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, 1 segment at a time.
Segment 0: Genesis
November 2010. I live in Hoboken, New Jersey. Whit lives in Cincinnati, Ohio. We grew up together in Ohio, and have been friends since we were 6 years old – 20 years . As happens, life took us in different directions—he stayed in Cincinnati working corrections and I became an engineer in Albuquerque. But every year we managed to get together for an adventure of some sort: most recently spending 5 days climbing in Chicago Basin.
November 2010 we both found ourselves in need of a change. We both hated our jobs, and I couldn’t stand living in New Jersey so far from the West. Whit wanted to go back to school to become a pilot. I wanted a new career. We both needed some time off. It didn’t take long to realize summer 2011 was the perfect time for a huge trip. Originally we picked the Colorado Trail but eventually decided it seemed to go around all the mountains we wanted to go through. So we made our own route. 2 months, starting in Durango and finishing at Long’s Peak.
In the next 5 months we both quit our jobs and I moved back out west. It was time for a change; time for an adventure.
Segment 1: Durango to Silverton
Our segment 1 route
We flew into Albuquerque on June 25th. Staying with our friend Jim (who would hike the first 2 days with us) we prepared everything for the trip and were in Durango on the 27th. We hit every brewpub in town as a final party the night before starting.
Smoky day to start a 2-month hike
On the 26th we started our hike at the Pine Creek Trailhead. Our first two days were a gentle hike along Pine Creek. It was smoky from the fires in Arizona but that quickly cleared as we made our way up the valley. Jim bid us adieu on day 2, after leaving us with some trail wisdom and relieving us of some garbage. Our first setback was on day 2—Whit developed a blister. It wasn’t too bad to start, but it steadily grew worse throughout the segment (we didn’t know it would still be there when we finished the hike 2 months later).
Big waterfall on Pine Creek, Day 2
Whit dunking his feet after a long day . . . unfortunately it didn't do much good.
On day 3 we reached Weminuche Pass. We built a bridge (i.e. threw a log) over the swollen creek and started up toward our first peak, Rio Grande Pyramid. We camped east of the peak at 12,400’. The campsite was wonderful and our spirits were up; they had been diminished by poor weather and Whit’s now quite large blister.
Crossing the creek . . . rolling the log into place was the tough part.
Day 4 started with a bang. We struck camp and made our way to our first peak, Rio Grande Pyramid. It was the biggest thing either of us had climbed in a year and from the top we could see parts of our route for the next 3 weeks, all the way to San Luis Peak. We stayed for a bit to celebrate, then made our way down; we still had most of the day in front of us. The rest of the day was spent hiking west toward Vallecito Canyon. Though the hike through the Weminuche was of unmatched beauty, it was a rough day. The Flint Creek trail was difficult to follow, and we had some gear failures; by the end of the day our water pump was broken and my backpack frame had come apart and tore through the fabric (it was brand new). We shared a campsite with some very kind people, Scott and Alice, though, who offered us some fresh pumped water and a share of their campfire.
Me, enjoying the view from Rio Grande Pyramid
Our first (of many) crossing of the Continental Divide
Making our way past Rio Grande Pyramid
Day 5: Starting early we made our way down to Vallecito Creek enjoying the very nice trail as far as Stormy Gulch. There we set off toward Storm King Peak, the next peak on our list. The climbers trail up Stormy Gulch wasn’t too bad to follow. We saw our first bear tracks just after crossing Vallecito Creek. Upon reaching treeline in Stormy Gulch we decided there was still too much snow and we would have to skip it. In addition, all the loose, rocky side-hilling had done a number to Whit’s heel and upon reaching our campsite just below the pass, we just collapsed. Too tired to deal with our broken pump, we just drank straight from the creek. At 12,500’ it was pure snowmelt and some of the best water I’d ever tasted. The view from the top of stormy gulch was second to none (it was eventually chosen as our favorite campsite of the trip).
Trinities from high in Stormy Gulch
Morning at our favorite campsite in Stormy Gulch
Day 6: Only 5 days behind and the wilderness had already humbled us. Whit was now limping on his blistered foot and we decided hiking over Highland Mary Lakes to get to Silverton might be too much. We made the best time we could to the Elk Park DSNGRR. The day wasn’t totally lost though. The canyon heading north from the pass above Stormy Gulch was fantastic. I introduced Whit to glissading and we had a great time hiking and sliding our way down this very scenic, rarely visited, waterfall-filled gulch. We were about an hour late for the last train so we the night at Elk Park.
Small tarn just over the other side of the pass from Stormy Gulch -
Water on the way down to Elk Creek
Whit going for a slide
Grenadiers from Elk Creek
Day 6 - 8: Picked up the train heading into Silverton. The attendant pitied us and gave us an $80 discount on the ticket. That was the first of many blessings in Silverton. It was the weekend of the Hardrock 100 and 4th of July. We managed to get the last available room in town: the Elk Room in the Historic Wyman Inn: wine, cheese, and gourmet breakfast included. Like most guests at the Wyman, I’m sure, we just laid in bed all afternoon drinking wine and watching “Super Troopers”. A wonderful woman staying nearby took time away from helping her sons prepare for the race to sew up my busted pack. We spent 4th of July eating some great BBQ at Thee Pitts Again and watching one of the best firework shows anywhere (you HAVE to see it!); complete with drinking at the brewery listening to a jimmy buffet cover artist.
Our accomadations at the Wyman in Silverton
Fireworks show in Silverton - the echoing off the mountains is wild!
Enjoying a brew . . . and a text
Pati from Silverton, who single-handedly saved our trip.
After one more day of rest Whit felt sufficiently healed to head back out again. We set off for Lake City, preparing for our first 14ers of the trip! Not many peaks on this segment but many more to come.
Check out Segment 2: Silverton to Lake City