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Sunday, June 29, 2014

Chicago Basin with my Dad

Date:   June 14 - 18, 2014
Mission:  Chill in the Weminuche wilderness with my Dad, and get a summit or two if possible.
Who:  Dad, and me
Total Length:  22 miles
Elevation gain: 6300 ft.

Planning and preparation

"There's no harm in hoping for the best as long as you're prepared for the worst." ~~ Stephen King

My Dad is from the middle of nowhere in Western PA.  He's not exactly accustomed to altitude.  In order to get him acclimated properly, he flew into Denver Thursday 6/12.

We spent the good part of Friday morning getting our gear together and packing.  My friends Joel and Thaxton were kind enough to lend my Dad some key gear (ice ax, helmet, trekking poles, etc.).  This ice ax we would later nickname "Mega-ax" since it is the biggest ice ax I have ever seen.  Mega-ax was probably once stolen from a giant and used to glissade down the beanstalk.  Hell, it was probably even used to chop down the beanstalk too.

We were packing for 3 or 4 nights in the basin.  We took two tents for comfort.  I opted to carry both tents and some of the extra weight to make the backpack into the basin as easy as possible for my 70 year old Dad.  In the end, my pack was 52 lbs, and my Dad's pack was about 36 lbs.

Acclimating on Chief Mountain (elevation 11,706')

Dad and I hiked up Chief Mountain as an acclimation hike on Saturday.  It's a short hike that gains almost 1200 ft. of elevation and rewards you with beautiful views of the front range.  The hike accomplished the main goal of getting us to an elevation slightly higher than we would be camping at in a couple days in Chicago Basin.

Dad and I on the summit of Chief Mountain (elevation 11,706')

On the way down Chief mountain, I pointed out some clouds to my Dad and said, "That'll be rain in about 2 hours or so.".  About two hours later driving home through the Arvada area, we were dodging thunderstorms, rain, and hail.  This is a prime example of how mountaineers need to be amateur meteorologists, particularly when spending a large amount of time above the tree line. 

Getting into camp in Chicago Basin

"We rode for 6 hours then we hit the spot..."  ~~ Beastie Boys

Jump ahead to Sunday, which was fittingly enough Father's Day.  After several hours of driving, Dad and I find ourselves eating some of the best damn burgers I've ever eaten at Steamworks Brewing Company.  Dad had a couple glasses of scotch and I had a few IPAs.  We were now 100% ready for this train ride from Durango to Needleton the following morning.

We caught the 8-something am train out of Durango and we were both excited to get out into the wilderness.  The train has small cramped seats, and while annoyingly packed with tourists, it does offer some decent views of the Animas river.

The Durango/Silverton train crossing the Animas river.

When the train drops you off in Needleton, two things are very apparent. 

1.  This place is special, and even with a small group of backpackers also getting off the train, you can feel the solitude as the departing train's sounds dissipates into the forest. 

2.  Tourists that remain on the train heading to Silverton think you are crazy.  I had one lady from Texas wish me luck in not getting eaten by a bear.  Many of them are photographing you like you are a circus sideshow and treating you like you are a side of beef in a tiger cage.  This reminds me of a song...

What do tigers dream of, when they take a little tiger snooze.
Do they dream of mauling zebras, or Halle Berry in her catwoman suit.
Don't you worry your pretty stripped head
 we're gonna get you back to Tyson and your cozy tiger bed.
And they we're gonna find our best-friend Doug and then we're gonna give him a best-friend hug.
Doug, Doug, Oh, Doug Douggie Douggie Doug Doug.
But if he's been murdered by crystal meth tweekers, well then we're shit out of luck.

We began the 7 mile hike into camp at 11:30am.  It was a gorgeous day, with very little chance of rain.  The heavy packs wore on us, but the grind was made bearable by the ever improving views.

Me with my 50 lbs of gear.

