Weminuche Wilderness 2021 – Day 8 Goodbye Weminuche Wilderness

July 30, 2022 § Leave a comment

Let’s see if this can be a short write-up. Ha!

We awoke with maybe a half a mile to walk to get to the train. The ETA for said train was somewhere around 10:30 in the am, so with all that in consideration, we didn’t feel any sense of urgency, and that showed in just how slow we were moving that morning. There wasn’t really all that much to do. Breaking down camp doesn’t take long. I recall we had enough left over wood that we had a morning fire. Just enough of a blaze to take the chill out of the air when you needed it. Our seats were all right where we left them the night before, so why not simply light it up, turn up the seats, and chill around the fire drinking coffee drinks and eating our last bits of oatmeal?

What lay ahead besides a half mile of walking? We hadn’t a clue. When the time came, we made sure the fire was doused, nothing was left behind, and we all marched out of our last camp at about the same time. It was flat all the way, and the only obstacle being a significant suspension bridge to get us across the Animas onto the side where the train would come. We weren’t the first there, and we certainly weren’t the last to arrive. Though it’s a train stop, there aren’t any benches to sit upon. No Starbucks baristas to whip up mocha latte. Just find some shade and await.

While we were hanging out, two younger-than-us gents walked in and occupied some space near us, and before long we were chatting up Kris Warner, and Blake Kaplan, friends for a long time, both originally (?) from the great state of Ohio, but Kris now lives and works out of Durango, and Blake was out visiting for a long Labor Day Weekend in the Weminuche. We were all doing the same thing, as in boarding Needleton to go to Silverton, however Kris’s wife would meet them there for the drive back to Durango. If I recall our conversation, I believe they managed all four of the peaks and were getting out before the real crush of weekend visitors moves in. It was Saturday morning, and while you might think everyone came in on Friday, you would be wrong. Another bit of intel we got from Kris was where we should seek lunch and that suggestion was Avalanche Brewing Company right on the main drag. We should easily have enough time to find it, take care of lunch, and still have some time to walk around town before re-boarding for the trip back to Durango.

The longer we hung out, the more people arrived to catch the train. The sisters we saw on our ascent the day before were two of the newly arrived as well as a couple who I chatted up when I reached the trail junction where I waited on the rest of my party. They had been sunning themselves on a nice open rock and we chatted long enough to recognize each other this morning and greetings were exchanged. I suppose that the number of people leaving the Chicago Basin meant that there was plenty of Basin available for those that would be arriving.

Before long, the distant rumblings of a diesel engine could be heard and soon the train emerged onto the long track leading to the Needleton stop, the headlamp shining brightly as the train slowed in its approach to discharge, and take on passengers. The air brakes set, the train came to a stop, and we all made room for the discharged passengers to get to the box car, to reclaim their belongings, and then we listened to instructions. Be sure to indicate that our final destination was either Silverton, or Durango as that would help with organizing where our backpack would be placed in the baggage car.

“Durango” and then together we piled into one of the open cars behind the baggage car and awaited the rest of the crowd. Just to note there were a number of folks who did disembark the train, and before we left the stop, they were happily walking across the suspension bridge for their time in the basin. With everyone loaded, the train pulled out and we moved forward towards Elk Creek, where no one got on, and maybe a couple of people got off. No different than when we got off a week earlier. That stop was quick, and soon we were in new terrain covering track that we haven’t seen yet. The train moved from the West side of the Anima across an old bridge to the East side, giving us fine views to the west. I don’t think I thought about it at the time, but the train was cutting behind the two mountain passes I had cycled between Silverton, and Durango, and there is actually an access trail leading down from the road.

We emerged from the canyon into the wide open valley where Silverton proper lay. We were greeted by someone with a painted face wearing a flag shirt and waving an American flag. Not sure what his story was, but where he was standing didn’t look like the kind of place where you hung out all day awaiting the arrival of the trains. Go figure. As you may have surmised, Silver was the ore being sought, and maybe there is still some Silver taken out, but I believe for the most part, that part of Silverton’s past lies way in the past. Today, it is mainly a tourist stop, and maybe there are some other vibrant industries, but I think tourism is the main Silver mine today.

The train came to a stop, instructions regarding when the train would be leaving were given, and with that information received, we headed straight to Avalanche. Let’s get this meal behind us so we have some time to check out the town. The first thing I noticed was what seemed like an inordinate amount of people on motorcycles. Not cafe bike, but the big Harley style Hog bikes. Many were couples, as you may have seen in your own travels, he driving, she sitting behind him, however there was no shortage of female riders with their own steed planted firmly beneath them. When I say inordinate, I mean there were bikes everywhere. Going up the street, down the street, large groups, small groups, and they were all here for the same reason we were. To see the town, get something to eat, and then be on their way. I think we were lucky to get a table outside rather quickly. It could be that we got into town at just the right time, and beat a lot of the crowd.

