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  1. #1

    Default TR: Elk Park/Needleton Loop with extras

    Hey guys; I saw some discussion and request for pics/details of this loop in another thread from earlier in the year, and thought I'd put up pics from my recent trip(Sept. 17-23) .
    Pretty safe to assume the storms I had on days 4-6 were atypical, as they were the result of moisture getting pushed through the area from Hurricane Odile.
    At one point the forecast called for rain 7 days of 7, and had me trying to reschedule, so I guess I actually lucked out!

    Elk Park to Needleton Loop, plus side trips including:
    -Vestal Basin
    -Highland Mary Lakes and Verde Lake
    -Rock Creek Trail to Rock Lake(cut a bit short by weather)
    -some wandering due to reality and the National Geographic map's version of it being two separate things

    The trip begins with a shuttle to Elk Park via the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad's 1920s vintage steam engine.




    It begins.


    Looking ahead on the Elk Creek Trail.


    The "Beaver Ponds" at mile 3.2.


    Looking up toward Vestal Basin, my first side trip on the loop.




    Lower Vestal Basin.


    Looking out from the middle of Vestal Basin.


    I head back down to the Beaver Ponds and beyond to the next water and make camp for the night.






    Misty mountain meadow.


    Continuing on the Elk Creek Trail.




    Looking back.


    Approaching the switchbacks up to the CT and the Continental Divide.


    From the CT, which shortly joins the CDT.




    On the way to my second extra destination, Highland Mary Lakes.


    Cover up or get fried!


    Approaching Highland Mary Lakes.






    Camp, night 2. Quite a temperature differential here. It was 80F when I made camp, and 29F in the morning.

  2. #2

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    From touring the lakes in the morning of day 3.












    Back on the CT/CDT to get back to the loop.




    CT toward Hunchback Pass. I camped below Kite Lake on night 3, and went over HB pass in the morning. Some brief rain and hail in the evening, but otherwise the weather was forgiving.








    Vallecito Creek Trail, just past Hunchback Pass.


    Quick detour up toward Nebo Pass for a snack break with a good view.


    The Vallecito starts feeling more familiar to this Southerner, with woods interspersed with drainages and waterfalls.


    The only real problem I had with the elevation, besides headaches the first couple of days, was going uphill. I was VERY slow.
    Due to that, I nixed my night at Sunlight Lake in favor of heading up the Rock Creek Trail, which is a much gentler climb.




    I didn't regret it, either. The views were fantastic.






    Just before the final climb up to Rock Lake, a cloud came over the cliffline right above me and started dumping rain and hail. I set up my tent on the spot and spent the next 14 hours practically inside a thunderstorm at ~11,500ft. My tent was saturated inside and out, so the rain hitting the outside had it "raining" inside, too. Very nice.
    From camp, morning of day 5. I packed up all my wet gear, put on rainpants over grid fleece bottoms, and headed back down toward Vallecito Creek.


    Snow on the peaks I'd last seen engulfed in dark storm clouds.


    My water phobia and I felt triumphant after the first waist deep creek crossing, little knowing there were more to come, and that it would be worse the next day.


    The sun came out for several hours, and everything was beautiful...





  3. #3

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    The flooding continued, though, and the trail was sometimes ankle to shin deep, especially near drainages that flowed onto the path and followed it.


    Some of the creek crossings were "less benign" than others.




    I camped on the Johnson Creek Trail, and enjoyed about 3 hours of clear skies before it started raining again.
    It rained all night.


    Camp, night 5. At least I had a chance to dry out my tent, pad, and quilt before starting the process over again.




    Still raining in the morning.


    The creek crossings did not get better as a result...


    I decided this was a bit much...


    Bushwhacked upstream awhile 'til I found a tree to cross on, then put the creek to my back until I rejoined the trail.


    Which was underwater a good bit of the way.


    The stuff I was having to cross was apparently drainage from Hazel and Columbine lakes combined with that coming from the surrounding area's flooding.
    Thompson Creek itself was another matter!
    I certainly wasn't crossing THAT:




    Looking back toward the Johnson Creek gorge.






    Looking up to Columbine Pass.


    And back down to Columbine Lake.



    Looking toward Chicago Basin:





  4. #4

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    Into Chicago Basin.


















    I did not camp in Chicago Basin, but continued on another mile or two.




    Night 6, and another camp full of wet gear...


    In the morning, I headed down to the railroad, and caught the train to Silverton, then rode back to Durango.


    The Animas River.


    Here comes my ride!


    And away we go...

  5. #5
    Registered User 2Ply's Avatar
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    Default

    Thanks for sharing the adventure. Looks like a great trip and I like your shuttle service. Those were some hairy looking water crossings.

  6. #6
    Getting out as much as I can..which is never enough. :) Mags's Avatar
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    I love Fall in the Rockies. My personal favorite time to backpack.

    Looks like you had some nice fall colors!

