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Wimenuce Trip
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Luke Schmidt
(Cameron) - MLife

Locale: The WOODS
Wimenuche Trip on 09/09/2010 16:18:26 MDT Print View

This past summer I broke my wrist and was out of commission for the most part. But my brother Daniel was going climbing in Colorado so I couldn't resist. I met him there and we decided to head into the Wimenuche Wilderness for a bit of backpacking.

My gear

I was using a new pack I'd made that was loosly based on the Jay Ham pack. My gear came out to just over five pounds base weight. I couldn't say it was SUL but I felt really good about my set up. I also had five days worth of food. We hoped to do about 45 to 50 miles but didn't quit make it (more on that later).


We started hiking from the Silverton Durango Highway and headed down from their to the Elk Park Trail (we were too cheap to ride the railroad).


Steep Trail

The trail down to the Animas River involved a lot of switchbacks. I knew it would be tough coming back. The views were great. It started to rain. I'd been soaked once too often by sudden mountain storms so we stopped and pulled out raincoats. Just when we got ourselves waterproofed it stopped.

View of the valley

The views of the valley were great. We saw a train pass which was interesting. Kind of a tast of the old west. Toward the bottom we passed a couple hiking who said they'd seen a bear by the river. I got my camera ready but we never saw it.


At the river we stopped to purify water near a boy scout troop. We didn't talk much but they seemed to be organized and to know what they were doing.

Me with my pack

From the river the trail headed up a steep slope and climbed above Elk Creek. One thing I noticed were the bugs. There seemed to be more than in my older and drier stomping grounds in the Lost Creek area.


The trail led up along the creek for the most part. For a while we climbed through a forest with occasional views. We stopped by a small pond to eat a pre-dinner snack. Daniel didn't want to drink any of the water from the ponds. I went down a little to where there was flowing water and got us some fresh water. We chatted with a few people camped there to climb some of the peaks. One couple were using Golite Trek packs. They were loaded down with a lot of climbing gear but they said they had been cutting weight in other areas and loving it.


We discussed camping near the pond but it was a bit early. We also weren't keen on the bugs. So we headed on past a large pile of rocks. By large I mean half a mile lone. I guessed it was from a glacier. Daniel wasn't so sure. After that we came out in a large open meadow and decided to grab the next campsite we found.


We found a nice spot under some trees and we set up our shelters. I was using a homemade tarp and an Equinox bivy.

Poncho Tarp

Daniel was using a poncho tarp. He rigged it up between too trees and I borrowed his trekking pole for my choosen soft spot that didn't happen to be close to a tree.


As we were setting up a doe came by and grazed near bye. I wondered how she managed to not get shot during hunting season.
A coule of guys were camped a little ways off and they came by to get water from the creek. We talked and later on they joined us around the fire. Daniel prefers cold food and I had left my alcohol stove in California so we had all cold food. We'd been a bit creative to make it good. We did have summer sausage. I took mine and roasted it over the fire on a stick.


We woke up the next morning to a nise sunrise. I was feeling a bit funny but blamed it on the change of diet and the spicy trail mix. It was a bit chilly and we wanted to cover a lot of ground so we got going early.


The trail climbed steeply up switchbacks and the views got better and better. I was beginning to realize it was the altitude that was affecting me not the food. We hiked slowly and I tried to hydrate and get better.

We looked at the map and I decided to see if I could make it to the crest of the Continental Divide. If I could get there I thought I could head down the other side and be okay.


I eventually settled into a pace I could keep up and got my headache under control so I could enjoy the scenery more. There was certainly plently to see.

Looking back down the valley

We passed on old mining cabin and a couple of old mine shafts. We stopped by the cabin and at lunch. We also looked at the map again. I was still wondering if I would be able to make it altitude wise. The second question we were dealing with was if we could get across the mountains and down below timberline before the afternoon thunderstorms hit.

