Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Second Durango Train Trek

At 5am Sunday morning, my father and I woke up to drive the short 9hrs to Silverton, CO.  We tried our best to drive hastily because we had to catch the 2:45 narrow gauge train towards Durango. We switched drivers just before we reached Durango and I got to drive the scenic stretch of road to Silverton. 

We pulled into the ticket station just before 2 and purchased out round trip tickets for backcountry access to the Needleton stop. We left the car and carried our packs the few blocks to the train stop. Right on time, we were able to load our packs into the boxcar just as everyone was boarding. 

The train ride was pretty uneventful and we both ended up sleeping most of the way. At about 3:45 the train made it's stop at Needleton and we unloaded our gear along with a foreign looking couple. Our seats were quickly filled by about 20 backpackers/climbers taking the train to Durango. As the train left we noticed one of the climbers had left a xl butane fuel canister. I seized the opportunity and hid it for retrieval on the way out as it was almost full and worth about $10. 

We crossed the well built suspension bridge over the raging river. Though our packs weren't exactly light, we hiked the six miles to Chicago Basin briskly to avoid having to walk in the dark. Nothing of much interest transpired during this time except that it started raining rather heavily and we found many wild raspberries and strawberries. Fortunately, it stopped raining before we reached the basin and our campsite. We pitched our tent and fired up the jetboil. Dad was rather impressed when I was able to hang the jetboil inside the tent. We set the alarm for 4am and quickly fell under the entrapment of a goodnights sleep. 

We woke up and started hiking, the sky was leaking a bit at that point, but overall it seemed like it should be a great day. We hiked to the tree line and started up the steep switchbacks to twin lakes. Across the basin, we spotted the headlamps of at least 5 backpackers just under Columbine Pass. I wonder if they made the same mistake we did last year and headed toward the pass rather than taking the left trail split to Twin Lakes. 

By the time we reached the first twin lake a heavy fog began to settle over the high peaks. We veered back left along the trail to Mt. Eolus. After about 30min we were consumed by the dense fog. Navigation was difficult as we could only see 100ft ahead at any time. Never the less, we located the ramp across the steep slabs, a key landmark giving access to the ridge higher up. We hiked along the broken trail following cairns until we reached the ridge at a notch. At the time, we weren't exactly sure where we were, but we could discern the peak of a mountain up the ridge to our right while the narrow and exposed ridge left of us disappeared into the mist. We headed up the ridge to our right as I suspected that it was N. Eolus. A few minutes alter we reached the summit and the USGS marker on top confirmed my suspicion. That meant that we would then have to traverse across the ridge deemed "the catwalk" with extremely low visibility.

The ridge was fairly easy and there were only a few sections narrower than a sidewalk. The scariest part was that, due to the fog, we had no idea how far the drop to either side was. We finished crossing the ridge and began scrambling up the steep 3rd class slope to the summit somewhere above. I couldn't see how much farther we had so I figured as long as we kept climbing we'd get there eventually. After a while, we opted toward the ridge rather then the main slope, the climbing difficult enough that we left our trekking poles at the bottom. IMO, this was the best part as it had many sections of 4th class moves on solid rock. Eventually we reached the small summit at about 11:30 and took turns climbing onto the summit boulder. The view, which we expected to be a lovely shade of fog, opened up and after 15min or so we had an almost complete summit panorama looking out over the beautiful expanse of the Weminuche Wilderness. 

We descended down, route finding now much easier due to the lack of fog. We hiked down to Twin Lakes and down the steep switchbacks to reach our camp at about 2. We spent the rest of the day napping and enjoying sun filled valley next to the beautiful spring fed stream. 

We ate dinner at about 7:30 and watched Phelam 123 on dad's iPhone before falling asleep. We woke up at 7 to ensure that we made it down to catch the 11:30 train back to Silverton. We took our time and enjoyed the wild strawberries and raspberries all the way back to the train stop. I collected the salvaged fuel canister and we waited about an hour watching deleted scenes from The Office. 

Just before the train came I climbed to the top of one of the bridge's support towers to try to get a good picture of the train as it pulled up. The tourists on board waved and took pictures of me as I quickly climbed down the tower and picked up my pack. We watched at least 20 backpackers get off to hike up to Chicago Basin. I guess most people like to ride the train from Durango rather than Silverton. The ride back went quickly and aside from seeing a black bear, was pretty bland. We unloaded in Silverton at about 12:30 and I took the keys to drive back to Durango where we ate at Jean Pierre's French Bakery, our favorite eatery in Durango which I highly recommend (try the French Dip, it's awesome). After our late lunch we hit the road and drove home to good old Amarillo. 

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I love life and aspire to be all I can be in everything that I do.