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[at-l] Colorado Trip Report (long)

It has been over two years since I have taken a backpacking trip more than
three days in length. The usual suspects caused this fact; work, lack of
vacation time, etc..etc.  My past few 'vacations' have been more along the
lines of family obligations. These family get togethers are more often than
not more tiring than work!  So the past few days I took a vacation for me..5
days and 4 nights in the San Juans of Colorado.

The San Juans are perhaps the most beautiful range in Colorado, and
certainly the most remote.  The middle of the San Juans have three '14ers',
the trails wind along rivers and go through alpine valleys. Scattered
throughout the area are the remnants of old mining camps. Testament to the
how temporary much of what we do in life is..and how rapidly things change
in one hundred years.  The area of the San Juans I hiked in  also was not
far from the Durango-Silverton narrow gauage railroad. A big 'tourist trap',
it is a coal fired locomotive that is also a remnant from the mining days of
100 years ago. The outdoors person in me cringes at the sight of it...the
history buff in me sees it as link to a past that no longer exists.
Conflicting thoughts..but life is like that. :-)

I wil not bore anyone with the description of Friday (long drive..camped at
a CO state campground next to a drunken group of four who did NOT sleep at
all that night, and consequently nethier did I).  Sufficient to say my
hiking partner for the weekend (conveniently named Paul as well, so there
was no confusion as to his name. :-D) were anxious to hit the trailhead.

Saturday  morning we hit the trailhead. After dodging what seemed to be a
million mosquitos, we signed it and hiked along the trail. The other Paul is
a bit slower hiker than I and was more in the mood for lesser mileage than I
normally would do, but that was fine by me. Somehow a hike that was lower on
the RPM scale seemed appropriate for these next few days. We hiked along and
noticed how the aspens were rapidly turning into confireous trees, and from
one view point there was a nice view of the river valley below. We continued
to hike for a while and came across a meadow with a distant view of the
Needles. Hope the picture I took came out well: a lush green meadow with a
windy trail that seemed to lead to distant peaks in the background. Seemed
like Edward Abbey's "Hikers'  Prayer"  had come to life.   A bit later that
day we came to the Animas river crossing.  With the recent snow melt, the
river was raging. So mesmerizing to to see the churning water and hear the
rapids.  Not too far from the bridge was the railroad crossing. After a
brief hike that paralled the rail road, came to the trestle. Sure enough,
the train came by. Whistle and all!  Took a picture of the train crossing
over the treslte, with the river in the foreground.   An hour or so later we
made camp not too far from the river. Had a lovely meal of macroni and
cheese with tuna, rolled out my ground cloth and had my most restful sleep
in a long time while sleeping under the stars.

The following morning  we hiked up to the area known as the Chicago Basin.
We climbed higher and higher with the Animas below us. Finally we entered
the basin. This basin is what we dream of when we backpack: an alpine meadow
with a creek running through it, mountains seemingly everywhere. The basin
is dominated by three fourteeners. The campsite for the evening was across
the creek in a grove of pine trees with a view of the 14ers.  Made dinner
and cleaned up just as it started raining.  The sound of the rain of the
tarp was relaxing and I again drifted off to another relaxing night of
slumber..but this time at 11500 feet or so.

