Vallecito TH or Purgatory TH for Chicago Basin?

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mpz220
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Vallecito TH or Purgatory TH for Chicago Basin?

Post by mpz220 » Thu Apr 15, 2021 9:48 am

I am planning to hike into Chicago Basin, but can't decide if I want to start from Vallecito TH or Purgatory TH.

Has anyone done both and can assist me with making this decision?

I am a strong hiker and do not mind distance/elevation. My number 1 priority is the scenery. I will be exploring the wildnerness for 4-5 days.

Thanks in advance!
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Re: Vallecito TH or Purgatory TH for Chicago Basin?

Post by HikerGuy » Thu Apr 15, 2021 10:09 am

I have not done the Vallecito approach, but I have done the Purgatory approach three times and the walk along the Animas River is fantastic IMHO. You have the rushing river, passing trains, and distant peaks. It really is a combined sensory experience. Pigeon and Turret look so impressive as you make your way up river. I find it exciting when you hear the chug, chug of the train get louder and then it rolls by and you wave at the passengers. The smell of the coal smoke lingers for bit and then wafts away. The sounds of the river and smells of the pine trees is delightful. I'll never ride the train as I enjoy the approach so much. Yes, the hike back up from Purgatory Flats sucks, but sometimes you have to work for a good experience.
Last edited by HikerGuy on Thu Apr 15, 2021 10:13 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Vallecito TH or Purgatory TH for Chicago Basin?

Post by Jim Davies » Thu Apr 15, 2021 10:11 am

I've been to Chicago Basin twice, once via the Elk Creek-Hunchback Pass-Vallecito Creek-Columbine Pass loop, the other from Purgatory. The first route joins up with the Vallecito Reservoir trail about halfway, maybe (at Johnson Creek), and from there it's quite scenic - Columbine Lake and the pass are pretty, and dropping into Chicago Basin from that side is awesome (and you can side-trip to Jupiter Mountain somewhere along the way before you drop down, I believe). It's also less busy until you get to the upper basin. But the Purgatory route is also pretty great - Cascade Creek is an exciting rushing torrent with good views, and you're hiking along a ledge high above the creek for a while. Hiking along the river is also pretty, and I'd much rather SEE the train than RIDE ON the train. There are good intermediate campsites along both routes - we camped partway up Johnson Creek before crossing the pass on the first trip, and on the second we camped along the river on the way out, which was nice and peaceful, and somewhat minimized the pain of hiking uphill for the last four miles.
Climbing at altitude is like hitting your head against a brick wall — it's great when you stop. -- Chris Darwin
I'm pretty tired. I think I'll go home now. -- Forrest Gump
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Re: Vallecito TH or Purgatory TH for Chicago Basin?

Post by mpz220 » Thu Apr 15, 2021 10:29 am

HikerGuy wrote:
Thu Apr 15, 2021 10:09 am
I have not done the Vallecito approach, but I have done the Purgatory approach three times and the walk along the Animas River is fantastic IMHO. You have the rushing river, passing trains, and distant peaks. It really is a combined sensory experience. Pigeon and Turret look so impressive as you make your way up river. I find it exciting when you hear the chug, chug of the train get louder and then it rolls by and you wave at the passengers. The smell of the coal smoke lingers for bit and then wafts away. The sounds of the river and smells of the pine trees is delightful. I'll never ride the train as I enjoy the approach so much. Yes, the hike back up from Purgatory Flats sucks, but sometimes you have to work for a good experience.
Thank you for your insight! I really appreciate it.
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Re: Vallecito TH or Purgatory TH for Chicago Basin?

Post by mpz220 » Thu Apr 15, 2021 10:32 am

Jim Davies wrote:
Thu Apr 15, 2021 10:11 am
I've been to Chicago Basin twice, once via the Elk Creek-Hunchback Pass-Vallecito Creek-Columbine Pass loop, the other from Purgatory. The first route joins up with the Vallecito Reservoir trail about halfway, maybe (at Johnson Creek), and from there it's quite scenic - Columbine Lake and the pass are pretty, and dropping into Chicago Basin from that side is awesome (and you can side-trip to Jupiter Mountain somewhere along the way before you drop down, I believe). It's also less busy until you get to the upper basin. But the Purgatory route is also pretty great - Cascade Creek is an exciting rushing torrent with good views, and you're hiking along a ledge high above the creek for a while. Hiking along the river is also pretty, and I'd much rather SEE the train than RIDE ON the train. There are good intermediate campsites along both routes - we camped partway up Johnson Creek before crossing the pass on the first trip, and on the second we camped along the river on the way out, which was nice and peaceful, and somewhat minimized the pain of hiking uphill for the last four miles.
Thank you so much, Jim.

This will be my first time to the area, so forgive me for my lack of knowledge about trailheads.

The Elk Creek-Hunchback Pass-Vallecito Creek-Columbine Pass loop - Can this be done without using the train? What is the distance and where would I park?
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Re: Vallecito TH or Purgatory TH for Chicago Basin?

