Backpacking Weminuche Wilderness, 26 June – 05 July 2015

The photos from this expedition are on my Google+ site here.

We headed out Friday afternoon and drove to Springer, NM, spending the night in the National Guard Armory. Saturday morning we were up and out in good time, drove to nearby Philmont Scout Ranch for breakfast in the dining hall there, and visited the Philmont Museum and Trading Post.

We had planning on driving to Durango via US 64, which cuts through the Ranch, but severe storms there had caused flash flooding, including sweeping away several Scouts camping in Ponil Canyon, and closing US 64. After consulting maps, we headed for Raton, had lunch in Walsenberg, and took US 160 over Wolf Creek Pass to Durango.

In the town of Bayfield outside of Durango, a deer ran out in front of the car in front of us, got hit, and looked to me like the car was totaled. Very sad for all concerned.

That evening we camped at the Forest Service Junction Creek campground. Very nice camp. No showers, but toilets and good water, lots of trees, just beautiful. No cell service for most of us, but there was some Verizon voice.

Sunday morning we got up in a very leisurely fashion, had breakfast, and then took the guys back into Durango for a half day of whitewater rafting, which they loved! While they rafted, I did a grocery run to buy the lunches for the backpacking part of the trip.

Once back in camp, while dinner was being cooked, I laid out the troop gear and food for everyone. It was a heck of a lot of stuff as a pile, but much more manageable for each person. We packed up as much of camp as possible for departure the next morning.

We were taking the Durango and Silverton Railroad up to our trailhead Monday morning. The train departs at 0800, and we got there about 0715. Packs were loaded, the van was parked, and eventually the train headed out. We had bought a bunch of breakfast biscuits at the McD next door to speed the process.

We got to the trailhead in Elk Park a couple minutes late at 1115. Lunch was premade ham and turkey sandwiches next to the tracks, then we headed up Elk Creek Trail.

We had some intel from the train folks that our intended route, up to the Continental Divide Trail, then south over Hunchback Pass, was impassable due to snow. This was annoying, and I started looking at the map on the train ride to come up with an alternative.

We headed up the Elk Creek/Colorado Trail about noon, in beautiful weather. It was pretty steep headed up. We had one boots-off creek crossing in less than a mile. We hiked steadily up until we got to about 10,200 ft, where we found a very nice camp. We had a planning meeting and decided that due to the impassable trail, we would dayhike using our camp as a basecamp.

While we were breakfasting the next morning, Seana talked to a guy who had come down from the pass, who reported the snow up to his armpits, and barely passable with great effort for him.

The next morning, we got up and headed towards the Continental Divide with daypacks. We had decided to go up as far was we could. It was a stunning hike. Several water crossings, both boots on and off. Steadily up.

While we hiked, we passed a guy and his very happy Golden who reported having hiked through the “impassible” area. He said the snow was knee-deep in places, but pre-postholed, so we could make it. This was VERY annoying.

When we got to the top, I walked almost all the way to the Pass, and I think it was quite passable. I talked it over with the rest of the team, and we decided to stick with our basecamping plan. We got back into camp near dark.

The next day we took as the scheduled layover day. Most of the boys dayhiked, and all of us explored the area around camp. We were right between two fields of HUGE boulders.

Thursday we took a hike up to the Vestal Basin area. There wasn’t any trail on the map, but there was a trail up into the basin. This was a steep hike, occasionally 45deg+, and probably the most dangerous hike we had done. As we got to the top of the hike, storms were going on, and lightning, and we walked down in occasional showerlets. The area up there was just stunning.

By the time we were at the bottom again, we had a steady rain and frequent lightning. Since we were rather exposed, we went to 50 ft separation each time we got out into the open.

Friday we packed up and headed back down. We camped in a campground that was about 0.8 miles north of the train pickup. While we were there, we saw several of the D&S trains roll by. One thing that was interesting, we got word that the train tracks were covered with a mudslide from the rain. Apparently several trainload of people were stuck in Silverton and had to be bussed back to Durango. We watched several pieces of heavy equipment, including a train-truck-mounted backhoe, pass by to clean the mud from the tracks. We also had a heavy downpour for over an hour, including a bunch of pea-sided hail, which was probably the same storm that caused the mudslide. I had a first here, I saw a significant rockfall just NE of the camp; a rock half the size of a VW came down, taking a bunch of other stuff with it. It made me look at the bluff to our west somewhat nervously.

Saturday morning we got up and dried everything up, and headed to the 1400 pickup around 1215. The train ride was beautiful but otherwise uneventful. We got into Durango with storm clouds and grey skies around 1715.

Dinner for the evening was pizza. Seven large pizzas, gone in about 10 min flat. Whoa.

While we were eating, a couple of us were watching the weather approach. It was a large, heavy rain shield that extended all the back into Utah. After some discussion of taking our dry tents, putting them up in heavy rain in the dark, and then taking them down tomorrow morning in heavy rain in the dark, we decided to just drive back.

We left Durango in heavy rain at 2000, and showed up in OKC around 0930 the next morning, with no problem.

Things That Worked

Food was pretty good, and fuel was also (we were short on food but recovered, and long on fuel, see below).

I love my tent. The REI Quarter Dome 2 was great from the weight standpoint, stood up to wind, water, and hail, and was plenty roomy.

I was happy with my loading. My dry pack weight was 32 lbs, and food and water kicked it to probably 37. It was easy to handle. My food was nearly empty at the end of the trip, I probably had enough for one more dinner.

The crew worked together well on this trip.

My new hiking clothing was great! I used two mid-sleeve shirts, one pair of convertible Columbia pants, a floppy hat (no sunburned neck or ears), and two pair Wigwam socks. I need to replace the cotton underwear next, and that’ll be that. The shirts and socks got rinsed but dried out very quickly. I was amazed in that I sweated mightily while hiking, but never got a soaked shirt (damp, yes).

Things That Could’ve Worked Better

This was a large group, the largest I’ve had out, at 17 total. There were several areas of better coordination that could have been worked, to include personal gear vs. troop gear. We provided four stoves intending for three teams of four and one team of five, but we ended up with a total of eight or nine stoves (with the attending extra fuel canisters). Same with pots, we provided four, we had nine, I think.

We had one instance where a Scout had neglected to pack his food/troop gear, leaving us with a pretty good hole to fill (his stomach 🙂 ) on the trail. Fortunately, significant overpacking by other Scouts helped alleviate this.

Several of the crew didn’t have basic stuff (a day pack, for example). Several of the guys confused a day pack to be taken on the trail with a bag of non-backpacking stuff to be left in the van.

My 2.5 year old Merrell boots failed. I noticed on Day 3 the sole of my right boot had separated from the upper about a one inch on the left, and about two inches on the right. These had increased to two inches and five by the time we were off the trail. I have a new pair of boots now.

I am of a couple minds about the intel we got on the impassibility of the pass. I think we would have been just fine if we had pressed on in blissful ignorance.

As usual, we could have been a bit more in shape overall. I’m including me in this, I needed to run more before the trip. Remember, Bill.

Summary

We ended up with over 31.2 miles of hiking and backpacking for this trip, with in excess of 4000 ft of altitude gain. The weather was perfect, probably in the 70s for highs and high 40s for lows.

We had a couple teachable moments that went well, and little interpersonal crappiness to deal with.

All in all, this was a wonderful trip. I think that this area is even more beautiful than Pecos or Lost Creek Wildernesses. It is certainly steeper.

I do want to go back and do the loop we had originally planned. One of more week of leave to figure out… 🙂

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