Dad chilling while we were taking a break about 2.8 miles in at a waterfall.
Dad taking in the views as the forest starts opening up a bit.
Looking back near the beginning of Chicago Basin.

Along the trail we met up with some forest service folks with whom we would end up crossing paths with many times in the next 3 days.  They were all great people.  This is something I would consider doing when I finally get out of the prison sentence known as my IT job.

The 7 mile hike in was a grind, but we eventually reached the far end of Chicago Basin and setup camp at about 11,200 ft. in a spot with views of Windom Peak. 

Dad's tent, with Windom Peak (top right).

My tent, and no, the fallen tree is not above my tent, it just looks that way.

It was 6:30pm and after we filtered some water, I began to make us some dinner of Mac-N-Cheese.  When dumping the boiling water into the bag of dehydrated noodles, the bag tipped over and spilled.  Since this spilled some of our noodles too, after the cleanup and our second attempt, our dinner was no longer Mac-n-Cheese to "Yellow water with a few noodles in it."

We ate it all anyway, and had some trail mix and a Hammer bar too.

It was already getting dark, so we called it an early night and set the alarms for 3:30am, so we could be on the trail by 4am.

Windom Peak Attempt

"Because it's there." ~~ George Mallory

After a slow to rise start, and a minor trail/map confusion which shaved 20 minutes of time, we were on the trail at 4:30am headed for Windom Peak.  We had decided on Windom over Mt. Eolus since we figured we'd both need a rest day before taking on Eolus.

Early morning light.

At the tree line at about 11,500 ft. 

It was downright cold in the early morning.  The shaded trail and the winds did not help.  The trail up to Twin Lakes at 12,500' crosses a few streams.  The cold made these stream crossings which is normally just a rock hopping adventure into a treacherous ordeal since each of the rocks you would normally hop to and from was covered in a layer of ice.  At one stream we had to step onto the one dry boulder, that I put into the water and basically pole vault over the rest of the stream/rocks using our trekking poles.  It was fun, and we both made it just fine, but it definitely got the adrenaline going.

Mountain goats were everywhere in the upper part of Chicago Basin.  They could be a little of a nuisance around camp, but on the trail, they make for good photos.

Hi goat, I like you.  Say "Hi" to your mother for me.

Dad navigating some trail, some talus that we would see a lot more of.

Upon reaching twin lakes, which were still mostly frozen, the wind was fierce.  It was probably sustained at 15-25mph with gusts around 35mph.  We ran into three others who we'd seen earlier in the morning.  They had decided to turn back from an Eolus attempt due to wind and cold. 

Dad and I however decided to press on.  We hunkered down behind a rock as a bit of a wind break and ate some food in preparation for our summit attempt.

Dad fueling up at our wind break spot at 12,500' with Twin Lakes in the background.

Dad looking like he's ready for a old west gun battle.  :)

We began hiking above Twin Lakes, where there was more snow fields and more talus.

Dad and Mega-Ax at about 12,700' with a picturesque background.
Dad crossing a snowfield above Twin Lakes.
Views above Twin Lakes on the trail towards Windom Peak.  Estimated 12,800'.
When we reached the upper basin at 13,000' I could tell the multiple days of strenuous hiking were beginning to wear on Dad.  In the past three days, we had hiked up about 6000 ft. in elevation, much of it carrying a heavy pack.  We took a break and eyeballed the rest of the route which had a fair amount of snow on it, including a snow covered steep ramp that has proven deadly in summer conditions when just wet. 

Dad and I did not have crampons with us, but were already wearing microspikes for traction. This slope looked like crampons might be necessary.  We agreed to hike up further to get a better assessment.

Navigating some tough talus

I hiked ahead of Dad a little bit and got to the snow field in question.  It was not only steep, but the snow was soft as well.  I took several steps and post-holed up to my hip with each step.  I yelled back to Dad the conditions and we agreed that the combination of conditions and Dad's physical exhaustion were not a good combination for continuing on.  So we made the call to turn around at about 13,150'.

