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2017-07-29  
Chicago Basin - Weminuche Wilderness, CO
mini location map2017-07-29
26 by photographer avatarDennisWilliams
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Chicago Basin - Weminuche Wilderness, CO 
Chicago Basin - Weminuche Wilderness, CO
 
Backpack avatar Jul 29 2017
DennisWilliams
Backpack30.00 Miles
Backpack30.00 Miles7 Days         
 no routes
1st trip
Linked none no linked trail guides
Partners none no partners
Weminooooch!!!

The Weminuche Wilderness. Need I say more? But I will. Meant with the deepest possible respect, a mighty upthrust in southwestern Colorado so lovely that God keeps a summer home there. Peaks with names that echo when spoken aloud, sending a shiver up your spine. Peaks like Leviathan, Storm King, Jagged Mountain, Jupiter, Eolus, Sunlight, Arrow, Vestal, Mt. Silex, and The Guardian. If there is a more stunningly beautiful place within 1000 miles of Arizona then I'm sure I don't know of it.

Late post of an easy summer backpack into the Needle Mountains, Chicago Basin, and the surrounding area, starting and ending out of Needleton. Sitting around the hotel room in Taipei over a long holiday weekend with little to do so I thought I'd post this. I've been coming to Taiwan for years and have already exhausted 99% of the good tourist stuff.

Day 1: Boarded the train in Durango headed for Needleton, a whistle stop on the Durango and Silverton line in the middle of the Weminuche Wilderness. Nothing there but a bridge over the Animas River and a trail leading up into the mountains. We were a party of six. Brother and sister-in-law, nephew and niece, family friend Tom, and myself. Most of the group had gotten to the platform early and watched their packs get loaded into the box car next to the coach. Tom and I had been busy with vehicle logistics and so got to the platform a few minutes later. We located a conductor and he told us to leave our packs on the platform next to the open box car where we could see the other packs piled inside. We offered to load them but he assured us he'd take care of it. We boarded the train and took our seats. We could see our packs from the window. Moments later we heard the whistle and the "all aboard!" call. We jumped up and found the nearest conductor and told him about our packs. We hopped off the train and stood right there while we watched the conductor grudgingly re-open the box car and load the packs, then we re-boarded the train. If we had been seated on the other side of the car we would not have seen the packs outside and would have had a very nasty surprise at Needleton. Lesson learned: If you take the train from Durango stand right there and personally witness your pack getting loaded into the box car.

The forecast had called for several days of rain. Started to rain during the train ride. Rained as we got off at Needleton and rained as we hiked in a few miles along Needle Creek. Decided to camp so we found a decent site down in the trees and set up the tents. Maybe 11,000 feet of elevation there. Deer were walking around when the rain let up a little.

Day 2: Tom, my nephew Rex, and myself decided to go for Windom Peak, a 14'er in upper Chicago Basin. Got up at zero dark thirty and went for it. Pretty much just a hike up with a little scrambling and boulder hopping. Our first encounter with the mountain goats that live in Chicago Basin. Novel at first but the novelty wears off after several days of constant pestering by them right in your camp. The summit of Windom at 14,093' offers sublime views in all directions. They are not named the Needle Mountains without cause. Splintered rock all around. An amazing place. Hiked back down to camp and packed it up and followed the rest of the group up into Chicago Basin proper for a high camp there. Chicago Basin is a destination in itself and rightly so. Unreal. A long tough day and it kicked my butt.

Day 3: Pack it up and head over Columbine Pass 12,680' to camp at Columbine Lake, 12,320'. No trees. Just tundra. A short day and provided an opportunity for nice day hikes in the area.

Day 4: Decided to stay over at Columbine Lake, so more opportunity for day hikes. My original itinerary called for a lot more mileage and a good bit of bushwhack, but the group decided to dial it back. Oh well. Guess I'll have to go back by myself sometime and get the whole shindig, so there won't be any re-negotiating the route. Did a really nice day hike over Trimble Pass 12,850' and over to Silver Mesa to visit the site of the old Pittsburg Mine. Really cool. Located at about 12,500' it sits in vast rolling open tundra meadows. Ideal elk habitat. We saw two different groups of about thirty. At the mine we found ruins of extensive buildings and window glass, the remains of a head-frame and winch, a well defined shaft, old purple bottle glass and even newer composite materials from an electrical service box. Looks like it had been in operation from maybe the 1880s through about 1940. Probably only in summer. Silver ore all over the place up on Silver Mesa. A matrix of whitish quartz-like rock with greasy looking black veins running through it. Much heavier than other types of rock nearby. Probably some lead mixed in there too. The mine sits in some chunks of patented private property surrounded by national forest. If silver goes up they might go back in to operate. Remote place and short season. Hostile winter environment.

Day 5: Knock down camp and head back over Columbine Pass into Chicago Basin and set up a high camp below the pass. Another short day. Took a nice side hike over to Hazel Lake at 12,435', a beautiful tundra lake right below Jupiter Mountain. Would make a terrific remote camp site. Deer and goats running all over camp. Nice 4X4 muley buck in velvet maybe twenty yards away munching the grass, broadside in the open. Doubt if he will be so accommodating come September. The goats have a nasty habit. They appear to crave human urine. If they see you get up to walk out of camp they come running expectantly and won't leave you alone while you do your business. Go figure.

Day 6: Rex and I decided to go for Mt. Eolus, another 14'er above Chicago Basin. Wonderful hike and climb with a traverse of "the catwalk" a narrow ridge-line approaching the summit. Very cool. More utterly spectacular views. Jaw dropping. Just as we were leaving the summit we heard distant thunder. Time to go. It hailed on us for an hour and a half on the way back to camp. The rest of the group had day hiked up into Needle Basin and they got hailed on too. Doesn't matter how good your rain gear is if you are caught in the open above tree line and it hails on you for an hour. We were all soaked and frozen when we got back to camp and just dove into the tents, stripped down, got into the sleeping bags for warmth, and drank whisky. Man, does that feel good!

Day 7: Back out to Needleton to catch the train back to Durango. Chowed down in Durango and drank cold beer. Nice!
Fauna
Fauna
Mountain Goat
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