Photo Chipmunk Feasting on Pinecone.
Chipmunk Feasting on Pinecone.

Trip Report, September 2010

Llama Trekking on the Colorado Trail in the Weminuche Wilderness

This page provides a brief report of our hike up Elk Creek along the Colorado Trail in the Weminuche Wilderness in southwestern Colorado.

We left Amarillo late Friday, September 10, 2010 and drove to Durango arriving early Saturday morning. Along the way, we stopped at the Owl Cafe in Albuquerque for some green chili cheese burgers.

Saturday, we shopped around Durango and organized our gear. We had a superb dinner on the rooftop patio at Cosmopolitan (now renamed to Eolus).

Sunday, we drove to Silverton and loaded our panniers onto and boarded the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad train for the 30 minute ride to Elk Park.

Photo The Owl Cafe.
The Owl Cafe.
Photo Bill, Connie, and Bob at Preparing to Board the Train in Silverton.
Bill, Connie, and Bob at Preparing to Board the Train in Silverton.
Photo Connie, Bob, and Llamas on the Trail.
Connie, Bob, and Llamas on the Trail.

We picked up our llamas that had been walked to Elk Park by Buckhorn Llama Company. It is possible to walk llamas along the east side of the Animas River from the bridge below the Molas Pass trailhead to Elk Park. It is not necessary to climb up the bench along the Colorado Trail and then back down the bench to reach Elk Park from the bridge.

We then hiked up the Elk Creek trail, a section of the 483 mile long Colorado Trail. In recent years, this trail has been intermittently impassable to live stock, including llamas, at a point about 1 mile from Elk Park. The trail had been a ledge carved out of a step rock face immediately beside Elk Creek. The rock face sloughed off obliterating the trail. The Forest Service has relocated the trail to the base of the rock face at the river's edge. It is easily passable on our trip but it may be subject to being washed out by the river each spring or to additional rock collapse. If you are contemplating making this trip with livestock, I would check with the Forest Service before embarking.

We hiked about 3.75 miles with 1,241 feet of elevation gain to a nice campsite at 10,200 feet. The campsite was at the east end of a large meadow about 1.06 miles up from the beaver ponds. Along the way, we had a great view of Arrow Peak and the iconic Wham Ridge on Vestal Peak that I climbed in 2006. The campsite had abundant space and food for the llamas.

Photo Arrow and Vestal.
Arrow and Vestal.
Photo Bill in Camp.
Bill in Camp.
Photo First Campsite.
First Campsite.

We spent the next day lounging around camp. There were lots of pikas in the talus beside our camp. We could hear the rutting elk bugling day and night.

Tuesday, we set out for the head of Elk Creek. We accidentally found a beautiful waterfall at about 10,300 feet, 0.9 miles up from our campsite. At this point on the trail, the path becomes braided as the trail(s) cross a creek coming down from Lost and Verde Lakes. We inadvertently took a path veering left while looking for a crossing and found the waterfall.

We lacked the energy to make the steep climb I had planned. We back tracked, and with difficulty, found a place to camp and stake out the llamas at 10,750 feet about 1.75 miles up from our previous camp.

The next day, Bill and I hiked up Elk Creek to the miner's cabin at 12,080 feet, 6.6 miles up from Elk Park. We then bushwhacked west-northwest to "Lake 12,191". The surrounding vistas were incredible. This would make a good campsite on a future trip. We ran into a volunteer ranger patrolling the backcountry. We could see the switchbacks leading up the 600 foot climb to the Continental Divide.

Photo Hidden Waterfall.
Hidden Waterfall.
Photo Lake 12,191.
Lake 12,191.
Photo Switchbacks.

The next morning we broke camp and descended to Elk Park. The following morning, we turned over the llamas to the Buckhorn wranglers and rode the train back to Silverton.

Saturday we drove to Telluride for a day at The Blues & Brews Festival before driving back to Amarillo on Sunday.