Day 4: Columbine Pass

Grizzly Creek to Needleton
(15 miles, +3,500/-5,000 feet).

Today was our biggest day yet and we needed to be done by 3pm when we expected the train to arrive in Needleton.

And just to make things a little more exciting, the weather forecast called for several inches of snow and 50 mile an hour winds this evening.  Although we both had appropriate gear for bad weather if we missed the train, neither of us were keen to experience it if we could avoid it.

Fifteen miles in nine hours.  No problem right?  Normally I would say yes, but a big challenge loomed before us.  We had to climb two thirds of a mile straight up to Columbine Pass at 12,684 feet and then climb down nearly a mile to the Animas.

Three days of acclimation certainly helps, but would it be enough?

We awoke to an alarm set for 6am, skipped breakfast, packed up, and started walking with our headlamps twenty minutes later.

2017-09-21_06-14-31
Early morning getaway

By 7am we started to see signs of the sun peeking over the mountaintops.

2017-09-21_06-53-01
We can put away the headlamps now
2017-09-21_07-05-18
Good morning sun!
2017-09-21_07-25-25
Up through the aspens
2017-09-21_07-27-13
Organ Mountain (left) and Amherst Mountain (right)
2017-09-21_08-13-54
First view of Columbine Pass (upper right)
2017-09-21_08-48-56
Heading up the switchbacks

We made really good time until we hit about 11,500 feet, and then we started to slow down a bit

2017-09-21_09-08-34
(Crushing your) Hope Mountain
2017-09-21_09-17-12
Trailside flowers
2017-09-21_09-22-11
Bullion Mountain
2017-09-21_09-23-38
Looking more Hopeful
2017-09-21_09-28-32
Columbine Pass (upper right)
2017-09-21_09-42-44
Almost to the lake

Just above 12,300 feet we made it to Columbine Lake.  So beautiful!

2017-09-21_09-37-05
Columbine Lake

Ultrashuffle took a nap while I explored the lake.  This basin has lots of mines, and there is even one right above this lake where tailings are still visible and equipment is still laying around rusting in the tundra.

2017-09-21_10-00-48
Mine tailings on the edge of the lake to the right
2017-09-21_10-01-29
Lakeside flower

After about half an hour we needed to press on.  Just 300 more feet up to the pass.

2017-09-21_10-11-37
Cairn for Columbine Pass

The lake got even prettier as we ascended.

2017-09-21_10-19-42
Columbine Lake
2017-09-21_10-20-19
Flowers near the pass
2017-09-21_10-28-17
Columbine Pass
2017-09-21_10-34-27 2
Almost there

At 10:30 we made the pass, about half an hour ahead of schedule.  Yay!

2017-09-21_10-36-17
Made it!
2017-09-21_10-30-49
Chicago Basin from Columbine Pass

We enjoyed the pass for a few minutes and then started our descent into Chicago Basin.

2017-09-21_10-45-22
Looking back towards Columbine Pass
2017-09-21_10-50-53
The Needle Creek watershed
2017-09-21_10-54-13
Eolus Mountain looms over JimmyJam
2017-09-21_11-00-26
Left to Right: Eolus, Twin Thumbs, Sunlight, and part of Windom Peak
2017-09-21_11-04-18
Ultrashuffle and the Needle Peaks

If it weren’t for the impending change in the weather, we might have stayed and tried for a Windom Peak summit.  But that would have added +3,000/-3,000 feet to an already big day so we decided to save it for another trip.

2017-09-21_11-26-27
Dropping below tree line

Around 11:30am we crossed one of the clearest streams I have ever seen.  We decided to stop for a long lunch to fuel up and rest for the remaining eight miles.

2017-09-21_11-30-50
So clear!
2017-09-21_11-54-11
Now that’s a tasty beverage

By noon we were back on trail and we switched into race mode to make the miles.

2017-09-21_12-02-25
Mount Eolus
2017-09-21_12-05-07
Another mine
2017-09-21_12-11-31
Down into Needle Creek
2017-09-21_12-20-23
Ultrashuffle on the move
2017-09-21_12-22-34
Trail junction for the climb to Windom (next time!)
2017-09-21_12-29-19
Lower ridge of Mount Kennedy (left)
2017-09-21_12-30-04
Left to right: Peak 13472, Windom Peak, Jupiter Mountain
2017-09-21_12-49-42
Butterfly!

 

2017-09-21_12-37-37
More progress

As we got back down below 10,800 feet the aspens got amazing again.

2017-09-21_13-16-23
Here they come
2017-09-21_12-52-37
Beautiful trail
2017-09-21_13-16-43
Wow!

Somehow I got a little mixed up with the time and the miles left, and we thought we were about half an hour behind schedule.  So we hiked very fast for about an hour until we chanced on some day hikers.

Not only did we get back on schedule, but the day hikers told us the train probably would not arrive until about 4pm.  Woo hoo!

2017-09-21_14-14-50
We can slow down now

Before we knew it we were done with our journey.

2017-09-21_14-42-21
Bye bye wilderness!
2017-09-21_15-01-25
Hello Needleton!

At 3pm (on the dot!) we crossed the Animas and an hour later the train arrived.

We stashed our packs in an ancient luggage car and then headed to the bar car to enjoy a well-deserved happy hour.

2017-09-21_15-02-59
The good old DSNGR
2017-09-21_16-17-07
Cheers!

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s