Hi, my name is Noah. I am an Eagle Scout with a Bronze palm and I spent 13 years in the Boy Scouts of America. Backpacking was my specialty.
The Vallecito Creek Trail, this last stent before we turned west onto the Needle Creek Trail, was stunning. Much of this portion was below the tree line. Foliage lush from the rich mountain soil spread out in every direction. Deep green pine trees, crystal clear streams, and a wide variety of flowers were enough to make the mind forget about aching feet and the weight on your back. We hiked on smooth trails padded with fallen pine needles, a welcome break for our knees from the harsh rock trials we were on previously. I specifically remember one camp just below the top of a hill called Miner's Cabin. There was a small pond, deep blue, and gold from the minerals that came from the mine tailings. One small log cabin, not too far from the pond, was heavily decayed from decades of being unused. My Dad and I had an awe-inspiring view of the evening sun disappearing behind the mountains. Freeze-dried Lasagna, hot chocolate, and some dried apples were the delicacies we enjoyed. I remember thinking, "Not many more suppers left; probably save one of the better ones for our last night on the trail." We maybe had two or maybe three more nights before we arrived at the Needle Creek bridge and jumped back on a train for Silverton.
Johnson Creek Trail
Johnson Creek Trail would lead us into Chicago Basin. Headed towards the train tracks was mostly downhill from here. You could see the stride of our group gain speed because we knew there were hot, not freeze-dried meals waiting for us in Silverton. I was looking forward to a burger and Coke and a shower. Enough daydreaming; we still had miles to go and a trip to Chicago Basin. We crested Columbine Pass; there was a narrow opening between two jutting pillars just big enough for three people to stand shoulder to shoulder. In front of me was the Basin. Almost like someone carved a perfect half circle between mountain peaks. A few hours after maneuvering back and forth down the trail, we arrived in the Basin. Waiting for us was a band of mountain goats. These goats were used to people and belligerent and bold. Frequently we had to chase the stinkers off with sticks because they would constantly be nibbling on our packs or attempting to enter our tents. These events became a regular occurrence where we would have to always leave one person behind to keep them from meddling in our camp. One afternoon, during the afternoon rain, I climbed into my tent to take a nap and remember setting my boot in a specific way so they would be accessible to me later. However, when I woke up they had been knocked over; the laces trailed out under the tent's rainfly. Upon further investigation, I discovered that my laces were chewed on by these bandits. Exiting my tent I never did find the culprit but across the valley, I could make out several white dots heading back home after an evening of shenanigans.
Needle Creek to Silverton
Early morning wake-up call, it was time to hustle down the trail and make it to the train. We packed up camp, made our final round of toasts, and began the trip out. There was one last memory on this trail. Small memories are the best and this spot we stopped at on the trail was special to only two people, my dad and me after he told me about the particular location. No one else knew but this is where my parents had both hiked on their trip to Colorado before I was around. Dad told me how they got caught in a day's long rainstorm. He told me, "We had to stay there a couple of days cause it rained continuously. Never got so tired of sitting cross-legged in a PupTent, laying on my stomach, laying on my back, laying on my side, finally went out in the rain just to stretch out." Soon our break was over and we traveled the final miles to the Needle Creek Trail Footbridge. seeing this bridge meant victory for us and the 35 miles we hiked to get there. we had made it there before the train so we dropped out packs and soaked our feet in the icy Animas River the bridge forded. Far in the distance, we heard our train, the air horns announced its arrival. The locomotive gently came to a stop and we similarly loaded our packs as before, this time we were the exhausted ones giving approving nods to fresh hikers heading into where we came from. We took our seats in the railcar thrilled to be heading towards food that was not dehydrated. Most of us fell asleep on the several-hour ride to Silverton and yet again the train rocked us to sleep. We had lunch in the small mining town before loading back up to head back to Durango and our much-awaited showers.
A once-in-a-lifetime trip for us young men was a memory that we would tell our kids with great fondness. Even now as I'm writing this my 3-week-old son Luka is fast asleep in his momma's arms, not knowing that I wrote these stories for him to read someday. Someday I will get the opportunity to take him on his journey as my father did and maybe I can take him to the same base camp. Sharing these memories from generation to generation is how we the legacy of adventure rolling. Keep adventuring and exploring there is a story put there waiting to be told.
Train to Silverton
© 2022 Noah