We kept at the trails until we’d hiked everything along the east side of the road between Rockwood and Purgatory Trail in three different trips last week.  Most of those days were bushwhacking and discovering old abandoned trails no longer in use. Finding old power lines high above the railroad tracks in the canyon below the trails, is a good example.

Another example of old technology in the canyon is an old seemingly abandoned power plant, but still keeps running on.  The Tacoma Power Plant is only accessible by railroad and not a normal stop on that line, so the only way to access this remote location is by hiking down into the Animas Valley canyon.

We’d seen the power plant on a number of hikes down Sawmill Canyon, but never thought to ask about a tour, until we’d seen a presentation at an annual meeting of our local electrical coop, which was even more dry than my typing about it.  The featured speaker was a fellow from that power plant and his talk was just about as dry, but we were determined to learn now than he gave out at the annual meeting.

We got a personal tour and it was well worth an extended look. The history, the improvements, past and future, is something to behold. For a little hydro plant this has quite a bit going for it. He was far more animated in his home territory than speaking in front of 300 people.

We got the full story of an event eleven years ago, when one of the generators got a vibration alarm on Halloween night, and the remote operator in the Denver area choose to silence the alarm.  2,400 signals later the generator blew up sending shrapnel thought the roof and took the several ton generator off it’s base destroying just about everything.

In order to repair it they needed a whole litany of thing before they could replace it.  For example, the bridge to deliver improvements from the train needed replacing, and then the cribbing for a embankment needed replacing, then the transformers as well.  Eleven years later they are just now ready to start on replacing the generator.

It’s an amazing part of our local history hidden down a canyon, now only accessible by a pop-car or a specially commissioned flat car delivery equipment to the power plant. This power plant only delivers about 5 MegaWatts of power to the local grid, but is enough to keep it on line and have two employees commute via that pop-car up the train tracks.

Really interesting is the fact that the lead engineer for this project came from the American Ski Area tram industry. He’s only been at Tacoma for 12 years and his last job was building a ski lift for Silverton Mountain for Aaron Brill.  He’s very quickly found a niche that suits him well, as he’s got an old abandoned tram out back of the power plant that used to take employees and kids up and down the mountain. He’s got permission to restore the tram wheel house in his spare time.

Small world, this mountain country.


61 Downed Trees

One of the problems with spring hiking in our area is when does the snow melt?  Generally it’s on the southern exposures first, so we pick trails that are south facing and tend to be below the snow line.

One thing I forget each year is that just because it’s on the south side and below the snow line, it doesn’t mean that it’s smooth hiking.

Winter conditions have persisted in Durango and Colorado in general above 10,000 feet so we’re limited mostly to out and back trails. We hiked, however, on Monday, a loop trail leading up to Missionary Ridge and three miles across, to come down another trail back to the car.

In 11.3 miles we photographed (documented for a trail crew with waypoints on GaiaGPS) 61 trees blocking the trail.  Hikers never have a problem with downed trees, but the US Forest Service likes to keep these trails open for horseback riders.

In the five years I’ve been a WIS volunteer, we’ve never seen so many downed trees.  It’s primarily a factor of the 2001 forest fire which killed most of the trees in several sections of the trail, but the new growth is now coming up splendidly, as you can see in the background.  We also do a little erosion control, but without an ultralight shovel we can’t do much.











My favorite photo of the day was finding the trail marker for the return trip laying on it’s side at the top of the ridge.

In trying to figure which trails are open already this year, we find that we are recording trail conditions rather than giving advice on the Wilderness.

And for Public Lands Day I volunteered on the Sky Steps Project placing 500+ steps from City of Durango to Fort Lewis College, a 250-foot rise from the valley floor to the college rim. It’s a Trails 2000 project that will take several months to complete.

