Chicago Basin, Weminuche Wilderness, Colorado

August 15 to 18, 2001

"For mining I cannot say much good except that its operations are generally short-lived. The extractable wealth is taken and the shafts, the tailings, and the ruins left, and in a dry country such as the American West the wounds men make in the earth do not quickly heal."

Wallace Stegner (1909-1993)

Hike Information

Ted, Brian, and Bob next made a trip to the San Juan mountains in 2001. Bob and Ted met in Laramie, and picked up Brian at Denver International Airport. They next made a long drive through South Park to Buena Vista. Interestingly, it looked like a big sign had been put off the road in South Park, pointing to a bunch of buildings; I am guessing to exploit the success of the TV show. We stayed at the Buena Vista Best Western, which had a great hot tub and fabulous breakfast bar.

We made it to Durango and checked into our lodging for the evening, a KOA (my first ever). We were a tad perturbed to find a thick layer of plastic on all the mattresses... who knows what fluids may have flowed over those surfaces. Since we had to catch the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad the next day, we checked out where we needed to go and checked out the town. If you take the train in (which is just about the only way to get to Needleton to get to the trail head), make sure you make reservations early. It took several phone calls before Brian was confidant we actually could get on the train.

We got up early, and caught the train. It was a pretty cool ride up to Needleton; on the way up passing a nice resort and going through Animas River canyon. I am not sure how happy the conductor was at having hikers, since when he dropped us at Needleton he practically threw the packs off the train. The passengers on the train all waved good-bye.

Needleton is now just a bunch of small cabins, I am not sure what its history is. We started hiking up the trail and had a nice reroute straight uphill to avoid some private property. Apparently, from a conversation with a ranger, they are going to do some more re-routing to avoid other parcels of private property. We made it to Base camp Animas, where we were soon invaded by several goats. These goats seemed pretty tame.

Ted and Brian climbed a few peaks while I did a few small day hikes. The goats were insane, coming through the camp several times during the day. We hiked out the next day and caught the train at Needleton. There were many more people waiting to get on and I suspect not that many had reservations for that particular train, since not all were able to get on.

We had a nice beer at a microbrewery in Durango, Steamworks. Great Beers in a nice location. We drove back to Buena Vista, but just missed getting into the hot tubs. They close them at 10 PM and no amount of monetary offers nor threats were able to persuade the manager to let us in.

Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad

Chicago Basin

The Weminuche Wilderness (499,771 acres) was designated by Congress in 1975, and expanded by the Colorado Wilderness Acts of 1980 and 1993. It is the largest wilderness area in the state of Colorado and is located 4 miles southeast of the town of Silverton and 17 miles northeast of Durango. The Wilderness was named after the Weminuche Native Americans.

The Weminuche Wilderness is dissected by the Animas River Gorge through which the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad travels between Silverton and Durango. To the east of the Animas River lie the Needle Mountains (a subrange of the San Juan Mountains) and the bulk of the wilderness. To the west of the Animas River are the West Needle Mountains and the remaining portion of the wilderness. Two train stops within the gorge allow hikers access into the Needle Mountains.

The Chicago Basin comprises the upper portion of the Needle Creek watershed in the Needle Mountains. Needle Creek is an east-side tributary of the Animas River. The upper portion of the basin is surrounded by three fourteeners: Mount Eolus, Windom Peak, and Sunlight Peak. Columbine Pass lies to the east of the lower basin.

The lure of the wealth in the "Silvery San Juans" induced the Denver & Rio Grande Railway to begin building westward from the San Luis Valley. Durango was founded by the railroad in 1880, and a line was extended from Antonito, Colorado, to Durango, arriving in July 1881. For decades the line hauled ore from Silverton down to smelters in Durango. After surviving natural disasters, wars, and financial instability, on October 5, 1980, the train made its last run under Denver & Rio Grande ownership and the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad was founded.

