Chicago Basin to Silverton
From Base Camp in Chicago Basin
Sunday July 17, 2011
On Saturday I had called my wife Maggie from the summit of Mt Eolus on my cell phone and although the connection wasn’t great I’d conveyed the message that we wanted to be picked-up in Silverton vs waiting for hours for the train back to Durango on Sunday. Our quest had begun on Thursday 07/14; my hiking buddy Bob and I having taken the train from Durango to Needleton and packing-in the 6+ miles to reach Chicago Basin and setting-up a fine base camp. On Friday 07/15 we had reached the summits of both Sunlight and Windom Peaks. On Saturday we accomplished the same on Mt Eolus and North Eolus Peak. Thus, after three full days of packing/hiking/climbing we got back to our base camp in Chicago Basin at 2:06PM completely exhausted.
We then got ourselves comfortable and settled-in for a relaxing afternoon. I’d blown-out the front sole of my left boot while kick-stepping the snows of Mt Eolus and it was flapping pretty good by the time we got back to camp. Luckily Bob had some duct tape and I made the necessary repairs before turning-in to the tent for a siesta. Arising around 5:00PM we prepared a good dinner of freeze-dried food and poked-around camp before retiring for the night at 7:10 with a calm breeze and increasing clouds rolling-in from the southwest.
Around 4:45AM we heard our first sprinkles of rain on the tent roof and I was glad to be warm and dry in my sleeping bag. Sleeping on the ground is one of my least favorite things and the last three nights were anything but restful but I was more than willing to stay put on this morning with weather upon us. Brief showers continued as the skies were lightening by the minute and with nature calling and hunger becoming a factor we arose at 7:15 to clearing skies. Between the nap/siesta the afternoon before and spending a full 12 hours overnight we chuckled as Bob mentioned that he hadn’t laid-down that much since he was a baby; funny.
Things were a bit damp but the showers had subsided and our near perfect weather over the last few days was with us once again. We prepared our normal fare of instant oatmeal, black coffee and Gatorade and then began the process of breaking camp. We’d placed our backpacks under some pine bows and everything was dry; working as a team we soon had the tent down and our packs ready. After pumping some more water from
Needle Creek we were on our way back down the trail for Needleton at 8:04 with bright skies and things a bit humid.
We saw fresh footprints along the soft trail and we skirted the puddles as best we could as we left the basin and were soon back down through the heavy forest with the creek running hard on our left. My boot repairs from the evening before seemed to be holding-up fine and Bob was sporting his running shoes as blackened toenails on both feet made wearing his boots very uncomfortable. After about an hour on the trail we met-up with a guy heading up and asked how many people he’d seen on the trail thus far. He stated two others; a young guy and a gal about a mile ahead of us. Bob and I figured this to be Eric and Whitney the young couple we’d met every day while climbing the four 14’ers.
Since it had taken us a little over three hours to pack-in we figured it would take less packing-out and our progress was good as going downhill and the thought of actually sleeping in a real bed tonight spurred us on as we only paused briefly two times for rest and water. Rising, bright sunshine was drying things out rapidly and the trek was going well and uneventfully as we reached a point where the trail nearly touches the creek and knew this to be well more than half way back to Needleton.
We paused for a short break to take in some food and drink and discussed whether there might be an earlier train that we could catch. Just the thought of there possibly being another train seemed to spur us on as we made good time down through the heavy forest and before long back to where we had signed-in at the trail registry three days earlier. After signing-out we then proceeded down the trail right along the Animas River, here we started seeing structures and a few people hiking the opposite way obviously on a day hike. We covered the .8 miles back to the Needleton bridge in about 20 mins. and found Eric and Whitney resting quietly just off the path leading to the bridge. Again we exchanged pleasantries as we had the last two days and Bob and I then made our way across the bridge and over to the railroad tracks that would carry us to Silverton. The time was 10:52AM when we reached the tracks, removed our packs and settled-in for a good rest with plenty of others also there waiting for the train.
Most of the people we met were from rafting/kayaking groups and from what I could tell Eric, Whitney, Bob and myself were the only ones that had packed-out from Chicago Basin. I removed my hiking boots and was soon into my flip-flop sandals for the duration of this day; the duct tape did the trick and although the boots were in need of a cobbler they functioned perfectly well for this last trek. More and more people were gathering with lots of gear from what seemed like out of no where; people with kids, people with coolers, large watertight bags, cooking equipment, etc, etc. Before long a train whistle could be heard well down the tracks from the south, everybody took heed and peoples movements quickened with the anticipation.
Looking south down the tracks was a long straight-away and the train was now coming-on fast with its coal/steam cloud, bright light and shrill whistle. It only took a few more moments before it was upon us and it was clear that this train would not be stopping as it didn’t slow at all and then chugged right by at 11:15 or so. Everybody again settled-into a waiting mode and found the most comfortable ways to relax; anywhere from laying down on your pack (my method) or simply laying on the ground or standing while conversing with others (Bobs method).
The weather was perfect as the sun had dried things out and I think I actually dosed-off for a short while as more and more people gathered awaiting the train. Before too long another whistle was heard again from the south and coming-on fast. People started really scrambling at this point with Eric & Whitney also there and rafters with labeled dry bags piling-up along the east side of the tracks. I’d say there had to be a good thirty people now waiting with their highly varied cargo and all eyes were on the quickly approaching train. Bob earned a $20 bill by tending to some rafters bags where all that was needed was to drop the bags in a heap near the Silverton train depot and they’d pick them up later.
It was 11:47 on the nose when the train came to a screeching halt directly before us.
Although the crowd was large all persons took-on a wait your turn approach and the conductor performed admirably with all the cargo being loaded into a box car and occupants finding their respective places on the passenger cars.
All told at took only about 10 mins to get everything settled and we were on our way to Silverton right along the Animas River with its awesome views and crystal clear, rushing waters. I spoke with several people and all had stories of either rafting and/or fishing with there sights on getting back to civilization after having spent a few days in this beautiful back country area.
The passage was much the same as the ride in from Durango with great views, friendly people and the avoidance of getting a coal cinder in your eye for your “rubber-neck” efforts to get the very best view possible.
Bob and I went to the concession car and each ordered a beer then sat back to relax for the duration of the much briefer ride to Silverton. We passed through heavily forested areas before breaking into the open with the outskirts of Silverton now in sight and people now eager to disembark. Silverton was quite a bit bigger than I thought it would be and the last ½ mile had me thinking of what a cool journey/experience I’d had in the wilderness that is the Chicago Basin. It was almost exactly one hour from when we got picked-up in Needlton as the train adheres to a very regimented and tight schedule; no exceptions.
Maggie and a good friend Terri met us as the train rolled into town and came to rest at the depot.
People were all around the train; disembarking, grabbing baggage, greeting others and some were just sight seers taking pictures of the vintage mode of transport.
Bob and I gathered our packs and Maggie and Terri helped us then grabbed the rafters bags and place them as instructed right on an open spot on the depot platform. Bob and I then posed for our last picture in front of old 480 right at the proverbial “end-of-the-line”.
We introduced Eric & Whitney as our everyday companions and bid our adieus as they both live in Silverton and we proceeded to Mother Kluckers a local saloon and enjoyed a nice lunch with friends before driving back to our friends Tom & Terri in Durango for a quick shower and then the 6 ½ -7 hour drive back to Louisville.
The last of my 14'ers mission now complete and time with good friends; made for lasting memories........Sweet!