From just below the spot I decided to turn around.  About 13,100'

The descent

"Getting to the top is optional, but getting down is mandatory." ~~ Ed Viesturs

On the beginning of the descent, after getting off the talus section we were on, we began crossing a relatively steep snowfield.  It was not steep enough that I felt the need to get my ice ax off my pack, and I went with just poles. 

Dad's microspikes were brand new.  Mine on the other hand are worn down to nubs from a few seasons of hiking.  This became very apparent when my 5th or 6th step across this snowfield sent me sliding. 

I instinctively tried to self-arrest and dug my nubs into the snow and jammed one of my trekking poles into the snow.  SNAP!

The aluminum trekking pole broke like a twig.  I jammed the broken piece into the snow and fortunately came to a stop.  I had only slid about 10 - 12 ft. but I immediately got my ice ax off my pack and handed Dad Mega-ax. 

Me with the always stunning San Juans in the background.

Dad taking it all in. 

One of the several snowfields we crossed.

The beauty of a mountain is often not revealed to me until the descent.  On the way up, I am often focused on the goal of getting to the summit, beating afternoon thunderstorms, route finding, etc.  The descent allows me time to stop and smell the flowers so to speak. 

Views of Chicago Basin.

Myself and my Dad in front of one of the many waterfalls in this area.  Thanks for the photo US Forest Service.

Dad hiking back down into Chicago Basin.

Waterfalls were everywhere.  There were enough of them that it was in surround sound.

Goats were everywhere.  This one was stalking my Dad.

Dad resting.  Goat stalking.

Dammit, they're working in groups now!

Dad and I had a blast on our Windom attempt, regardless of the fact that we came up short of the summit.  We shared conversations, jokes, and learned a few things about each other.  One of the many things I learned is that my Dad is one tough son-of-a-bitch.  If I'm able to hike like he does at age 70, it'll be a miracle.

Back at camp, we ate some chicken fajitas and made a para-cord & duct tape repair to my broken trekking pole.  We had decided that with snow conditions, another summit bid was not in our forecast for this trip.  We planned to hike out and catch the train the following morning.

Duct tape and para-cord should be must haves in every backpack.

Let's go catch a train!

"Looking at beauty in the world, is the first step of purifying the mind.” ~~ Amit Ray

Day 3 brought us a relaxing hike out of the basin, with good conversation.  I stopped along the way to take pictures of the many wildflowers in the area in attempt to capture the beauty of this place. 

Enjoy.  The beauty of this place is best described in pictures and not words.

Good Morning Day 3!

Good Morning Sun!



Tequila Sunrise Columbines.
Tequila Sunrise Columbines.


Wild Geranium.

Colorado Columbine.
Wild roses.
This place rocks!  No pun intended.

Waiting on the train, and ready for a beer.

On the day we were hiking out, when we reached the trail-head wilderness registry, a blur of a dude went running by.  He passed us like we were standing still.  I would later find out that this was Andrew Hamilton.  He had just hiked all four of the 14ers in Chicago Basin and was at the beginning of an attempt to break the fastest time to climb all the 14ers, which is about ten days.  Andrew would end up abandoning his attempt after about 48 or 49 of them due to a serious leg injury.  It was sort of cool to have a brush with this person who can accomplish super-human things like summiting 48 or 49 mountains in just 9 days, even if he is from another planet.  Congrats Andrew on an amazing feat!

Equally amazing in my eyes is a flatlander who's approaching 71 years of age hiking 22 miles and 6300 ft. in 4 days.  I love you Dad.  Thank you for joining me on this adventure.

Our ride back to Durango.

1 comment:

  1. Great writeup and spectacular pictures. Couldn't have asked for a better mountaineering guild, Sherpa, and camping friend. (Well, we could have used a better cook - the yellow water with floating noodles was almost as bad as Rita's campfire pizza.)

    Seriously, the trip was wonderful and the memories are ones I will cherish forever.

    Proud to be your Dad