It was sunny and bright, and maybe a little warm, but we were happy. Who should sit down at the next table but Kris, and Blake. Our orders were in but by some ripple in the space-time fabric of chance, we picked a brewpub that didn’t make burgers, and our thirst for good beer overrode our hunger for burger meat, and so we settled in what they did have, but over-hearing our burger talk Kris mentioned that there was a Grassburger establishment in town where we could satisfy that burger craving later. When Kris’s wife, Suzannah and their two large dogs showed up and were introduced we all agreed to meet later at the Strater Hotel bar for a beer or two.

With lunch finished and the bill paid, we bid farewell for now to Kriz, Blake and Suzannah and set off to walk about town. With time being short we all agreed to simply meet back at the train at the appointed time and went off to do our own respective searches. For me, that was simply to walk the streets until by chance, I happened upon an antique shop and wandered in. I wasn’t in need of anything, and a lot of the stuff I wasn’t prepared to haul back to Jersey, however antique shops are also museums in a way, and this shop featured, as you might expect, a lot of items from Silverton’s past. That was when I spotted the old ceramic coated tin coffee cups, one of them in pretty much newish condition. That simply meant that it wasn’t dented and chipped like the other two. A wee bit jealous of Marty’s ceramic cup from the Island of Svalbard (See images), I thought this cup would make a nice addition to my future camping expeditions, and I bought it. Surprise!

As I walked back to the train, groups of motorcycles kept arriving, and groups kept leaving. I am guessing the local establishments did quite well that Saturday. I found Jim and Kevin outside the ice cream shoppe and we re-boarded the train where we were soon joined by Dan and Paul. We grabbed our seats and soon we were heading South en route to Durango with all the other backpackers who took the ride to Silverton. There was no one to pick up at Elk Creek, and we picked up a few at Needleton, and soon we were on the outskirts of Durango, the train horn blaring for every at-grade crossing, and crawling along towards the end of this journey. We dis-embarked, obtained our packs, and then walked the block and a half to our hotel. Along the way we observed the “reason” for all the motorcycles in Silverton. Labor Day weekend hosts a huge motorcycle rally in Durango, and I guess we were lucky to have our hotel rooms booked already. I don’t think there were many empty rooms in the city that night.

We checked in, and then I called an Uber to take me back to the McBride’s place to retrieve the rest of our belongings. When the driver arrived I told him that the route he has is not the route, but I think he didn’t think I had a clue what was correct, and so when it was clear that he was definitely not just avoiding downtown traffic, I told him sternly that he was going the wrong way, and that he needed to go North to 25th street. Uber is google map driven, but I think they allow for some override, and soon we were following my directions and found the place. Fortunately there is a road sign and the driver noted there are two Sunrise Lanes. Garage code entered, stuff retrieved, guest book entry written, and I was on my way back to the hotel.

I texted folks before I arrived and everyone was there to get their things, and we agreed to gather back quickly so we could make Grassburger before closing. With all the bikers in town, most places had a long wait, and Grassburger is a fast food joint, and we found it not busy at all. They even had an impossible beef option for me! I should take a moment to note that I hadn’t arranged ahead of time to get a ride to the airport, and I should have. However, I was lucky that one of the drivers I called said if I didn’t mind being picked up even earlier he could squeeze me into the vehicle prior to his scheduled pick-up. “Count me in to that!”. The rest of the crew had normal departures, so as the night hours ticked on I was aware my rest that night would be short, and I didn’t want to go to bed having to process a bunch of alcohol.

When it came time to head over to the Strater, Kevin and Jim opted out, leaving Paul, Dan and myself to go in. What a place! An old time décor bar from an old-time hotel with period dressed player at the piano singing songs from the American song book. We found our new friends, along with their eldest son Griffin, and I hung out as long as I could before calling it quits. I said my good byes, and Paul and I returned to the Best Western where I made sure that all I had to do was get dressed and go. Paul and I shared a room, so it was impossible to just get up and go, so I got bid good bye to him when I left.

I was outside awaiting my ride, not sure what the vehicle would look like. I think I was expecting a van, and at 3:50 in the am there was a surprising amount of activity going on outside the Best Western. The BW sits at the end of a dead-end, so unless people were lost, anyone who showed up meant to be there. I guess I wasn’t the only one with early plans. My driver showed, and together we picked up a young gent who had just finished The Colorado Trail. We chatted the whole way to the airport where we were early, and with the place nearly empty, we found our way to the gate quickly.

There wasn’t a lot of hiking today, but I took a shitload of images to share. If I didn’t mention it, I decided to return to the Weminuche this year, same timeframe, with anyone that wanted to come which included all those who missed this trip. As it turns out, those will be my only companions unless any of the Warners join us at some point. This trip could not have gone better. It was a great group. We had fantastic weather except for maybe that one day of scattered rain. We summitted a 14er. We were out for 8 days. No one got hurt. A slight caveat to that last statement as Dan actually ended up in the hospital the next day with a kidney stone. He got as far as the airport before he decided to, or was forced to abandon his flight. None of us knew this until we were all home. Lucky for Dan, and us that we were out of the back country. We could have tested the SOS function on my Garmin device, but better not to need to. Dan is fine.

If you read this far, good for you. I write these for future me. It helps cement the story in my gray matter, and maybe helps other people enjoy our fun as well. Thanks for reading.

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