Peak(s):  Rio Grande Pyramid  -  13,821 feet
Date Posted:  06/12/2013
Modified:  06/16/2013
Date Climbed:   06/29/2011
Author:  jonesdcu

 Durango to Long's Peak - Segment 1  

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

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

Looking forward to the next chapters
06/13/2013 12:20
This looks like an amazing trip. My hat is off to you for recognizing that you needed change in your life and acting on it in a dramatically adventurous manner.

Bill Morrison

Great starter report
06/13/2013 13:34
You're right about the fireworks in Silverton. They have to be seen to be believed. Unfortunately, I believe that the brewery has now closed.


Looking forward to more
06/13/2013 14:18
This has the makings of a once-in-a-lifetime adventure! Can't wait to see part 2+


06/13/2013 14:52
Congrats on an incredible experience that many are (and should be) jealous of. Looking forward to seeing the next chapters and hoping that your taste in movies improves during the journey. Super Troopers is on its own level of terrible.


Two things
06/13/2013 15:03
1) I don't have many regrets in life, but I wish I had taken a trip like this before I established my career, got married, and had kids. Because it sure isn't happening anytime soon.

2) I can't wait for the rest of the chapters of this story.


Ditto on looking foward
06/13/2013 16:37
to more chapters. This is what Colorado is all about in a nutshell. You already have my attention with these basins you visited.

Don't listen to Floyd re: Super Troopers, he's one of those ”all highway” types.


a good example...
06/13/2013 16:44
...of the right way to live life.

To realize you're dissatisfied and decide to make a change is one thing, but to remedy the situation with a trip like this is something you can look back on for the rest of your life and feel good about.

Great read so far... like everyone else, I'm looking forward to hearing the rest of your story.


06/13/2013 18:35
Thanks for the feedback everyone. Whit and I had talked about doing a long hike for years and we doubted there would be a better time to do it than during a ”transition” like this. And I really hope it isn't a ”once in a lifetime” opportunity. I already have a peakbagging version of the PCT in the works!

Bill, sad to hear about the brewery in Silverton. Their IPA was fantastic. I'm glad we got in while we could.

I'm looking forward to posting the next segment as much as you are looking forward to reading it. Oh, and Floyd I agree about Super Troopers - it's on it's own level of terrible for sure--a level that is not terrible at all and actually fantastic! That's what you meant, right ?

Ridge runner

06/14/2013 03:21
Good call on getting out of Hoboken. I was near there for a summer internship and decided that part of the east coast wasn't for me.

Looks like a solid adventure so far and, like the others, I'm anxious to read about the rest. Stormy Gulch looks pretty spectacular, especially the picture with the small tarn.

Craig Cook

06/14/2013 05:42
Not much else needs to be said. I can't wait to read about the rest of your journey.


06/14/2013 14:47
Ready for the next installment!!!


I'm working on it
06/14/2013 15:45
I'll post the next one on Sunday . . . too busy climbing peaks this weekend! (Ryan Peak in Custer County, ID if anyone is interested).


Can't hardly wait
06/14/2013 16:02
for the rest. But I'll probably do like I do with tv shows: just wait for all the episodes and THEN read them all at once. The waiting is the hardest part.

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