Mondy morning, the sun came out.  This day was a 'basecamp' day. Time to
explore the basin and see what other beauty was around the corner. Paul
decided to relax and read a bit. I wanted to hike a 14er. So off I went up
one trail that led to some alpine lakes. On the way up, came very close to
some mountain goats. One was on the trail and would not move. Since the goat
was a) larger, quicker and more nimble than me and b) have sharp, pointy
horns,  decided to walk around the goat.  The goat and I were much happier
because of this decision.  When I reached the alpine lakes, there was quite
a bit of snow left, and the lakes were still partially iced over. At 12500'
or so, spring had not come yet.  Had a quick bite to eat, and made my way up
Mt. Windom. The first part of the hike was not bad, the snow was hard and
compacted. But, at the base for the climb up the mountain, I postholed for
about 1/2 mile. Tiring to say the least!  Made my way up the final climb.
This peak is not as climbed as say Long's or Pike's..so it required some
route finding skills on my part. Also, some of the climbing was a bit, er
interesting. Which is a nice way of saying "WHY THE HELL AM I CLIMBING THIS
GD PEAK!!!!"  Yep, nothing like looking down to see a vertical drop of 1000'
feet or so. :O    There was no ice or snow on the last part, so nothing
technical to speak of. Just required patience, perserverence, and the
thought of "don't look down!!!!!". Ahem.    Finally made it to the very odd
summit (a block of maybe 15 sq feet), stood on the USGS maker (how did they
get a marker up here AND with tools to put it in place?!?!?) took a few
pictures, and was about to soak up the view when it started to thunder and
hail (at 11am...well before the time when the descent is supposed to start)
and thought maybe soaking up the view was not such a good idea.  Made my way
down in much the same manner I made the ascent ('cept I said: WHY THE HELL
DID I CLIMB THIS GD PEAK!!!), made it to the snow field and glissaded down
not too far from the lakes. Much more fun that post holing!  Back at the
lakes, noticed the foundation of an old cabin. Also bumped into a group of
people exploring the lakes area for possible routes up the other two 14ers.
Hiked back to the campsite by 2:30PM and rested  in the sunshine that
finally appeared again.  Paul had hiked a bit earlier in the day as well and
saw the same assertive mountain goat.  Unlike me, he had no desire to touch
a metal marker at 14k feet and had a relaxing rest of the day reading. :-)
Made dinner, and again slept to the sound of rain hitting the tarp.

Yesterday, we hiked out of the basin. The rain was coming down reasonably
hard and it was a bit chilly. About a mile from our campsite, bumped into
the same group that was scouting out the day before. They wisely decided to
hike the 14ers the following day.  Further down  the trail, bumped into a
church group from Texas out for a few days. Uh oh!  Dressed head to toe in
cotton on a cold, rainy and windy day, packs that were way too heavy, and
coming from barely above sea level to hike to 11500 feet w/o acclimating
(they drove from Texas only the day before)  is a recipe for a miserable
hike. All I could think was that several of these kids will never want to
see a backpack again.  One of the kids was hunched over and looked to have
signs of mild altitude sickness. I know the adults mean well...but, well,
exploring the high peaks in Colorado is not a trip for the inexperienced.
(Luckily today it was sunny. I would like to think they dried out there
clothes and had a nice day of RnR....the relaxing kind, not the AT-L poster!
:D).  Paul and I hiked back the way we came in and had a great campsite not
too far from the Animas river crossing. The sun came out, and we dried off
our clothes and aired out our gear. After dinner, we explored the area.
Found a cabin on a side trail that was apparently being refurbished (and a
privy stocked with TP!!!!). We later found out some of the mining claims
have been grandfathered in, and some people refurbish the cabins to use as
their very isolated summer homes. Cool!   It rained last night, but as
before, the sound of rain is very relaxing when going to sleep.

Today we hiked out. Talked to two rangers who were on their way to do some
trail work for the next few days  (and excuse the male part of me...but one
of the rangers was a cute blonde ...sorry, but to me that was a trip
highlight, too! :D) and talked shop for a while. Not too long after that,
came to the trailhead.

So it was a great trip.  Was pleased to see that my basepack weight of 15lbs
did all I needed it to do for the diverse conditions I saw. I was warm, dry
and well fed.  Works for me.

More importantly, I neeed this trip. Had to get back what was really
important for me. I have a nasty habit of getting wrapped up in my work. The
past few months, have been making some moves to get back to the hiking life
style I love so much. Sold my car, living below my means, etc.,etc.  After
five days of hiking, I was reminded of in reality of what I miss so much in
my memories. The breathtaking views, the subtle pleasures. The simplicity.
Sometimes the right things come at the right time.  A five day trip to the
backcountry was what I needed to remind myself why I am doing my best to
make a five month trip next year reality.

(or on the trail)

LT '97 '99
AT GA-ME '98

The true harvest of my life is intangible... a little star-dust caught, a
segment of the rainbow which I have clutched.

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