Weminuche 2021 – Day 5 Over Columbine
December 22, 2021 § Leave a comment
It rained most of the night, but when I awoke it had abated long enough for us to break camp and grab some breakfast. Though the rain had abated it wasn’t done for the day, and we’d be lucky to see the sun at all on this day. We didn’t really have all that far to go with the pass at maybe 2-2.5 and then another 1.5 down the other side. Remember from an earlier post that we were advised to take a site in the upper Chicago Basin where few, if any, of the Needleton access 14er-seekers will bother to hike up to. With a sense of urgency we broke camp while our water heated, and with no sun to dry anything, packed all our wet gear as it was. Sure it would be heavier, but we didn’t have to go far. With the main gear packed we took in our morning breakfasts and coffee drinks; we took care of our morning business and then we were off for Columbine Pass.
The name “Columbine” is now well known as a moment in American History when America’s love for their unfettered access to guns was shown to outweigh their love of their children, but on this day it named the pass between us and the Chicago Basin. I can’t find any references to understand the source of the name that also include an alpine lake. Though we were “in” the rain, the clouds weren’t hanging all that low and we could always see where the trail was taking us, with open views behind us. We didn’t have far to go before we hit the last set of switchbacks, which exited onto the plateau containing Lake Columbine. From there it was a pretty straight off camber approach to the pass. The higher we got, the windier it felt, and all the wind was coming from the East, so that when I finally reached the top and I stepped over into the lee side of it. When I say step over, I mean step over. This was a knife edge pass where the trail hit the top at a decent gradient which turned into an immediate negative gradient. I could linger in the pass for long without getting a chill, so I waited on the lee side until all my folks came through. There wasn’t anywhere for all of us to hang out, so I sent the others off down into the Chicago Basin.
On the way down, we were out of the wind, but not out of the rain. It wasn’t pouring, but it wasn’t letting up either. We didn’t know it then, but we could see where we would be camping for the next two nights, though at that time the plan was for three nights. This side of the pass was devoid of vegetation for some distance before the high alpine growth could find something to root in. For all I know, this side experiences harsher weather, though in our current circumstance it was gentler than on our approach. We only had a little over a mile to descend before we would hit the upper plateau. Except for an abandoned mine and sweeping vistas of the basin, there wasn’t anything else of note.
We crossed our first high creek bed and came to a fork in the trail that clearly said, though not marked, “Camp Here”. We walked about a 100 yards and we found a nice flat area that offered up many fine sites, and a collection of trees where we could tarp up. There was a break in the weather, and we used that to get our tents setup, and me my tarp, which I thought we might be spending time under, until I saw that Kevin and Dan had packed tarps and were stringing them up in the trees. After finishing my setup I set about helping them, and just as we got them all strung up and anchored the rain began to fall again. These tarps were quite nice in that they offered us enough room for ourselves and our gear. With our chairs all assembled we were able to hangout quite comfortably together and at least stay dry. I think we put on just about everything we brought, because 1) no fires, and 2) we were wet (sweaty wet) from the hike, so there was a chill.
We had a lot of time to kill, and not really a lot to do. I will cut this post short and spare you the agonizing details of killing time and staying warm. In at least two pictures below you will spot an attempt to warm feet with dinner bags acting as hot compresses after rehydration with boiling water. Another note is this would be our last evening/day with Walt, my brother-in-law, as he was hiking out the next day. At this point he wasn’t sure which train he was going to try for. Remember, we were advised that if we reached Needleton before the Northbound train arrived, we could ride that to Silverton and then back when it returned. Walt was giving this some serious consideration.
The last thing to note is that it rained a lot in the afternoon, and it quickly became apparent that I had pitched my tarp over a partial low spot as a small puddle collected under it. Granted the tarp itself concentrated the rainfall and the puddle was fed by the steady stream of water rolling off of it, but the result was clear. If it was to rain all night I would have to move my setup, so I pulled a weather report in the early evening that confirmed that the worst of it at passed, and I could stay where I was. Since I had thought we might be sitting under it, I had not bothered to set out my pad and bag, and that was certainly fortunate. When I did turn in, it was to a dry and warm bag, and I experienced a truly unspectacular night.