Tuesday, September 08, 2009

San Juans Peakbagging, Day 1

Dave Goldstein wanted to bag the four high 13'ers in the Weminuche Wilderness that he hadn't already ticked, and I'd never climbed any of these remote mountains in southwestern Colorado, so we laid plans for a five-day trip that would take in all four peaks by traversing some high, trail-less passes. In the end, we only got three of the four peaks, in two and a half days, but the experience was unforgettable.

Although you can walk to the isolated outpost of Needleton, where our approach began, most backpackers take the Durango & Silverton Railroad. For $89 round-trip (including a $10 charge for loading your pack into a boxcar), you can ride the historic narrow-gauge train for an hour instead of walking an eight-mile trail. No brainer.

All of the other hikers on the train were headed to Chicago Basin, the high camp for three Colorado 14'ers. Dave and I turned in the opposite direction. After about a quarter-mile of pleasant walking, we started clambering more or less straight uphill, with only an intermittent scrape of a trail to follow. The train had dropped us off just before 4 p.m., so we had only about three hours before dark to climb 3,500 vertical feet to the foot of Pigeon Mountain (13,972 feet). Fortunately, we did not get lost, and by evening we were pitching our little tent at the base of the west face. We dove into the tent early—the next day was going to be huge.

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