled all of the organization’s trail crews; but the Colorado Trail Foundation is confident they can get the trail’s annual maintenance back on track this summer.
Executive director of the nonprofit organization Bill Manning said, “The Adopter work program is routine maintenance: cutting trees, and preventing erosion. About 500 trees fall over and block the trail each year. We are very hopeful for the Adopter program this year. They want to clear (the debris off the trail) so everyone can have fun on it this summer. We are hoping we will be able to do it all this summer.”
To learn more about the Colorado Trail and to volunteer with a trail crew this summer, visit www.coloradotrail.org/volunteer.
MORGAN SJOGREN runs wild with words around the Colorado Plateau. In 2018, she published Outlandish, a collection of stories and recipes written while living on the road and in the wild out of her Jeep (affectionately named Sunny). You can read more of Morgan’s books and stories at www.therunningbum.com.