Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Chicago Basin, Day 1, On the Road

I want to start by mentioning where our group lives, and the difference in environment between our homes and our hiking location.  We are all from the San Antonio area.  My home is at about 1,083 feet in elevation.  The Chicago Basin is at about 11,000' in elevation, and that's where we plan to camp.  The two passes to the peaks were at about 12,500', and all four peaks were above 14,000'.

The Chicago Basin is in the Weminuche Wilderness of the San Juan National Forest.  It's north of Durango, south of Silverton, and east of the Animus River.  Durango is in the southwest corner of Colorado.  To get to the Basin, you can either hike on steep trails from Durango or Silverton, or you can take the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad to the Needleton flagstop, and hike the six miles uphill to the Basin from there.  Since a couple of our group had jobs to get back to, we were limited to a week, and needed to take the railroad.  But it was scenic anyway, and an adventure on its own.

I went with Dan and his son Ken and Steve and his son Matt.  Ken lives in a northern state but came down for the trip.  Both Dan and Ken had a slight advantage as they went up into the mountains for the eclipse a couple of weeks earlier and got a bit of acclimatization to the altitude.

The plan for the day was to get up early, meet at a central location, and take two vehicles up from San Antonio to Durango, Colorado.  Google predicted the trip would be about 14 hours.  We were all a bit on edge about the gas situation.  Hurricane Harvey hit the Houston area hard a week earlier, and the Thursday before we left (on Sunday am) there was a panic buy of gas in San Antonio.  Most stations were out of gas, and the few that would get a delivery had lines down the streets.  Would we be able to find gas on I-10, I-25 and Highway 550, our roads up to Durango?  Dan brought a couple of 5 gallon cans of gas for Steve's vehicle.  We decided to stick to the interstates as much as possible and avoid cross-country Texas highways in the hope that gas would be more available.

It turned out that gas was readily available outside of San Antonio.  However, you would see outages of diesel or premium.  And the prices were going through the roof.  We timed the road trip perfectly!

I think this was my second group backpacking trip, and the first on a multi-vehicle, cross-country drive.  I should have expected the longer stops and lunch break, but really didn't.  I think it took us about 15 hours to get to Durango and our hotel.

The drive was nice, and it was also great to have an extra driver to share the effort.  One unusual event was stopping at a Whattaburger for lunch.  This one, in Las Cruces, was about half the size of the ones I'm used to in Texas.  The parking lot was swamped.  And there were no seats available in the fast-food restaurant for about 5 minutes after we ordered.  Our group of five had to sit at three different tables.

As we got closer to Durango, Ken was checking on restaurants and our hotel.  The Super 8 advertised a quick check-in process.  It turned out to be about the slowest check-in at a hotel I've ever encountered.  The Super 8 was spacious, but a bit run down.

We went to a brew-pub in the historic district for dinner.  It was late (around 9:00 pm) on a Sunday evening.  We didn't have to wait, and the crowd was middling.  The food was OK, but nothing to rave about.  The beer was good.

Dan and I went over to a Walmart afterwards to get fishing licenses, and we got back to the hotel about 11:30.  We all planned to meet at 0600 the next morning to get a parking space over by the train we would take up to Needleton where we would start our hike.

I usually do some sorting and last minute arrangement in my pack the night before a hike. But the long drive, and the late hour caused me to skip that work, and I hit the sack.  As a result, there were a couple of things in my pack I couldn't find for a couple of days.

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