This trip report is long overdue. In 2011, a friend and I hiked 600 miles from Durango to Estes Park. We had the time of our lives. We made up our own route, stringing together trails, ridges, roads and the occasional miserable bushwhack. Along the way we climbed 50 peaks including 17 fourteeners. We wanted to share it with the world but life gets in the way. So now 2 years later I’m finally getting it done, one segment at a time.
(see 'Segment 1: Durango to Silverton, here)
Segment 2: Silverton to Lake City
Our route to Lake City
This TR picks up where we left off in Silverton in July of 2011. Things hadn’t gone terribly well in Segment 1 so we had spent an extra day in Silverton to recoup. Now Whit’s blister was starting to heal and my pack was mostly repaired but we were a day behind. You see, our trip ends in Rocky Mountain National Park and we have permits for certain campsites on certain days. So we HAD to make it there by a certain day. One day wasn’t much but I was a bit worried since we had just started. So on this segment we made an effort to make up for the extra day.
Day 9: We left Silverton early in the morning and made our way east out of town toward Animas Forks. We would eventually pass through Animas Forks but first our route took us on a detour up through the peaks north of town. We turned at Eureka Gulch and made our way up the 4WD roads toward the basin below Bonita Peak. The mining ruins in this area are pretty impressive. A storm came in so we set up camp by the road but after it passed I spent the rest of the evening exploring the ruins. Whit nursed his foot a bit more. We were lulled to sleep that night by the chorus of coyotes in a neighboring basin.
Just outside of Silverton . . . what as this thing?
The station for the old Eureka Gulch Rollercoaster?
A ruin we referred to as "The Castle"
A ditch blasted out, I assume, to drain Lake Emma.
Our tent in Eureka Gulch.
Day 10: On the way up to the pass Whit started feeling ‘like he was drunk’. We weren’t sure if it was altitude or what but once we reached the pass and had some food and rest he felt better so we scrambled up to Hanson Peak for our first summit of segment 2. Day 10 turned out to be a long day. We made our way down Placer Gulch (if you’re in to mine ruins, Placer Gulch is the place to be) and over to Animas Forks where a wonderful woman made us some PBJ sandwiches while we waited out more rain in one of the old structures.
Our motto, "Do it, Say You Did It" carved into the snow in Placer Gulch
In Placer Gulch
We spent some time playing around at the Sound Democrat Mine
From Animas Forks we hiked up the Alpine Loop toward Engineers Pass. We had expected to see lots of ATVs on this road and there were some but the cloudy weather seemed to keep the road pretty quiet. It was so beautiful I can see why it’s popular. The long day ended at camp just below Engineer Mountain, which we climbed as the sun set.
Engineers Pass Road . . . not just for vehicular traffic!
View of the 14ers from our campsite near Engineer Mountain
Day 11 turned out to be one of the toughest days of the trip. We were compressing 3 days into 2 days to make up time. We hoped to get to a basecamp below Wetterhorn Peak by connecting a series of trails, ATV tracks and a healthy bit of bushwhacking. The hike was often wet and snowy and my boots soaked through multiple times throughout the day. We got a little confused in the gullies between American Flats and Matterhorn Creek. We were pretty discouraged by the time we got to Mattherhorn Creek but taking a moment to sit and dry our feet out really lifted our spirits. As did seeing Wetterhorn Peak for the first time up close . . . it looked like it was going to be a blast!
Wetterhorn from the Southeast. Horn above, Falls below.
Day 12: Fourteener day! Wetterhorn was fantastic and remains one of my favorite climbs. Everything about it rocked. The boulder field was fun, the pikas friendly, the ridge was great and the scramble at the end was exhilarating. Topping it off with a glissade back to camp was excellent. And to make things even better, we got back to camp with enough time to climb Uncompahgre also . . . or so we thought.
I'm sure there are plenty of pictures just like this on here . . . on more won't hurt
We made our way over to Uncompahgre, taking a shortcut to the top ridge. We had to duck off the plateau as a hailstorm passed but it never developed into a thunderstorm. The skies remained gray but without any looming threats we made the easy climb to the summit. Photos at the top, standing over that north face, made for some of the best of the trip. I was excited to have bagged another "Alpine 88" peak.
On Uncompahgre, our first "Alpine 88" peak of the trip.
But while we were enjoying the summit a thunderstorm came out of nowhere. The sky to the south was suddenly black and moving in fast. We ran across plateau and scrambled as fast as we could down from the summit block. We were only able to make it to about 13,500’ before the storm hit. What followed was some of the scariest moments of my life. We were inside the storm and each clap of thunder seemed to be just inches from us. Sitting on packs among the boulders I was afraid to even lift the ground cloth covering us to see what was happening. In time, though, the storm passed and we remained unstruck. Humbled, we walked back down to where we had stashed our packs and then made our way down the mountain. We were soaked and exhausted and looking forward to Lake City tomorrow.
The last picture before the storm hit us.
After the storm . . . a sign we were going to make it.
Day 13: It was tempting to just hike down Nellie Creek and take the road into Lake City but I was determined not to give up on our route because of a couple of tough days. We instead stayed on the ridge 13,106 and 13,091 enjoying the strange geology before making our way down to the Crystal Lake Trail and eventually to Lake City.
A seasonal lake between 13,106 and 13,091.
What are these doing here?
Don't worry; it wouldn't budge.
Woohoo! Just 1000' more down to Lake City!
Neither Whit nor I are particularly religious but after our experience in the thunderstorm we felt the need to thank God for sparing us. We made it to Lake City just as the final service was starting at the tiny St. James Church. The owner of the general store on the North Side of town said we would never make it if we walked (plus she could see every step was painful for us) so she dropped everything and drove us to the church across town. The service was great and everyone was so friendly, even inviting us to their BBQ that night (despite our 5 days of trail funk, which does not mix well with a small crowded church).
We spend another day resting up in Lake City getting to know some of the Texans and Eastern Eurpoeans who populate the town. We especially enjoyed the San Juan Soda Company and our little cabin rental. It had separate bedrooms – the only time we’d enjoy such a treat on the entire trip.
See the next segment, Lake City to Salida, Here