    Thx for sharing!
    Paul "Mags" Magnanti
    http://pmags.com
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    The true harvest of my life is intangible...a little stardust caught,a portion of the rainbow I have clutched -Thoreau

  7. #7

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    Thanks, guys. Hope you enjoyed the pics. There were some challenging moments(one very scary creek crossing in particular), but it was a wonderful trip. Quite a change from hiking in the East, and the canyons in UT that I love to visit.

  8. #8
    Registered User Drybones's Avatar
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    I did that section a few years back, nice area.

  9. #9
    Registered User Venchka's Avatar
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    I'm glad that I found your excellent trip report. An old (we're both OLD) friend and I are planning a similar trip this time next year.
    It has been way too long since I hiked along Vallecito Creek. I am really looking forward to it. I will also get to add short sections of the CT & CDT to my To-Do list.

    Wayne
    Eddie Valiant: "That lame-brain freeway idea could only be cooked up by a toon."
    https://wayne-ayearwithbigfootandbubba.blogspot.com
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  10. #10
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    September is the best month of the year for hiking! Great pics and commentary! Ron

  11. #11

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    Thanks, you two. What a coincidence to look at WB for the first time in quite a while(and exactly one year from when that trip ended, while sitting in the Fresno airport as this year's September trip to the Sierras also comes to a close), and have a day old reply to this TR!

    Quote Originally Posted by Venchka View Post
    I'm glad that I found your excellent trip report. An old (we're both OLD) friend and I are planning a similar trip this time next year...
    Wayne
    Wayne, I met a lady your age last week who was leading two other women on a backpacking trip. Ran into them again a few days ago, and carried out their trash, since they still had several days left.
    They were all carrying heavier packs than me, and the youngest was in her late 50s, I suppose. It was her *first* time backpacking-12 days out in the mountains!

    My one touristy purchase was a Yosemite NP t-shirt that says "We don't stop hiking because we get old, we get old because we stop hiking" on the back.

  12. #12
    Registered User Venchka's Avatar
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    Cool

    Thanks for the optimistic report on the Geezer Set. Grinning. I am constantly amazed by the grit, determination & tenacity of the "fairer sex."

    As for pack weight, some of my stuff rivals any lightweight gear available today and is sturdier and more reliable. In recent days I have decided to resist buying any "new, improved and/or lighter" gear until what I have either wears out or fails to do the job required of it. My Xtherm Large and Exped Air Pillow, purchased last year, are the only pieces of gear that I have bought this century. Those items replaced a sleeping pad & pillow that were not doing a good job and were heavy. I may change my mind about newer, lighter weight gear next year up around 12,000 feet.
    In the meantime, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it."

    I'll have to look for a t-shirt like, or similar, to yours. They are probably in every N.P. gift shop.

    Looking forward to your report of your recent trip.

    Wayne
    Eddie Valiant: "That lame-brain freeway idea could only be cooked up by a toon."
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  13. #13

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    Your photos are great - bring back some memories from the portion on the CT.

    If you wouldn't mind, could you tell me what kind of camera you use?

    I'm looking for a new one.

  14. #14

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    Quote Originally Posted by Paddlefoot View Post
    Your photos are great - bring back some memories from the portion on the CT.

    If you wouldn't mind, could you tell me what kind of camera you use?

    I'm looking for a new one.
    Paddlefoot,
    Thank you! Those were all taken with a Nikon P310 point-and-shoot(7oz total) handheld in Aperture Priority mode. It's a discontinued model, and I'm on my third one(I tend to smash or drown a camera every year or two). I found the last two at clearance prices, and keep getting the same thing because it's familiar, "good enough", and I have 3 batteries that fit. I should mention that while I do pretty good at framing my shots, the light conditions and subject matter did most of the work here. The pics posted in this TR are better than what I typically get, and I probably deleted 2/3 or more of the ones I took.
    For instance, from the trip I just came back from, this first one of 1000 Island Lake in the afternoon sun is what I'd normally call a "good" pic, and one of the best I got at this location...


    ...while sometimes I get lucky with shots like this first thing in the morning from Garnet Lake where the sun is behind me, and all I do is press the button.

  15. #15

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    What a lovely photo log of your trip! Thank you so much for sharing.

  16. #16
    Registered User HeartFire's Avatar
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    Oh this makes me want to go back there!

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    Sure going to be tough to hike the AT after the beauty out west!!!


    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

  18. #18
    Registered User Venchka's Avatar
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    "Go west young man"
    Works for me.
    I'm glad you enjoyed the western mountains.

    Wayne


    Sent from somewhere around here.
    Eddie Valiant: "That lame-brain freeway idea could only be cooked up by a toon."
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  19. #19
    Getting out as much as I can..which is never enough. :) Mags's Avatar
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    Fantastic B&W photo!
    Paul "Mags" Magnanti
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    The true harvest of my life is intangible...a little stardust caught,a portion of the rainbow I have clutched -Thoreau

  20. #20
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    Ansel Adams in the house.

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