Weminuche Wilderness, Chicago Basin, Colorado Colleen, Connie, Judy, June & Nancy Things to remember for next time: There are no fires allowed in the Chicago Basin or surroundings. We each carried a large can of propane and only had ½ can left when we came out. Altitude and coolness makes a difference.
9-11-2010: It was an 8 hour drive (with gas stops) from Phoenix to Durango. Wanted to stop at the 4 Corners but the Reservation was charging $3 per person to put your foot on it, we went on. Colleen had made prior reservations in Durango at the Rio Grande Best Western. It was a little pricey but well worth it and it wasn’t too bad with 5 sharing the cost. The location was 2 blocks from the train and downtown, free long-term parking, hot breakfast, and 2 cocktails in the evening, (highly recommend the margaritas). 9-12-2010: This morning we started out with a nice breakfast and June decided that everyone in the café needed to know that it was Nancy’s birthday. She stood up and announced, “Everyone, we have a birthday girl, Nancy, here with us today, will you all join us in singing, Happy Birthday! Nancy was so embarrassed. We each got a candle to blow out and indulged in eating all the cake. Prior to leaving Phoenix we purchased our train tickets for $95. We checked before boarding to see if we could catch the train when we were done hiking and go into Silverton and turn around and come back to Durango for the same price. The clerk said we could. Sounds more and more like an adventure! At Needleton, (Needles Creek Trailhead) the train stopped to let us off where we retrieved our packs from the baggage car and prepared ourselves mentally for what laid ahead. A young lady, Liz, asked us if we wanted to join her group for a prayer to get us started. Everyone who got off the train joined us in a circle of prayer to keep us all safe. This was going to be a great hike! From the start where we crossed the bridge I knew it was not going to be an ordinary backpacking trip. The beauty was breathtaking but climbing steadily at this elevation was a test on our flat-lander lungs. The narrow ledges were a bit frightful for Colleen. She had fallen 3 years ago in Mexico and broke her back and ankle. Just 9 months ago she had her ankle fused. This was her first backpacking trip since the accident. She is such a trooper! Several miles in we could hear someone whistling and yelling. Nancy and June went back to see what was going on. A guy named Mike, who was with Liz’s group had got separated and was a bit confused as to which way to go at a Y in the trail. He was exhausted and suffering from planter-fascia, (start of a bone spur) in his heel. They gave him some electrolytes and a little rest. Come to find out, this was his first backpacking trip! Soon, Tim, who was with his group, came back for him. Tim helped him with his pack and they went on. It was 4 p.m. and finding a nice campsite we stopped for the day. It is such a delight to have water everywhere! 9-13-2010: It was a beautiful morning and we got an early start as we continued to climb. We found a wonderful campsite at 11,500’ elevation. Our scenery was Columbine Pass and Sunlight Peak, one of the three 14er’s in the area. Located in the Basin we were surrounded by massive granite mountains, much like Yosemite NP. Our base camp was perfect. Located 100’ away and above the trail in a cluster of pines which gave us privacy we could see hikers coming from a long distance. Nancy didn’t know we were going to celebrate her birthday again when we sent her to get water. We decorated camp with balloons, a huge chocolate Hershey bar, Cheetos, Almond Rocca, and Smore cookies. (And we wonder why we can’t lose weight.) You could see the balloons for a ½ mile! We could see Mountain goats high in the mountains around us and wondered if they would come down so we could get great pictures like everyone else had showed us. The instruction billboard at the beginning of the hike told us to pee on the rocks instead of the dirt to avoid the goats digging up the ground trying to get to the salts in our urine. To pee on a rock may be ok for guys but it was a challenge for us girls. Judy and Colleen had picked up a “green” bag at the trailhead that was supposed to be used for poo and pee. This proved to be quite a challenge. They later filled out a survey and told them what they thought about this process. A beautiful deer walked through our camp shortly before bedtime. What a treat! 