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Welcome to Wag Week!
We will be in the Chicago Basin for the next five days, but in spite of the name, it’s not in Chicago, it’s in Colorado. I’m excited!
Albatrossity and BillinGlendale will be back next week, as usual.
As many of you know, my wife and I are on a journey to climb all 58 of Colorado’s 14,000 ft high peaks. I have posted previously about individual peaks in stand alone posts with OTR, however this summer we had a trip that deserves so much more.
We traveled to the San Juan Mountains to climb a set of four peaks in the Needle Mountains, an isolated range in the Weminuche Wilderness. The Weminuche is the largest wilderness area in the Colorado, and is ¾ the size of Rhode Island. The Wilderness is bisected by the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railway, an historic railway that dates to 1882. IT connects the mining town of Silverton to the town of Durango at the base of the San Juan Mountains. The railway follows the Animas River through a rugged canyon in a trip that takes about four hours.
About halfway through the canyon, the train makes a stop at a small siding at the former site of the town of Needleton. The train drops climbers and backpackers off at a suspension bridge that provides access to Needle Creek and the spectacular Chicago Basin.
While crossing the suspension bridge, we looked down and saw a rock stack on the edge of a small island in the river. The stack is about 6 feet tall.
The trail to the Chicago Basin is 6 miles long. It is generally a gradually climbing smooth trail. typically with few obstacles. Along the way are multiple waterfalls that make the climb go quickly.
That is, until you hit mile 4, and encounter a massive blowdown of trees. The trees had been weakened or killed by a recent massive pine beetle infestation, and the tress blew down, blocking the trail for the last couple of miles in to the Basin, necessitating climbing over, scorching under, or hiking around the trees. On our way out I counted about 175 trees blocking the trail. The Forest Service sent a trail crew in a week after we were there. The crew used double handed crosscut saws to clear the trail. Being in the Wilderness, no motorized chain saws allowed.
We set up camp next to Needle Creek, near to a series of beautiful waterfalls.
Another waterfall next to our campsite
After setting up camp, we went to explore our route for the morning. We were camped at about 10,600 feet altitude. Camping is allowed up to a split in the trail at 111.200 feet. The meadows were filled with wildflowers. If you look in the background, you can see stands of Beetle killed pine trees. The trail will require crosscut saw maintenance for years to come.
More foliage and wildflowers.
As we climbed, we finally got a view of Sunlight and Windom, the two peaks that we were planning to climb the next morning.