There has been a hillside trail for almost 25 years in this area, but this is the first time someone has endeavored to put in a bona fide stairway.  It goes fairly slowly as they are using 6×6″ rough cut beams for the construction, with rebar anchors and 12″ screws between the timbers.  Volunteers are doing all the work, which amounts to surveying the route, clearing the trail, cutting the steps, filling the voids with rocks before adding road-base filler, and then grooming the edges.  Our efforts were able to fill in about 60′ of rocks and road-base, plus add 3 small sections of stairway totaling about 30′. Believe it or not, this took almost 30 people, carrying timbers to the site, foraging for stone filler, “fire lining” buckets of gravel to fill the stairs, and grooming the hillside.  They have still another 200′ of stairway to build and all the filler to make it usable. (Photos courtesy of Trails 2000 – I forgot my phone)


WIS Trip Report

IMG_5707Not all the backpacking trips this summer have, or will, cover as much ground as the Weminuche Traverse posted earlier.  The photo above shows us at Fuller Lake in the late afternoon where we camped at 12,800′ the first night of a three-day WIS trip to the Ice Lake Basin.

This photo alone could foster 500 words about the trip, but this was a WIS (Wilderness Information Specialist) trip and it might fitting to just show you our trip report for those 3-days.  As the detail states this trip had the most “hiker interaction” we’ve ever experienced, mainly because we don’t frequent these hike traffic area as often.  This trip was fun and worth sharing.

WIS Trip Report — Tom Galbraith & Mike Taylor — July 29-31, 2016

Day 1 Drove to South Mineral Creek Trail head. Hiked up Ice Lake trail thru lower Ice Lake campsites, up to Upper Ice Lakes and on to Fuller Lake basin.

Day 2 Hiked up to Diamond Mine site down thru Lucy Mine back along Upper Ice Lake to Island Lake.IMG_5708

Day 3 Island Lake down to Ice Lake Trail and out at South Mineral Trailhead.

Trip stats: 3 days, 15 miles hiking, driving 120 miles

Executive Summary:

There were hundreds of hikers using the Ice Lake trail not just on weekends but on Wednesday (Tom’s wife hiked it on Wed 7/27 and there were at least 30 hikers lunching at Upper Ice Lake and close to 100 on the trail) and Friday this summer. It may be time to consider having/asking WIS volunteers to visit the Ice Lake Basin just as they are encouraged to visit Chicago Basin. The response from all but one of the hikers was “glad to see you up here” to “thank you for being here”. (One solo backpacker didn’t want to hear anything from us).

Trip Report:

  1. South Mineral Trailhead Parking lot was full at 7:30 AM
  2. Talked with 20+ people on the 2.8 mile uphill stretch to Lower Ice Lake Basin
  3. IMG_5703Walked thru every campsite in the lower Ice Lake Basin filling our trash bag with mostly aluminum from firepits, found tent stakes, socks, underwear, stove parts, an abandoned backpack stuck/snagged high in a tree, lots and lots of uncovered toilet paper (only twice associated with feces) and a freshly cut pine bough shelter with nylon cord tightly wrapped around small trees for ridgelines.
  4. Filled the small backpack with our almost 6 pounds of trash and talked father and son day-hikers into taking it down with them.
  5. By this time (noon) we’d seen close to 50 hikers on their way to Upper Ice Lakes.
  6. Checked on one young lady reportedly vomiting along the ledge trail to Ice Lakes. She appeared to be better at lake side, she had eaten something and had 3 liters of water. Declined any help and wasn’t going down until they got to Fuller Lake (Checked on her later in the day, she was fine)
  7. No one camped at Upper Ice Lake but several backpackers had come down as we came up.
  8. Before we left Ice Lake on Friday noon there were over 25 people enjoying the lake. Talking to most groups, they seemed to be either from Grand Junction or Albuquerque.
  9. At Fuller Lake we saw another 18 hikers that afternoon, four groups fishing, only one fish caught and released even though we could see numerous large (12”) and 6”+ fish swimming along the shoreline. Curious behavior (several hours) of a number of fish in shallow flats we thought might be spawning rituals.
  10. A couple from Grand Junction climbed Fuller peak while we were there.
  11. Version 2Saturday was the busiest by far in the Upper Ice Lake basin. By 10:30 there must have been 40 people there with more people streaming over the knoll the longer we talked with folks. It wouldn’t be too much of an exaggeration to say there were over 100 people who visited Upper Ice Lake basin on Saturday. Several took a dip, it looked more like the beach at Navajo Lake than Upper Ice Lake.
  12. One Denver photographer had pitched his tent Friday night about 40’ from the lake and we advised him of the 100’ regulation.
  13. On Saturday there were five tent camps in the Upper Ice Lake basin by noon.
  14. Almost every group we passed had a question or two about the lake or the area. The most frequent question was why is Ice Lake so aquamarine, turquoise or “tat color”. Next frequent was how to get to Fuller Lake or even Island Lake.
  15. At Island Lake we helped an international couple choose an alternative route down the mountain, rather than climb over the exposed rock between Ice Lake and Island Lake.
  16. Another family was trying to exit Island Lake via the outflow creek ravine rather than on the Grant/Swamp trail the Hard Rock 100 runners use. They were happy to learn there was an easier descent.
  17. After dinner and during a thunderstorm there were still people visiting Island Lake and at least four up on the ridgeline between Island Lake and Clear Lake.
  18. Sunday morning there were well over a hundred people ascending the Ice Lake trail: at least two backpacking groups, one totally overloaded.
  19. IMG_5718We checked a campsite north of the trail on a knoll below Lower Ice Lake basin and found a tent with an unattended fire with 6” and 4” logs burning. After no one responded, we extinguished the logs by carrying them down to a creek. We left a polite note asking them to be more careful in the future.
  20. IMG_5720On the trail down we were alerted to a Hotchkiss family group with an elderly lady experiencing problems getting down and her 16 year-old granddaughter was carrying two backpacks. (They’d overnighted in Lower Ice Lake basin for two nights.) It took a long time to catch them because almost every group coming up had something to say or ask. After learning the ailing lady wanted to walk slowing down by herself we offered to carry her backpack down.  Mike went back up from the trailhead 1.5 miles to check on them once again. He carried a second backpack and stayed with them all the way down.
  21. Just above the “log creek crossing” we found a couple and two young children “scaling hand over hand” 100’ up from the creek crossing having missed the trail to the left of the creek. We blocked that bottom trail with downed trees so others might not choose the “elk trail”.
  22. We counted 91 vehicles in the parking lot while waiting for the ailing lady and about 12 of those switched out, all before noon.

