Hi, my name is Noah. I am a Eagle Scout with a Bronze palm and I spent 13 years in the Boy Scouts of America. Backpacking was my specialty.
Elk Creek: Just the Beginning
Oklahoma elevation where I lived was fairly low at 597 feet. Living here all my life, I was not familiar with anything much higher than the average hill. Yes, our training in Arkansas had some small hills here and there. Kansas was... well Kansas; so in our preparation for Colorado, we would have to become acclimated to the much higher elevations. There was no real way to prepare for this, so the consensus was that it would be best to spend a day just getting adjusted to the thinner air. We decided that instead of just sitting around we would go see the cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde. This was an amazing park where they taught you about the Ancestral Pueblo people who lived there for nearly a century. Houses and buildings were carved right on the side of cliff faces. Complete cities and neighborhoods, complex ladders to get from level to level. After our day of walking up almost vertical ladders and standing at ledges hundreds of feet up off the ground, it was time to make our way to our final base camp before starting this journey.
The small campground where we spent the night was quiet. Short manicured grass covered the site where our tents would get set up for our one-night stay. The next morning, we rounded the corner of a 10-foot tall solid fence into the railyard to see the stunning machine that would take us to Elk Creek. Pitch black and looming tall over everyone close to it. The Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad was one of the few coal fire still in operation was a sight to behold for our young minds. Conductors and their crew busily prepared the beast for its trip up the mountain. We all set our packs down as they loaded them into a railcar with other backpackers. The groups that departed the train weary of their own trip gave us tired but happy nods as we got to our seats. My heart raced in my chest; once this train started rolling; there was no turning back.
Steam and Rail
I remember looking at my father and letting out a nervous lungful of air; he nodded and said "let's go have some fun." It was simple but also brought the trip back to basics. Yes, there were dangers to overcome, but we were prepared. This was about experiencing a side of Colorado few will see. Untamed woods, glacier-carved valleys, and the accomplishment of hiking over 35 miles would be confidence-building for my friends and me and this would be our first considerable life experience. We found our seats and settled down, the train started rolling down the tracks with a jolt of force and we were off! Air never smelled so crisp and the combination of the pine trees lining the track and the Animas River alongside us made for a beautiful ride to our stop. The gentle rocking of the train from side to side made it quite hard to stay awake. BANG! an explosion surprised many of us as some smoke and the smell of burnt gunpowder filled our open-air railcar and we clamored to the windows to see what had made some commotion. An attendant informed us that the explosion was a signal called a torpedo, a small charge of dynamite placed on the track to warn the conductor, that further up the Railway there could be a delay. Railways surrounded by tall pines have debris on the track from time to time and they were careful to catch those issues. For the first-time passenger, it was a startling revelation but a welcome one seeing as there was nothing wrong. Squeaks and groans come from all the railcars as we begin rolling again and a big blast of white steam blasts out from the side of the engine.
Troop 238 Trek of 2006
Elk Creek Trainhead
An open field and a small creek came into view around the bend and the train let out a blast of its horn. This was our stop, Elk Creek, and the beginning of our week-long trek through the woods. Excitement built as we disembarked the train and made our way to the car that held our packs. Like before in the railyard, greetings were exchanged between backpackers getting on and off the train. Passengers on the train leaned out windows to wave at us as the Steam powered locomotive slowly pulled away. We knew our heading and were eager to get rolling. A tradition we started at the beginning of our training was to go around the circle of our crew and make toasts. Speaking positive affirmations over the trip, terrain, weather, and anything else we could think of was our way getting plenty of hydration before the long journey before us and of warding off bad juju. We had amazing weather during this week of traversing the backwoods of Colorado. Aside from one heavy rainstorm we were smooth sailing in the outdoors.
Being in the Weminuche Wilderness was wonderful. Along the way to our next milestone, we passed by abandoned gold mines where twisted tracks and rusted coal cars carried the tailings out of the way. At this point we were over halfway through the trail our next adventure would be at Chicago Basin. This would also be the base came for the return to Colorado. Unbeknownst to us, we had a welcoming party that awaited our arrival in the Basin which made for many laughs and a fantastic end to our trip.
Thank You for reading, I’ll see you next time
© 2022 Noah