Monday, June 24, 2013

From Weminuche

From Weminuche:
Dates: p.m. 6/21-6/24
Section: 104m
VL Mileage: 1330.5m

Instead of walking into Molas Pass I hiked down the resort because of the West Fork Fire Complex and CDT closures. In Durango, I managed to plan a route by trail through the Weminuche Wilderness. After a surprisingly easy 3 car hitch from Durango back up to the ski resort, I lazily loped down the Purgatory Flats trail in the twilight of the first day of summer. For the first time in over a month I had prime singletrack trail to trod on. I felt the giddy with energy; my legs, my heart, my back all wanted to move swiftly. I hiked a 11m until I found a camp spot right along the shores of the Animas River.

The morning came quickly, for I think my body still felt the excitement from walking on trail. Up Needle Creek I went and entered the Chicago Basin. Spires of silver granite pointed straight up into the blue sky, bright green painted the basin foliage, and white shaggy fur clung to the mountain goats. I sat on a speckled rock and gazed at the lofty peaks all around me, an amphitheater of rock. A goat came out of the alpine buckbrush and flanked around me only to backtrack towards me. His abstract face stared blankly at me from about 20ft. He broadened his shoulders and inched closer to me. He walked like a gorilla with his sturdy and stout chest bulging with muscles through his white coat. He bullied me off my rock and I moved on. I looked back quickly only to see him paw at the ground to lick my urine off the ground.

The trail wended through the alpine meadows among dwarfed pines. Rivulets of cold cold water fingered its way down gullies. The peaks loomed over top of me, almost making me fall backwards head under heels, as I stared upwards. Another 30 or so mountain goats pranced and nibbled in the meadows. Soon, I made treeline and switchbacked up and over Columbine Pass, at around 12,600ft. On the other side, a teal blue, mirror-faced tarn tainted a stark contrast to the mangled, sharp rock surrounding it.

I didn't waste no time that day. The sky was crystal clear, the day warm, and the trail inviting. I made my way steeply down Johnson Creek drainage until its confluence with Vallecitos Creek. The wide valley held a crystalline water channel in its cradle below massive peaks. River rock, round and polished, tinted in earth shades, gleamed through the clean, pure water.

I went up valley 6m or so until my intersection with the Rock Creek trail, which had a copper hued water, the river rock stained bronze. I gaped at this sudden change in water color for about 15 minutes. I looked all around me, up to the mountain heights, as saw no red. Where did this come from? I am always befuddled by the wonders of the deep heart of the mountains.

And that is where I was at. Up the Rock Creek drainage along gentle switchbacks, I attained a large meadow with the creek channel lined with willows. Signs of moose were imprinted on trail and I kept my eye out. The trail topped out at a broad saddle near the Continental Divide, about 12,000ft. The CDT was only a short 1/4m away. I took a break up there and marveled at the billowing cloud of towering wildfire smoke to the east. Despite this stunning view I kept looking at the Divide and recalling last year's hike. I stood up there and saw my first true glance of the San Juan Mountains, from the inside out. I will never forget how powerful yet meek those jagged and violent looking mountains made me feel. 

I heard a noise. Not more than 3ft from me a marmot sniffed the air at me. I stood up to get ready to leave and he nosed on in. At my feet, he licked my urine from a rock, his tongue sounding raspy like a cat's tongue, like sandpaper. I thought: 'Maybe I should taste my urine if everything else is liking it.'

Needless to say, I didn't and leapt back onto trail and headed down Flint Creek. Before I knew it I had walked 35m before 7pm. I found a bluff to set camp on and nestled up in my sleeping bag with daylight out, a first in a couple months. I watched the refulgent last sun rays of the day dazzle off the granite cliffs. Lights of gold and red reflected a soothing ambience. I soon fell asleep but was startled awake by the moonshine. The almost full moon was as bright as the sun! Orange and red, the moon seemed to be right in front of my face. Its light drowned out the stars and constellations; that night the moon held all the glory and stories.

Another cool morning woke me up. I quickly broke camp and soon enough I hit the Los Pinos River. Huge smoothed-out boulders littered the river, most of the aspen laid bare, defoliated from the tent caterpillar. A couple of miles later I crossed the river at a beaver dam and went up the Sierra Vandera drainage. Sign of elk, deer and moose imprinted the trail, no sign of people at all. The drainage was spectacular, though the spruce and firs were infested with the mountain pine bark beetle, causing for a red and green spectrum in color. Trail was non-existent at times but after navigating the Hayduke Trail, this was nothing.

I attained the bald crest, just a tad east of Flag Mountain. I ran into a herd of 80 or so elk. They were grunting and dancing in juvenile displays of machisimo. The young calves chirped and cried out for their mothers. They raced away when they noticed me. I sat down for lunch and watched the towering fire clouds off in the distance. I felt bad for the people of Colorado who have to go through the infernos again. I felt bad for the CDT hikers who had to make detours or, even worse, skip. But they sure could take a route similar to mine to avoid the fire closures and danger.

A long descent from the crest and I was back in defoliated aspen. I laid in the shade along side the dirt road. A forest ranger happened on by and he helped me in deciding a route to take into Pagosa Springs. I felt a bit refreshed in his assistance. I must admit, I have been a tad surly lately at our government agencies in how the regulate and manage our land. But this ranger, Anthony Garcia, really related with me and offered genuine assistance and knowledge. We spoke of how the insects are taking over the forests. We spoke of campfires and how we don't really need them, especially in areas with beetle stricken trees. We spoke of just enjoying the silence and solitude of the mountains, wilderness.

Off I went down Sand Creek! Jumping over logs, hopping over rock slides, for this drainage had burned last year. I navigated a scant trail and I found it amazing that a year after a fire how everything can become so green again. Life will re-build through the barest of times, through the most charred times, and show resiliency. I had camp on a lush meadow sitting on a high bluff overlooking the Piedras River.

The moon, back at it again, shone brighter than I think I have ever seen a moon shine. I was amazed and laid on my back, staring up, most of the night. The grand-scape of the scene was enormous, and I just a speck, a spectator of a great show.

Along the Piedras River I hiked the next morning, swiftly making miles. I hit the graded, dirt road and by 1pm I was in the outskirts of Pagosa Springs. I walked into town along the highway. I just couldn't believe how loud the vehicles were. Such a drastic change from the silence of wilderness, this hustle and bustle...