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Brian and Bob in a car on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, Durango Colorado Blowing steam Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad On the train in Animas River Canyon Riding that train.. Casey Jones you betta, watch yo speed  Dropped off the train at Needleton  Our intrepid hikers at the trail head Ted near Chicago Basin Just up  the trail Our intrepid hikers resting at base camp Animas At base camp Animas Mt Kennedy (13125 ft) Chicago Basin Chicago Basin  Northeast from Chicago Basin base camp Animas. Sunlight Peak (14059 ft), Peak 18 (13472 ft), Windom Peak (14082 ft), Jupiter Mountain 13830 ft) Reflection in South Twin Lake (12500 ft) Sunrise on Mt Eolus (14083 ft) Mountain goats on trail from Chicago Basin Wildflowers in Chicago Basin Goats at Twin Lakes (have I mentioned there were lots of goats here?) Southwest into Chicago Basin from Windom Peak (14082 ft). Our camp is nestled in the trees. Mt Kennedy left Northeast from summit Windom Peak. The Guardian (13617 ft), Rio Grande Pyramid (13821 ft), Vallacito creek Northwest from Windom Peak. Monitor Peak (13695 ft), Animus Mtn (13786 ft), Peak 13 (13708 ft), Sunlight (14059 ft) Ted on summit Windom Peak. Jupiter Mtn (13830 ft) Brian dining on DingDongs™ and taco sauce on Windom.. wowzers!!!! South ridge of Windom Peak from west ridge Looking north to west ridge of Windom Peak. Sunlight Peak, Sunlight Spine Goat near summit of Sunlight Brian near summit Sunlight Needle Mountains from summit of Sunlight with Ted! Mt Eolus, North Eolus, Turrent Peak, Pigeon Peak Brian on summit Sunlight East from Sunlight Peak. Rio Grande Peak, Valecito Creek Looking south from just below Twin Lakes. Columbine Pass, Aztec Mtn (13310 ft), Mt Kennedy (13125 ft) Stormy clouds over Chicago Basin Thin stream in Chicago Basin Stream in Chicago Basin  East face of Mt Eolus from trail Mountain goat in camp Subalpine stream from Twin Lakes (lake just over the next rise) East face of Eolus from trail Northeast across South Twin Lake. Needle Ridge, Sunlight Peak, Sunlight Spine West southwest from Mt Eolus. New York Creek drainage. Panorama from  Eolus Twin Thumbs and South Twin Lake Looking south southeast (ele 12700 ft) on Mt Eolus trail. Florida Mtn (13076 ft), Colunbine Pass (13680 ft), Bullion Mtn (13182 ft) Alpine flowers on Mt Eolus trail Wildflowers on Eolus  East face of Eolus from trail (ele 13400) Looking east (ele 13600 ft) from west face Mt Eolus (Glacier Point (13704 ft), Rio Grande Pyramid (13821 ft), Sunlight (14056 ft), Sunlight Spine (13995 ft), Windom Peak (14082 ft) West northwest view from "the catwalk" on Mt Eolus Ted on summit of Mt Eolus Looking across "the catwalk" at Mt Eolus summit Ted crossing "the catwalk" Near summit of  Eolus  Looking north from Mt Eolus. Arrow Peak (13803 ft), Vestal Peak (13664 ft), North Eolus (14034 ft), the catwalk. Looking down Chicago Basin (ele 11200 ft). Base Camp Animas is located in the grove of trees just ahead. North from Mt Eolus summit. Animas Mtn (13786 ft), Peak 13 (13705 ft), Monitor Peak (13695 ft), The Heisspitz (13262 ft), Arrow Peak (13803 ft), Vestal Peak (13664 ft), Peak 4 (13410 ft), North Eouls (14039 ft) Nice view View N from Eolus  Sunrise on Mt Eolus  View northeast from Base Camp Animas. Peak 18 (13472 ft), Windom Peak (14082 ft), Jupiter Mtn (13830 ft) Chicago Basin Thin stream and waterfall. Chicago Basin (ele 11400 ft). Bob and Brian at camp Mom and baby goat helping Bob pack Leaving Chicago Basin  Footbridge over Animas River. Needleton train station for the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad Bridge over the Animas  View from train station. Pigeon Peak (13872 ft) Cleaning up before train ride outside of Needleton Brian (red shirt) and Bob  (blue shirt) waiting for the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad to haul us to Durango Getting on the train  D&S Narrow Gauge Railroad and Animas River D&S Narrow Gauge Railroad,  Animas River with bonehead who stole Ted's seat View from the train