Post by WildWanderer » Thu Apr 15, 2021 10:38 am

What time of year? The Vallecito approach includes a river crossing that can be high/dangerous earlier in the season.
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Re: Vallecito TH or Purgatory TH for Chicago Basin?

Post by mpz220 » Thu Apr 15, 2021 10:41 am

WildWanderer wrote:
Thu Apr 15, 2021 10:38 am
What time of year? The Vallecito approach includes a river crossing that can be high/dangerous earlier in the season.
It will be in the second half of July.
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Re: Vallecito TH or Purgatory TH for Chicago Basin?

Post by WildWanderer » Thu Apr 15, 2021 10:50 am

mpz220 wrote:
Thu Apr 15, 2021 10:41 am
WildWanderer wrote:
Thu Apr 15, 2021 10:38 am
What time of year? The Vallecito approach includes a river crossing that can be high/dangerous earlier in the season.
It will be in the second half of July.
The water level will still be high, so if you take this approach know how to safely cross a river: there are also a lot of deep pockets of water that are easy to miss and fall into at the crossing area. That being said, I enjoyed this approach, and the lakes were a nice bonus, as well as not having the extra 1500' of elevation gain at the end of the hike.
It's a mountain: get over it.
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Re: Vallecito TH or Purgatory TH for Chicago Basin?

Post by Jim Davies » Thu Apr 15, 2021 10:54 am

mpz220 wrote:
Thu Apr 15, 2021 10:32 am
The Elk Creek-Hunchback Pass-Vallecito Creek-Columbine Pass loop - Can this be done without using the train? What is the distance and where would I park?
No, we used the train both ways - dropped off at Elk Park, picked up at Needleton. It's possible to reach Elk Park without the train by hiking in from Molas Pass (I think it's four miles? Six maybe?), but the loop itself is around 40 miles. I did it as part of a scout trip when our son was in scouts, and many in our group weren't up for side trips (like Jupiter). My wife and I and our two teenage kids were the only ones who were willing to get up and climb Eolus after our second night camping in the basin - there were eight others in the group that preferred to sleep in after climbing Windom the first day and then getting about two inches of rain overnight. :mrgreen:
Climbing at altitude is like hitting your head against a brick wall — it's great when you stop. -- Chris Darwin
I'm pretty tired. I think I'll go home now. -- Forrest Gump
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Re: Vallecito TH or Purgatory TH for Chicago Basin?

Post by mpz220 » Thu Apr 15, 2021 11:03 am

WildWanderer wrote:
Thu Apr 15, 2021 10:50 am
mpz220 wrote:
Thu Apr 15, 2021 10:41 am
WildWanderer wrote:
Thu Apr 15, 2021 10:38 am
What time of year? The Vallecito approach includes a river crossing that can be high/dangerous earlier in the season.
It will be in the second half of July.
The water level will still be high, so if you take this approach know how to safely cross a river: there are also a lot of deep pockets of water that are easy to miss and fall into at the crossing area. That being said, I enjoyed this approach, and the lakes were a nice bonus, as well as not having the extra 1500' of elevation gain at the end of the hike.
This is the exact kind of detail I was hoping to get here. Thank you so much.
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Re: Vallecito TH or Purgatory TH for Chicago Basin?

Post by Ptglhs » Thu Apr 15, 2021 11:03 am

Vallecito TH will be busier than Purgatory, but after a few miles the trail should be less busy. The train dropping people off can make the 6 miles and 3k of gain into the basin a bit crowded (for the back country). I'd opt for the Vallecito approach, so long as you don't mind the creek crossings. I don't have any romanticism about trains. Purgatory flats has great crossings over the river, and decent cell service west if the animas.

I will agree with what another poster said that coming up over Columbine pass get you some pretty impressive views of the area. Vallecito is more up and down, (about 2k more feet of gain) but probably worth it.

Tldr: Vallecito is harder but the prettier option
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Re: Vallecito TH or Purgatory TH for Chicago Basin?

Post by mpz220 » Thu Apr 15, 2021 11:05 am

Jim Davies wrote:
Thu Apr 15, 2021 10:54 am
mpz220 wrote:
Thu Apr 15, 2021 10:32 am
The Elk Creek-Hunchback Pass-Vallecito Creek-Columbine Pass loop - Can this be done without using the train? What is the distance and where would I park?
No, we used the train both ways - dropped off at Elk Park, picked up at Needleton. It's possible to reach Elk Park without the train by hiking in from Molas Pass (I think it's four miles? Six maybe?), but the loop itself is around 40 miles. I did it as part of a scout trip when our son was in scouts, and many in our group weren't up for side trips (like Jupiter). My wife and I and our two teenage kids were the only ones who were willing to get up and climb Eolus after our second night camping in the basin - there were eight others in the group that preferred to sleep in after climbing Windom the first day and then getting about two inches of rain overnight. :mrgreen:
I see. I was initially planning to do this route, but the train told me they are not currently accommodating backpackers due to COVID restrictions.

Trying to be like you when I'm a dad haha
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