Top of the switchbacks

View again

View North

We'd been keeping an eye on some clouds for a while and as we climbed higher we realized we were about to get hit. We started trotting down the trail. We took a side trail without really paying attention to where it lead just that it went down. As it turned out it was the correct trail that took us down to Kite Lake. We ducked into what was left of an old mining shack and waited out the storm. Just as it started to clear up another storm hit. While we waited we checked our options. In my mind it boiled down to whether or not we could get where we wanted to go before another storm caught us and whether we needed to change our plans. Once he heard all my symptoms Daniel wanted to head back. He had more knowledge of altitude sickness than I did and he said if I started getting sick at 10,000 feet in the day than sleeping at 11,000 all night would make things way worse. Aside from that he'd heard enough altitude sickness horror stories he REALLY didn't want to be two mountain ranges away from our car. There weren't really any options to camp below 10,000 feet to I very reluctantly agreed to head back.

Heading back

As we got lower I began to feel better and we picked up the pace. We got back to our original campsite about 7:00. We thought about staying there but Daniel wanted to get me a bit lower if I was up for it. By now I was feeling better so we really stretched our legs and moved. We thought about a campsite by the creek but it was tecnically illegal and didn't look too great.

Hiking back in the dark

We kept going and got back to the Animas River just as it was getting dark. By now we were pretty beat. We didn't bother with tarps we just put our sleeping bags in our bivies and went to sleep. Since there had been a bear the day before we went ahead and did a bear bag. Rather than look for a tree we hung if off the bridge that crossed the river.

Daniel in bed

The next morning we made the climb back up to the car. I hated to bail and maybe I could have made it. It would have been a risk going farther however since I would have been a long way out if I'd got really sick. I suspect it would have caused more tension for Daniel than it would have been worth right or wrong he was pretty worried about me. At any rate I was getting to the point where it was more suffering and less fun. I learned a lot and got to see some great new country. Next time I'll aclimitize better and learn more about altitude sickness so I'll know what risks I'm taking.

Edited by Cameron on 09/09/2010 17:21:33 MDT.

K ....
(Kat_P) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Coast
Wimenuce Trip on 09/09/2010 17:40:35 MDT Print View

I like how you reported on the scenery, the gear, the people, the health conerns and more. Sounds like you guys had a good adventure. Thanks for posting.

Scott Truong

Locale: Vancouver, BC
Nice.. on 09/09/2010 23:47:24 MDT Print View

Great pictures and excellent trip report. Useful info/sharing of experience with altitude. Nice scenery.


Tom Clark
(TomClark) - MLife

Locale: East Coast
Re: Wimenuche Trip on 09/12/2010 20:03:32 MDT Print View

Nice report...we don't get many from that part of the country. Sorry to hear about the altitude sickness. At least the attitude was right.

Daniel Bell

Locale: US Southwest
Re: Wimenuche Trip on 09/12/2010 22:08:45 MDT Print View

Thanks for the trip report and photos.
I love that area, and remember those switchbacks all too well! Your post put me right back on the trail.
(If you search for "2 weeks on the continental divide", that was my trip report, it's under a different user name because I let my membership lapse then renewed with a slightly different user name...).

I experienced altitude sickness this summer too, although perhaps not as severe as yours. Before the hike, I slept for 2 nights at 8,000 feet. The first day of the trip I hiked pretty hard up to 11,000 ft, where I camped (in the Lizard Head Wilderness, Colorado). I had been fine all day but that evening was totally lethargic, headachy, and couldn't keep any food down. I actually lied in my tent and watched a marmot (that had been nosing around camp all evening) sit on a log and chew the strap off my trekking pole--because I was too beat to get up and do anything about it! It was bad for me, and the marmot:

marmot damage

Anyway, lesson for me is to always sleep at altitude for THREE nights, without strenuous activity, prior to any big trip in the mountains.
BTW, I was fine the next day.

Edited by danbell on 09/13/2010 07:42:53 MDT.