IMG_5716This was the most rewarding day as a WIS volunteer I’ve had in four years as a volunteer. Everyone was happy to see us and talk. The exposure for the National Forest Service was excellent and 6 or 8 of the locals asked how they might learn about the WIS program. We learned late Saturday afternoon there was another “Forest Service” couple on the Ice Lake trail. We suspect it was the Schmaltz’s from Silverton since they’ve adopted that Ice Lake trail, which was in excellent shape. The trail looked liked it had been swept clean, in the lower section up to the log creek crossing. Hardly any micro-trash on the trail, but the trees and hidden spots are alive with TP.

As mentioned above in the Exec Summary, it might be a good thing to encourage more of the WIS volunteers to go up to Ice Lake and give Charlie and Paulette a hand. From noticing and hearing about Engineer Mountain trail the same might apply. The day hiker seems less experienced on those trails than those who visit Chicago Basin, and our help and volunteers might be needed as much on those two popular trails as in Chicago Basin.

Weminuche Traverse

Messages Image(3109858939)I was privileged once again to follow along one of Will Rietveld’s epic treks across the Weminuche Wilderness area of the San Juan National Forest.

Will has been hiking the San Juan’s for over 50 years and at 74 he doesn’t carry a map any longer, since just about every trail and mountain has  been etched in his memory.

As I’ve mentioned in earlier blogs, Will is a writer who reviews and tests ultralight gear from various vendors and has a blog UltralightInsights featuring that gear and his tips.

This year Will’s friend, the founder of Gossamer Gear Glen Van Peski came along as well.  They’ve hiked the Weminuche several times in the past, so it was fun to hear them revisit those previous trips.

IMG_5676Will generally only uses the normal trails to and from the Trailheads.  He prefers Elk trails and often times “bushwhacking” to get where he’s planned to hike.  When I say we probably climbed 3 or more passes a day it’s not an exaggeration. The couloirs between peaks is how he likes to traverse the alpine landscape and usually there’s only been four-legged animals before us.


