Tuesday, July 01, 2008

A Weekend in the Weminuche

Last Thursday, three of my friends and I set out on a five-night journey through the Weminuche Wilderness in the San Juan National Forest in southwest Colorado. Andy, Brian, Greg and I caught the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad from Silverton Thursday afternoon after an early morning drive from Denver, and after about 30 minutes, we were standing alone in the forest as the train chugged on down the line. The only thing between us and our return to civilization was almost 34 miles of untamed Colorado wilderness.

The following days found us fording remote streams running full with the abundant waters of a snowy winter and late spring, hiking the Continental Divide and Colorado Trails past old mines and camping along the banks of numerous rivers. We saw elk and "wild" mountain goats, fresh bear paw prints in the snow and mud along our trails and more marmots than we could count. Towering waterfalls knifing through steep, exposed canyons were common sights, along with commanding views of the San Juan mountains in all directions. As far as the eye could see, snow-covered peaks loomed above us, hemming us in from all sides. Our ascents and descents took us through many ecotones, from lower-elevation pine forests along the banks of the Animas River to alpine tundra along the Continental Divide. Wildflowers bloomed with the warm sun around every corner, and near-freezing nights by the campfire gave way to perfect hiking weather during the afternoons.

Our trip didn't last as long as we expected; we reached Needleton (our pick up location) almost a day early just as a north-bound train was slowing to a stop. After four nights and five days alone in the woods, we crossed the river and boarded the slow train, finally beginning to relax as thoughts of cold beer and bacon cheeseburgers danced through our heads. I think picking favorite pictures must be like picking a favorite child, so I've included a few of the best, along with a link to the rest.

The ride into the Weminuche was breathtaking.

Day 1, just moments after the train left us standing alone in the woods.


On our first night, we camped just below this peak, which we called "Hozomeen."

Greg and Brian hiking about half way up Elk Creek drainage.

We found this old miner's cabin high up Elk Creek on our second day hiking.

Miner's cabin in Elk Creek drainage.

Our view during a late lunch at the junction of the Colorado and Continental Divide Trails.

We saw the most snow on day 2 on the Continental Divide and Hunchback Mountain.

Columbines were everywhere along the trails.

Fresh black bear paw print in the trail.

Andrew and Greg were an odd couple when it came to filtering water.

Hiking on day 3.

Brian on the bridge above Vallecito Creek.

This shot could have been taken at any number of river crossings we made during the trip. The water was never more than about 34 degrees.

Greg rests near a waterfall on Johnson Creek.

Andy and Greg pushing up to the head of Johnson Creek drainage.

Brian on Columbine Pass.

The descent from Columbine Pass into Chicago Basin was really steep and icy at times. We were in a hurry to get down because a storm was rolling in from the northwest.

During our descent into Chicago Basin, we stopped to explore an abandoned mine.

At first, the goats were interesting. They soon became annoying.

A view of Chicago Basin on our final morning.

For more pics:
Weminuche Wilderness 08

Some of Andrew's pictures are here.


Andrew said...

Awesome pictures and videos. It really was an amazing time and such an incredible part of the state.

Mike Flick said...

Great pictures, great videos, great story. Glad you guys had such an incredible time.

It's been a while. Maybe we can figure out sometime when we can all get together.

Heather said...

Great pictures, Fitz! Looks like you guys had an amazing time together.