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.
By 7am we started to see signs of the sun peeking over the mountaintops.
We made really good time until we hit about 11,500 feet, and then we started to slow down a bit
Just above 12,300 feet we made it to Columbine Lake. So beautiful!
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.
After about half an hour we needed to press on. Just 300 more feet up to the pass.
The lake got even prettier as we ascended.
At 10:30 we made the pass, about half an hour ahead of schedule. Yay!
We enjoyed the pass for a few minutes and then started our descent into Chicago Basin.
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.
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.
By noon we were back on trail and we switched into race mode to make the miles.
As we got back down below 10,800 feet the aspens got amazing again.
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!
Before we knew it we were done with our journey.
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.