Trip Reports: Weminuche Wilderness Loop, Colorado - August 2008

For 7 days in August, I hiked a high loop route through the high and rugged Needle Mountains in the Weminuche Wilderness in the San Juans south of Silverton, Colorado. This trip had a couple unexpected events in store for me, but fortunately, Lady Luck was really by my side this time.

West Needles, Weminuche Wilderness, Colorado, photo

West Needle Reflection

The West Needle Mountains shortly after sunrise.

Turret Needles, Pigeon Peak, Weminuche Wilderness, Colorado, photo

Turret Needles

The Turret Needles and Pigeon Peak soar above this remote Weminuche valley.

North Eolus, Weminuche Wilderness, Colorado, photo

North Eolus Dawn

Dawn light illuminates the north face of North Eolus, 14,039 feet.

North Eolus, Weminuche Wilderness, Colorado, photo

Eolus Reflection

Sunrise light on North Eolus, 14,039 feet.

Mount Oso, thirteener, Weminuche Wilderness, San Juan Mountains, Colorado, photo

Mount Oso

Mount Oso, a rugged and remote thirteener deep in the Weminuche Wilderness.

Jagged Mountain, wildflowers, Weminuche Wilderness, Colorado, photo

Jagged Wildflowers

Indian Paintbrush wildflowers below Jagged Mountain.

windy, wildflowers, Weminuche Wilderness, Colorado, photo

Wind Flowers

Everything's so temporary.... should have known.

clouds, rocks, reflection, Weminuche Wilderness, Colorado, photo

Clouds and Rocks

I liked this scene because of the way the clouds seem to be reflected as rocks.

Jagged Mountain, dawn, Weminuche Wilderness, Colorado, photo

Jagged Dawn

The first light of dawn breaks behind the silhouette of Jagged Mountain, 13,824 feet, as seen from the summit of Knife Point.

A near tragedy for my camera! I woke up at 3:30am one morning, and hiked up 1200 feet in the dark to the summit of aptly-named Knife Point, a 13,265-foot spire with a killer view into the heart of the Needle Mountains. Once the dawn light started illuminating the surrounding peaks, I started to take some photos. At one point, I decided to switch spots, and grabbing my tripod I started bounding up some rocks to get to the other side of the summit. I heard an odd jiggling sound coming from my tripod, and turned to look just in time to see my camera falling off the tripod, crashing and bouncing off boulders. Oh crap. In a state of shock and denial, I jumped down to the camera, noticing shattered glass and dismembered plastic. OH CRAP!

With only minutes before an epic sunrise, and with a 2-3 day hike to leave the wilderness, I was appalled that my camera was ruined. Luck #1: I had a clear UV filter on the lens at the time, and that took the brunt of the destruction – the lens itself was slightly bent, but the glass was unharmed. Luck #2: Even though the viewfinder was broken out of the camera, the camera could still take photos! Plus, this Olympus camera has “live view” where you can frame the shot using the LCD screen instead of the viewfinder. Ok so maybe not all was lost. I couldn’t unscrew the broken filter since the threads were all bent, so I pulled out an alan wrench from my camera bag and used it to bust out all the broken shards of glass. With the lens clear and the live view switched on, I was back in action! The photo above was taken within minutes of this near-disaster. I was later able to use a knife to wedge the viewfinder back into camera, and it snapped back into place and seems to be working fine. I am so happy that the camera still worked after this awful crash, because most of the best photos from this trip came after this.

Knife Point, Needle Mountains, dawn, Colorado, photo

Knife Point Dawn

Dawn light illuminates the rugged peaks of the Needle Mountains, as seen from the summit of Knife Point, 13,265 feet. Some prominent peaks visible here are North Eolus, Monitor Peak, and Animas Mountain, among others.

Sunlight Peak, Knife Point, Needle Mountains, fourteener, Colorado, photo

Sunrise on Sunlight

Sunrise alpenglow lights up Sunlight Peak, 14,059 feet, as seen from the summit of Knife Point.

mountain goats, Weminuche Wilderness, Colorado, photo


Baby mountain goats check out the funny human with the strange contraption he looks through that makes clicking noises.

Here’s the second stroke of twisted luck. The morning after the camera crash, I again woke up pre-dawn, packed up my camp, and headed up above treeline, with the intention of taking sunrise photos at a high lake then crossing over a 13,600-foot pass to get to Chicago Basin, the final valley of the trip. As I hiked in the dark, I noticed that it was pretty cloudy. Darn, I thought, too cloudy perhaps for a good sunrise shot. Well in the darkness what I could not see was how thick the clouds really were. I soon found out when I heard the dreadful KABOOM of lightning across the basin. Oh crap. Having already hiked well above treeline in a broad tundra basin, there was nothing I could do but to run for a shallow depression where there were at least some taller knolls around me. I crouched on my Thermarest as the lightning crashed and boomed around in the basin. Terrifying. After about an hour and a half, the storm let up a bit and I scouted around, finding a deep valley with 200′ cliffs. I could camp down there and be theoretically fairly safe from the lightning, with the high cliffs to protect me. I set up my tent, and all day long wave after wave of hail, lightning, and thunder passed over. I had no chance of crossing the high pass and was thus stuck in the basin all day. I was bored, anxious, and constantly fearful of the ever-present lightning.

But, luck came again, and in the evening the clouds broke just enough to present the most glorious sunset I’ve witnessed all summer. I gleefully snapped away with my camera, and when the sunset faded away I was so stoked I let out a big hoot for all the mountain goats within 10 miles to hear. Not only that, but the next morning was another glorious spectacle, with amazing sunrise light, shining through the clouds. If it weren’t for the storms that trapped and delayed my trip for a day, I would have missed all of these sweet shots.

Jagged Mountain, sunset, Weminuche Wilderness, Colorado, photo

Jagged Sunset

Jagged Mountain and an amazing sunset reflection

Weminuche Wilderness, Colorado, sunset, photo

Weminuche Sunset

After an entire day stuck in my tent during repeated thunder and hail storms, I was rewarded with this incredible sunset - the best I've seen all summer.

Weminuche Wilderness, wildflowers, Colorado, photo

Sunrise After the Storm

Sunrise, clouds, and wildflowers in the Weminuche Wilderness.

Windom Peak, Sunlight Peak, fourteeners, Colorado, Weminuche Wilderness, photo

Windom Sunrise

Beautiful sunrise light on the fourteeners Windom Peak and Sunlight Peak.

Windom Peak, summit, Needle Mountains, Colorado, photo

Windom Peak Summit

View north from the summit of Windom Peak, 14,083 feet. At the upper left are Vestal and Arrow Peaks in the Grenadier Range.

Mountain Goat, Chicago Basin, Weminuche Wilderness, Colorado, photo

Mountain Goat

A mountain goat poses for me in Upper Chicago Basin.

Animas River, Needleton, Colorado, photo

Animas River

The Animas River, as seen from the Needleton bridge.

Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, photo

The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad is my ride back to civilization.

So, in the end, I came home with a battered but functioning camera, and a nice collection of photos, the best of which can be mostly credited to Lady Luck.