Weminuche Wilderness backpacking adventure

Day 5

Day 5 map
Day 5 profile

Next morning we got packed up and headed out a little earlier than the previous mornings. As we continued to hike we saw more places that we were able to recall seeing a few years ago. Eventually we found the spot where we had turned around. It was all pretty scenery. Thankfully there were a fair number of switchbacks which helped to keep the trail from being as steep. I’m not so sure why this trail is considered to be so steep.

View from climbing Johnson Creek Trail

As we approached Columbine Lake, I noticed some bear tracks in the mud. I guessed they were within 24 hrs. So Wendy and I started making some noise to make sure we didn’t surprise the bear. I was afraid it might be a mom with cubs, and that is a meeting I don’t care to be a part of. As the lake came into view, we saw two hunters sitting by the lake. Ooops, we may have messed up their hunting, but I’m not real sure what they would be hunting up there. And if they did kill something, it would have been a serious haul to get it anywhere.

View of Columbine Lake from Columbine Pass

The lake was pretty, but we didn’t stick around as one of the hunters had given me a dirty look when he saw me. That and we had a pass to climb. From Columbine lake, we could see the pass. Heading off to the left was another trail below the ridge above us. On the way up I was afraid that that was the trail we were going to take. We could now tell it was leading to a pass further away. Looking at the map you can see there is another trail that follows that path. I was relieved to find that that wasn’t where we were going as the trail had snow on it. The trail leading up to Columbine pass was switchbacks, but it was a tough final climb getting to 12,680 ft. It was the high point for our trip in both elevation and scenery. The previous two passes had bad weather the days we climbed them. This day, we had sunny weather with some storms beginning to move it. We got some good pictures from up there, and we also ate our lunch. The view from up there allowed us to see a number of 14’ers and 13’ers. It also looked down into the popular Chicago Basin.

Jason and Wendy from the top of Columbine Pass looking back from where we had come.
Wendy at the top of Columbine Pass. Chicago basin is below and to the left with various peaks in the background.

As we began our descent, there was snow covering the trail. Thankfully a couple of other people had been on the trail since the snow, and we could follow where their footsteps led. The snow was deeper here, knee deep in places. Thankfully, I had my hiking sticks as the footing was slippery and not always secure as I was often sinking to the rock beneath the snow. After about 1/4 mile of descent, the snow petered out and the trail was back to normal again. It was a long descent down to the Chicago Basin. The scenery was very pretty though. We were able to make out a tent down in the basin from up high. Chicago Basin is a favorite destination for hikers especially those that use it as a basecamp for bagging 14’ers. Along the way there were a couple of open horizontal mine shafts. I was surprised that these had been left open. Most of the ones I’ve run across have had the entrance collapsed in. We weren’t about to go exploring in. It can be very dangerous. I can remember talking to a staffer at French Henry back at Philmont Scout Ranch where he told me about the surveyor who had explored the Azetc mine there to ensure a safe route for Scouts to tour the mine. There is a closed off room known as the Great Ball Room. He said the surveyor described “boulder’s the size of Oldsmobiles falling from the ceiling from the sounds of my foot steps entering the room”. That along with many other dangers don’t make me want to explore such places.

Wendy standing in front of an open mine.

Once we arrived in Chicago Basin, we came in contact with other people. These were the only people except for Rusty that we had come in contact with since day 1. Our solitude was over, but it had been nice getting away from people for a while. We hiked our way past the main meadow area and found a campsite with access to water. Wendy and I were both tired from the long day. Distance wise, it wasn’t long, but the elevation change was tough. We spent the rest of the afternoon reading and relaxing.

Descending into Chicago Basin

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