Mid summer marks the time when a limited window of opportunity opens to explore some of our country’s most dramatic alpine landscapes. This year marks my fourth annual pilgrimage into some of the most wild and remote places in the Western United States. Some of the places I’ve been to in the past include: the Ruby Mountains, the Great Western Divide, the Bechler River Wilderness, and the Galatin Mountains.
Depending on the location, there is at most a three-month window to get to these places before the inclement weather settles in. This is the main reason why summer has a special place in my heart. For me, it is the most intrepid time of the year. This year I am planning a visit to the Weminuche Wilderness.
To those of you not familiar with the area, the Weminuche occupies the far southwestern corner of Colorado to the immediate east between Durango and Silverton. Its location is at nearly the epicenter of the San Juan Mountains and at just under 500,000 acres, it is Colorado’s largest wilderness area. This is a place that contains three 14,000 foot peaks as well as the headwaters for many major streams and rivers including the Rio Grande, San Juan, and Animas Rivers. The Weminuche is also the state’s deepest and most impenetrable wilderness. Many of its spectacular back country locations are accessible only by long hiking trails where days of backpacking travel are necessary. Some years, the trails are snowed in until the middle of July and a snowstorm is not uncommon in September.
To date, I’ve spent about a week in the state of Colorado on two different trips that both involved staying in my favorite place called Telluride, which also happens to be nearby. During my travels, I’ve driven around the western periphery of the Weminuche, but I have never ventured into it. The Weminuche proper is surrounded on almost all sides by other wilderness areas, generally consisting of the same mountains and rugged terrain, but technically of different names. Trying to familiarize yourself with a general wilderness area this large and complex is like trying to put together a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle.
The research is intensive. For me, it started with a map followed by a guide-book and then more maps and books and finally Internet research. Moreover, this will be my first solo backpacking trip in several years and will also be my longest. Some of the other major considerations I must take into account are: road conditions, weather, driving distances, supplies, hiking miles, wild animals, altitude acclimatization, and wilderness rules/regulations.
Mental preparation becomes as important as physical preparation. One of the focal points of my preparation for this trip is what do in case of a lightning storm. Colorado is known for its mid summer monsoon storms and its high peaks and lakes are like lightning rods. What happens if an electrical storm rolls in when I am ten miles and 3,000 feet up from my vehicle? Noted below is the best information I have found on this subject to date.
My trip is coming up fast and I have some other ideas and information to share with you about it before I leave near the end of this month. I am also going to post a detailed itinerary and try to make this trip more interactive than what I have done in the past. If you have any suggestions for restaurants, campgrounds, driving tips, or anything at all I’d love to hear from you. I am looking forward to sharing more with you in the future. Have a wonderful day!