DSCF0027As you might imagine, the views are spectacular, and above 13,000′ you can generally look in any direction. Camping above tree line we never need worry about insects or bears. The wildlife we saw was primarily Elk in herds and pairs, a number of curious mountain goats, a lumbering porcupine and countless ptarmigan with their chicks. We did see at least 3 bald eagles, one perched on a stunted spruce watching over the fish in Lost Lake.

Version 2


Ostensibly this was a fishing trip.  Those who know me know fishing isn’t my forte, in fact I just don’t fish because I’ve lost more lures and flies than I’ve ever landed fish.  But there was a novel fishing rig along and I was keen to try my hand: a TicTac fishing rig that Glen brought along as his UL fishing kit. I didn’t get a chance to weigh it but I’m sure it was just over an ounce.

DSCF0066IMG_5681 I caught four fish that day, probably more than all I’ve ever caught in fresh water. (Trolling for Tuna, Dorado or Mackerel off Paradox excluded). I only kept one 16″er and could only fit DSCF0064half in my beer-can pot Esbit stove for dinner, so I dried the rest Thai style on my pack for the next 3 days and enjoyed dried Cutthroat Trout.  I’m hooked and already have a TicTac box of mouth freshners to build my own fishing kit.



P1420975The six-day trip was challenging in that we covered 60.2 miles, which itself would only be 10 miles a day, but we managed 19,990′ ascent and 22,081′ descent in that distance.  One day was just over 14 hours. We didn’t anticipate as much snow as there was this time of year and had to alter route, glissade and scree-slide more often than we figured.

Good thing that each of us was packing UltraLight gear, averaging between 7 and 9 pounds base weight.  Six days food at 1 ½ pounds a day was as much as our base weight.  Glen is a master UL hiker and showed us a few of his tricks which I’ll try and incorporate in my kit for the next trip.

By-the-way, most of these photos are from Glen and Will’s cameras as I wasn’t taking many photos in an effort to see how long my iPhone 6+ would be able to track our daily routes.  GaiaGPS tracked 58 hours of hiking and only needed a short charge on the 5th day. As a result we’re now able to “fly” our track in Google earth for some exciting views.


Here’s the crew, Will on the left and Glen on the right. Will and I logged Wilderness Informational Specialist credit by wearing our volunteer shirts and talking to the backcountry hikers and climbers we ran into.  The trip basically took us from Durango to Silverton, zig-zagging thru the Weminuche Wilderness area. For Glen’s version of the trip click here.

Here’s a few more photos to give you a sense of the adventure.

DSCF0033 DSCF0029 P1420901 P1420915 P1420946 P1420943 DSCF0023


Walking the Talk

IMG_5642July has been unusually good weather in the San Juan’s for hiking this year.  Typically the monsoons start on July 4th, but this year we’ve managed about 15 days without a single rain drop. Not that we’ve hiked every day so far this month, but between the two of us we’ve got in at least 15 days on the trails. From a two hour training hike with my sister Donna and niece Vanessa (with 19#, 8 month-old, Oliver on her back) to an epic 6 day traverse of the Weminuche, with lots of miles in between.

IMG_5635Stanna has up’d her hiking regime to M-W-F with her Ladies Hiking Group, tackling harder trails on Monday and Friday with those ladies who want the additional exercise. She even took me on one hike the morning of the 4th.  I could barely catch her at the parking lot when I tried to add another ¾ mile to the Cascade Creek waterfall inbound leg.  In 4.7 miles back  I didn’t see her until I had sight of the car and her at the same time.

IMG_5629In prep for the UL trip in the Weminuche (see next post) I managed an easy peak climb in the La Platas, with Will Rietveld and Travis Ward where we saw a mountain lion and almost stepped on a 2-day-old fawn.IMG_5627




I’m not a peak bagger, but I did sign the log books on two peaks in the last 10 days, none of them 14’ers but they seem to have jars with logbooks on most mountain tops over 13,000.

IMG_5618Since Stanna and I both use GaiaGPS, she has been able to follow some of the tracks I’ve recorded with her hiking ladies. As WIS volunteers, I did the Snowdon Notch right after my aborted Colorado Trail attempt (to establish it was my new trail shoes that foiled the CT, not my body) and she and her group visited the same trail several days later.

Sure wish we could take some of you along.  The mountains of Southwestern Colorado are beautiful this time of year.  See if you can join us.