Weminuche Loop

18-21 September 2017

The Weminuche Loop is a classic 40-50 mile horseshoe hike that starts at Elk Park and ends at Needleton.  One of the things that makes this loop so special is that the trailheads can both be reached via the Silverton-Durango Narrow Gauge Railroad, a tourist train pulled by a steam locomotive that has been used in dozens of old west films (including Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid!).

But it is also just an amazingly beautiful hike!

I did this hike with Ultrashuffle, my buddy who did the High Sierra Trail with me last year.

The pure form of this hike goes up Elk Creek to the CDT, then back down the Vallecito, up Johnson Creek, and down Needle Creek.  But we had several contingencies that would allow for a longer or shorter hike depending on the weather and our desire to be at a higher or lower elevation.


These included hiking the Weminuche High Route up from Elk Creek to Highland Mary Lakes (we did that one), from Elk Creek to Sunlight Lake via Trinity and Leviathan Lakes (we skipped that one), from Sunlight Lake to the Vallecito (we did that as a day hike), and from Johnson Creek up to Hazel Lake (we skipped that one).

We also had a contingency to hike more of the Continental Divide Trail over Nebo Pass and then back down to Vallecito via the Rock Creek Trail, but we skipped that one, too.

Finally, we could have taken half a day from Chicago Basin to climb Windom Peak and/or Sunlight Peak, two 14ers that are mostly class 2+ climbs.  But we decided to come back out a day early because of an impending snow storm (and boy did it snow up there after we left — a good call for once!).

In spite of the early return, I will say that with the exception of some very strong winds on the Divide, we had absolutely spectacular weather.  Four days of clear blue skies that threaded the needle between the end of the Colorado monsoon and the beginning of winter.  I feel extremely lucky!

One piece of advice to anyone considering cross country routes in the Weminuche: I was surprised to find very good (if unmaintained) trails on all sections of the High Route.  It’s not pure cross country.  Once you find the trails they will help you with switchbacks up steep sections, cuts through tangled willows, and efficient routes through rock fields.  I guess a lot of backpackers (and miners before them) have explored this country, so if there’s a route that interests you, there’s a good chance you’ll find a path that someone else has already carved out at least a bit.

Day 1: Highland Mary Lakes

Day 2: Up on the Divide

Day 3: Sunlight Lake

Day 4: Columbine Pass