by Jeff Goulden
The San Juan Mountains is an area of incredible beauty with many mountain peaks reaching 14,000' and meadows and lakes at or above timberline around 11,000'. Meadows are abundant with wildlife, small lakes, creeks and wildflowers. Some of the hiking trails in the San Juan Mountains are not well marked or maintained so these areas don't experience many hikers. This was alright with Molly and me. We wanted to experience true wilderness.
After flying into Durango on Sunday and meeting Molly, we drove to the sleepy former mining town of Silverton, the county seat of San Juan County. Silverton is at 9300', and coming from sea level, I could feel the effects of the thin air right away. Many visitors come to Silverton via the historic Durango to Silverton Railroad. We liked Silverton and its quiet laid back atmosphere; and as it turned out, Silverton would be our home base for the next 3 days.
Tuesday's challenge was to climb from the lower basin to Ice Lake in the upper basin. After a light breakfast we started hiking and crossed several creeks without incident. With lighter packs we gained mileage and elevation quickly, arriving at Ice Lake by mid morning. The upper basin was incredible with several still-frozen lakes, surrounded by 13,000' peaks.
After the tiring hike, I looked forward to pitching the tent, grabbing a bite to eat and crawling into my sleeping bag. Wrong again! The campground near Ouray where we planned to stay was full. Molly again came to the rescue with her Iphone and found us the last hotel room in Ouray. We arrived at the hotel at 9:30PM and checked in after asking about restaurants. "Oh, everything closes at 9, but we have a microwave oven in the room", the manager said. "Great", I replied "we can cook our camping food in that." We checked into our room and Molly started dinner while I got ready for a badly needed shower. Within minutes of putting the dinner in the oven, the hotel experienced a power failure. After reassuring us several times that the power would soon be restored, 30 minutes later we finally finished cooking our dinner of chicken and couscous. We collapsed into our beds around midnight. It had been a really long day!
The remainder of the trip was fairly uneventful. After visiting the bustling ski resort of Telluride we camped at the nearby Matterhorn Campground. Remembering the real Matterhorn in Switzerland from many years ago I failed to see the resemblance.
Heading back toward Durango on Friday, we stopped at Mesa Verde National Park. The park has a rich history of native culture and many interesting and well preserved cliff dwellings but is not the wilderness experience I enjoy in many of our national parks. We saw as much as we could while tolerating too many tourists and a temperature that exceeded 90 degrees. It was time to continue to Durango.
My flight from Durango to Denver was delayed 3 hours by mechanical problems and I missed my connecting flight by only 10 minutes, forcing me to sleep on the floor in the Denver airport and arriving in Seattle 12 hours later than scheduled.
To see more of my trip pictures go to the San Juan Mountains Gallery on Istockphoto. For special offers and to follow my photographic journey please Join My Email List.