eNZees Blog

Trip Report: Vallecito to Chicago Basin

by Margaret Hedderman | August 31, 2016 | 0 Comments

The weather was not looking ideal for a three-day backpacking trip through the San Juan Mountain high country. NOAA predicted rain on both Friday and Saturday with a substantial chance of thunderstorms in the afternoon. Of course, our itinerary was just too good to miss on account of a little rain.

Third river crossing on the Vallecito Trail in COlorado

I had organized this trip through the Durango Hiking & Backpacking Group on Facebook. The plan was to hike up the Vallecito Creek Trail and into the Weminuche Wilderness. After 9 miles, we would turn off onto the less-frequented Johnson Creek Trail and climb over Columbine Pass at 12,680 ft. We would then descend into the fabled Chicago Basin and take the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad back to Durango from the Needleton Flagstop along the Animas River. 

It started raining, again, around 7:30 on our first night. Our hike had been relatively uneventful, with little elevation gained along the Vallecito Creek. The bear bag was hung and all our dinner mess cleaned up, so we ran into our tents for the night. I fell asleep around 8:00 to the sound of rain splattering on my rain fly.

We drank our coffee in a small patch of sun the following morning. Throughout the night I’d heard, or perhaps imagined I’d heard, footsteps and voices just on the other side of listening range. I never could account for the voices, but the footsteps were explained when a big, black moose stomped past our tents!

Hiking the Johnson Creek Trail in the Weminuche Wilderness

The trail climbed nearly 3,000 ft. through a lush, mossy forest. We stopped to forage huckleberries, salmonberries, and even a few wild strawberries. When at last we broke above treeline, I saw a wild skyline of cold, jagged peaks. Waterfalls poured from crevasses high on the distant ridges and dark clouds hung on the horizon. I expected the roll of thunder at any moment.

When we were just a mile from Columbine Pass when a crack of thunder exploded across the basin. Whether we went up or down we were a long way from shelter. We continued on. As we neared the pass and Columbine Lake, the threat of a thunderstorm was replaced by a downpour of sleet. We reached the top of the pass and looked down into Chicago Basin. A heavy cloud sat comfortably between the distant 14,000 ft. peaks, obscuring the tremendous view.

Columbine Lake from the top of Columbine Pass in the Weminuche Wilderness

We hurried down to our camp at 11,600 ft. The sun broke through briefly and we were barely able to dry our tents out before it let loose again. The wind picked up and a heavy, cold slush fell. I sat in my tent, curled up in my sleeping bag, knocking the slush off my fly. This was a bad trip to forget to pack a book!

Chicago Basin the Weminuche Wilderness Colorado

In the morning, snow covered the mountaintops and high ridges around us. There was a crunchy frost upon the ground. But the sun was out and it was a beautiful hike through Chicago Basin and down to Needleton.

Tagged: Chicago Basin hiking, Colorado Hiking, Columbine Pass Weminuche, Southwest Colorado Hiking, Vallecito Trail, Weminuche Wilderness

Trip Report: Highland Mary Lakes to the Continental Divide

by Margaret Hedderman | August 26, 2016 | 0 Comments

There are some hikes that are just incomparable. Highland Mary near Silverton, CO is one of them A couple of weekends before this last heavy storm system settled in, my boyfriend Rory and I hiked the 9-mile Highland Mary/Continental Divide Trail loop as a relaxing weekend backpacking trip.

Camping near Highland Mary Lakes Colorado

The Highland Mary Lakes are perhaps one of the most popular day-hike destinations in the area. Easily accessible from the Cunningham Gulch road by most high clearance vehicles, this backcountry trail into the Weminuche Wilderness offers astounding high country views. You’ll quick gain 12,000 ft. and stay there for much of the 9-mile loop.

Hiking to Highland Mary Lakes Silverton CO

We walked against the flow of traffic on Saturday afternoon – perhaps 10, 15 other hikers – and camped beside the largest of the two lakes. A couple of fly-fishermen cast lines by the shores in the golden afternoon sun and it was all together quiet in this high alpine basin.

In the morning, we crossed the fragile tundra and climbed to a rise above Verde Lakes. Here, a faint trail ventures off to the east, following tall wooden posts. We climbed up this steady hill where we eventually met the Continental Divide and Colorado Trails. This hike is entirely above treeline and the views from the CDT are incredible.

View of Verde Lakes near Silverton CO

Apart from the altitude the hiking is relatively easy. We looped back to the trailhead well before 2:00 where we found some hikers just getting ready to head out for the day. If you do this hike, most likely you’ll need to be concerned about monsoons, as they will typically roll in during the afternoon. There is little shelter by the lakes! And if you plan on camping there, plan on not hanging a bear bag as there are no trees.

Tagged: Colorado Hiking, Continental Divide Trail, Highland Mary Lake Loop, Highland Mary Lakes, Hiking Highland Mary Lakes in Colorado, Silverton CO hiking, Southwest Colorado Hiking