Weminuche Wilderness 2021 – Day 7 Goodbye Chicago Basin

July 29, 2022 § Leave a comment

Once the decision to NOT hike another 14er was made, that made today and easy choice. If you have read any of these posts, for example this, or this, then you know that the conductor on the Durango Silverton Historic Train told us that even though our purchased ticket was a one-way ticket from Needleton to Durango, “IF” we were out there when the train was headed north, we could in fact simply board the train and proceed North to Silverton where the train lays over for two entire hours, and then re-board for the trip back to Durango. So, we had a few options on the table. We could simply remain high in the Chicago Basin, and simply have relaxed all day long, doing nothing, except maybe some local exploring. Door #1. We could pack everything up and hike all the way to the train and get out 1 day early. Door #2. We could pack everything up and hike most of the way out, and find a beautiful site along the Animas River leaving only a half mile to take full advantage of the conductor’s offer. Door #3.

We were door #3 down and dirty. All in on three! “Give me a Tee”, “T”, “Give me an Eighch”, “H”, okay, you get the idea. This is the absolute best of all worlds. We have no schedule. We have no deadline. We have a set of miles “NOT” to exceed! What is the worst that could happen? With no experience in the San Juans, I am not sure what the answer to that question really is, but considering school, of all ages is back in session already, what are the chances that we wouldn’t be able to find a place to camp along the Animas? I was going with zero, and I think my mates were as well. Besides, had we chosen Door #1 then there certainly wouldn’t have been an issue being at the train stop in time for the Southbound leg, but it would have been quite the push to be there in time for the Northbound leg. When Walt left us, he was out the door at 6:30 so he had almost a full four hours to get down there, and Walt doesn’t waste time stopping to eat red raspberries, or even worse, photograph them. No, he just puts his head down and walks. So, for some of us, a day with no deadlines was the perfect prescription that could be written.

The day dawned beautiful and clear. My usual spotty night of sleep was a spotty night of sleep, in and out of various dreams interrupted by the need to take care of personal business. The air was crisp and cool. We arose, and took note of our surroundings. The other camp was also astir as they were getting themselves ready for their next segment. We boiled up water for coffee drinks and oat meal. I might have mentioned that we handled breakfast differently this year, where everyone carries their own components (pre-mixed) for breakfast, thus relieving us of the chore of figuring who has the dried blueberries, and who has the dry milk powder. While we were breaking down camp, and doing the breakfast thing, who should we see but a young, and I mean young group of Outward Bounders on the long ascent up to Columbine Pass, and it was noticed by some of us that some dude was carrying not only his pack, but also the pack of one of the other members who just so happened to be a young woman. None of us old fucks wanted to consider the extra energy involved to carry two packs to the top of Columbine, but maybe he didn’t carry it that far.

Coffee’d up, Oatmeal’d up, and camp broken down it was time to move and off we set down the trail. It was a beautiful broken cloud morning, and the valley in front of us was bathed in a lovely light and the sky filled with high contrast balls of cotton clouds. From our high camp we had many early open vistas over what lay ahead as we descended. The old mining camp visited once again we bid adieu one last time.

The camps in the lower basin seemed devoid of activity as most of those folks were probably seeking their 14ers for the day and they are pretty well hidden. Except that is for the few camps set up in the meadow where there are clear signs saying “No Camping in Meadow”. Our day progressed nicely. There weren’t any encounters with anyone who advised us to drink our own urine for it’s purity. No one said the government was seeding the clouds with anti-rain seeds. For that matter I think we only ran into one group on their way up the basin, but I think my general understanding on the way down was, once you start your way up, there isn’t really any place to camp until you get to the basin proper, and based on our descent, I expect that people are pretty well pooped by the time they get there, and is further evidence for camping high in the basin as most Needleton hikers will not hike that extra mile or two. They’ll just set themselves up in the meadow.

At some point Paul and I fell behind. It was probably all the berries we stopped to eat, and less that we stopped twice to put on, and then take off our rain jackets. So we didn’t really see our compatriots for some time when we intersected the Animas River trail. I was out of water and decided to stop and treat when a hiker came from the south and chatted us up about the trail up to the Basin. It was early afternoon, but we told him that there wasn’t anywhere to camp until you got all the way up and into the main basin, and he related to us that he was with his wife and didn’t want to push her too hard. I told him that if he wanted to keep his wife backpacking, then definitely DO NOT keep pushing her, and so their day was done early.

While I was sitting there, Jim came by and told me, us (Paul had come down while I was sitting there), that we we had found a great campsite not more than a half mile further. With such news, I got off my arse, and hoofed it over to find that in fact we had a tremendous site. Wide beach (rocky, but still a beach!), sheltered fire pit, and a giant meadow (flat) for tenting. Jim, Dan and Kevin were already situated, Paul and I staked out our locations and pounded our stakes in the ground. Our last night was secure.

Fire! We could have a fire tonight as we were no longer in the basin! And as luck would have it there was plenty of harvestable firewood right there surrounding us. In some respects, I wonder whether I even need to pack a saw for the next trip. All the saw really does is make things neat. Nice neat little cut up logs to throw onto the fire, whereas we could simply keep burning longer shit in half, and then throw the halves over to get quarters. There really was a lot of fuel around. Something to consider.

With the Animas river right there, why wouldn’t you strip to your birthday suit, and get down to some proper scrubbing and cleaning? Sure there is a shower in the morrow, but you still had to live with yourself that night? So, one by one we all ventured out into the Animas, and presented the void of the wilderness with a show. Had the train gone by, we might have been flagged as exhibitionists, but the truth is, as public as we were, we were in our little private Idaho. Sun shinning brightly, we all had everything out to dry. Shoes, socks, towels, anything that failed to dry that morning was laid out for all photons traveling 1 AU to liberate latent H2O molecules. If what I write isn’t complete clear, we basically just hung out and relaxed the rest of the afternoon. It was wonderful. I don’t believe, that at any time, I heard one person utter the words “I wish we had climbed another 14er!”. This was our Club Med. May not have been any room service, but the layout was rewarding, and we took advantage of every moment.

Dinner came and went, we had a nice fire, so we could stay up a little later. I think we might have started reminiscing about our adventures already, I wouldn’t be surprised if Kevin hadn’t asked “So, what’s the plan tomorrow?” because Kevin just needs to know that stuff. That plan was supah simple. We were in no hurry, and Needleton was less than a half mile of flat as fuck walking. The train is due in at 10:30. We couldn’t possibly miss it.

The light faded, we stopped adding wood to the fire, people drifted off to their sleeping arrangements, and I hung out until the fire had died down enough, that I could drench it simply, and then I too crawled into my bag. I am sure everyone could hear the river, but situated, as I was, under my tarp, there was no barrier to the sound, and I still had to count backwards to try and nod off.

A Story

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