9-14-2010: Woke to a beautiful day again. Having water so close to camp is such a treat for us desert rats. We headed for Columbine Pass around 9:30. Of course, all uphill to 12,800’. Nice switchbacks most of the way and ½ way up we cleared the tree line. We met a couple, June & ? from Chicago, Ill., celebrating their 12th wedding anniversary. They were coming from the Vallentio trail. We also met the “Backpacker’s Brotherhood” from a Bible Church in Austin, Texas. We enjoyed conversation with them and took each other’s pictures and by the time we got to the top we had become friends and took a few group shots. God’s artwork, at this altitude, is hard to put into words but knowing he put it there for us to enjoy is so overwhelming. The “Brotherhood” boys were headed to Hazel Lake to fish and we heard later they were very successful and had fish for dinner. On the way back to camp we saw a Mountain Goat and a mother Marmot with her 2 babies. 9-15-2010: Awesome morning! 40° and beautiful. Judy showed us how we could get Nut Cracker birds (also called Camp Thieves) to land on our hands as we fed them nuts. Awesome! Soon after playing with the Nut Crackers, 25-30 Mountain Goats came to visit our camp! They were everywhere. 5 youngsters that sounded like a kitten were so cute to watch as they emulated their elders. After an hour we couldn’t get them to leave camp so we hung everything up and prayed all would be ok when we returned from hiking Twin Lakes. Hiking up Twin Lakes was steeper than Columbine Pass. Lots of stairs that helped but they went on and on. Reaching the lakes at 12,500 we took a breather, had a snack, took in the sights of distant waterfalls, admired the 14ers: Sunlight, Windom Peak and Mt. Eolus, and thanked the S.W. Conservationist for making a way for us to get to this beautiful location. 9-16-2010: The little ground squirrels did it again. They chewed through Judy’s food bag but only made a mess. They also got into June’s bag where they really had a nice dinner. These guys are really slick. They even attacked our bags while we were sitting there! Leaving Chicago Basin is heart breaking but we decided it would be to our advantage to hike about 4 miles, camp and then get up tomorrow and take our time to get to the train early enough to go into Silverton. We camped by the bridge where the waterfall is. There was suppose to be a mine but we couldn’t find it. Lots of relics and an outhouse indicating it was there but no mine. Shortly after making camp, Judy went down to the creek by the bridge to wash up when the S.W. Conservationist mule train team with their packs were coming out from Columbine Pass area. As they were crossing the bridge one of the big packs that a mule was carrying got caught on a tree and pulled another mule down to the ground, breaking its reign. All this happened on the bridge with Judy under it. She took off running through the rose hips and thimble berries! This is a perfect time of the year to come here. Very few people camping, weather is perfect, and the leaves are starting to change color. We were told in the summer that up to 6000 people camp here. Some of the people we met: Backpacker Brotherhood from Texas, Liz, Tim, Elyse & Mike from Redriver, N.M., Jarred & Derrick from Kansas City and New York, Jane & husband from Chicago, Ill. And Jack and friend. It is so awesome to just talk to people without feeling like you are taking too much time out of their lives. Everyone is so pleasant to visit with. Several times we had hikers stop by our camp to visit. 9-17-2010: Reality-bummer! Back to civilization. Met the train at 11:30a.m. The body language you have to do to stop the train is quite a mystery. Looks like a cross between the Charleston and the Chicken dance. But nonetheless, we all did it with enthusiasm and laughter only to see that the first 2 trains went by without stopping but the 3rd one did. We were heading into Silverton for a shopping spree and lunch but had a postcard view coming into town with all the leaves changing colors all over the surrounding mountains. Only had 1½ hours but was still fun! The ride back took 4 hours! It should have only taken 3. Next time take the bus back. A Kodak moment was when Colleen took off running for the hotel to see if they would keep the lounge open for us so we could get our free Margaritas! They were super accommodating and stayed open another ½ hour just for us. Champaign and gifts still await the birthday girl (she didn’t know about it). We celebrated all week for our friend, Nancy! 9-18-2010: Spent the day shopping and eating our way through Durango. We had a very tasty dinner at a really nice Italian place but can’t remember the name of it but it had 2 stories. From there we spent the rest of the evening taking in the never ending night life. Very interesting! 9-19-2010: We spent today driving home, and stopped at Cameron Trading Post. This is a must if you have never been there. Fantastic backpacking trip!!!