Read Part 1 Here
The morning of our third day we finally woke to blue skies. This elevated our spirits, as we began another solid day. The plan was to cover another 16 miles with our high point being our final 12,600ft pass. By doing simple math we came to the conclusion that one pass was easier then two passes and thus we would have an easier day. We were wrong.
Weather was on our side as we began the steep ascent up to our pass. The climb initially began modest, but the steep trail quickly appeared. Add to this the unrelenting false summits and we found ourselves being wore down. Climbing up the trail we were bombarded with stunning waterfalls. Being 'Phoenicians' we were thrown back by the amount of water encounter on this trip. It seemed that one could carry a small container for water and get by just fine. Water ran down the trails we were hiking; beside the trails; and for the first two days came down onto the trail.
As we continued uphill the valley narrowed and the trail became more steep. After multiple false summits we finally reached a high alpine meadow. So far the sun had continued to stay out and we were in high spirits. We took a short break and attempted to locate our pass. We speculated about where it was and whether the crest was high enough. After the short break we began another steady climb. An endless supply of switchbacks began as we passed by numerous springs. At times it would seem as though we were hiking in streams. I am still not certain if the amount of water on trail was due to the rain or if it is always present. Either way we pressed on into the elevation. The thin air thinned our group as everyone found their comfortable pace.
Along the route we stumbled upon the first of many mines. Although no shaft was visible there were the remnants of the mining that had occurred. After an hour we finally got the first glimpse of the pass. Of course none of the locations we had identified were the correct one. As we drew near the beginning switchbacks we came upon the water source for the area, a deep alpine pool. The blueish green waters created a surreal environment. At the base of the switchbacks there were plenty of marmots. One of the marmots had repurposed an old mine shaft into it's home. Such a great example of nature reclaiming the mess we left behind. The climb to the pass was short and steep. The series of switchbacks left us gasping for air but relieved that we had only downhill left. Even though the day had only one pass, the climbing was harder.
The beginning or our descent into the Chicago Basin was nearly as steep and difficult as the ascent. Slippery rock and unstable ground forced us to descend carefully at a snail's pace. Eventually the ground flattened out and we continued to drop elevation. Keeping up with tradition the sky began to threaten us with unfavorable weather. Luckily nothing materialized into anything more then a light sprinkle. We could handle that, easy.
After passing a fat sun bathing marmot we arrived in Chicago Basin. Forgetting the shitty weather of the past few days we planned our return trip to the Chicago Basin and plan to bag peaks. In our planning we assured each other that we would take the short way in and take lots of amenities. The basin is just as beautiful as it made out to be, with the exception of one thing. Families and mouth breathers. Lots of them. Granted it was a holiday weekend, I would compare the area as the 'Havasupai' of the San Juans. Lots of elaborate setups, too many trucker hats, and did I mention too many kids? None the less the area is beautiful and worth seeing.
After a long lunch break in the basin we continued our descent to the train. This portion of the day seemed abnormally long. The trail was not difficult but the tole of two 16 mile days was beginning to set in. Blisters and sore body parts were slowing our travel which did nothing for morale. Eventually we arrived at the trail junction and set foot along the infamous Animas River. Our plan was to find a reliable water source (thanks miners and EPA for fucking that one up) near a campsite and bed down. This turned out to be a more difficult task then we had planned. Eventually we stumbled upon a source and filled our packs, preparing to dry camp at the next available spot. Two minutes down trail we found our home for the evening. The night was warm and the weather was excellent, which was relieving after the last few evenings.
The following morning we were up early and hit the trail. With only seven miles to go we made a considerable effort to get out at a decent time and enjoy lunch in Silverton. Unfortunately we had another 1500ft of climbing to do before we could enjoy that lunch. The trail was relentless, and tossed the final challenge down. The climb would really be nothing had we just been day hiking. But after four days of shitty sleep, terrible weather and high passes; we were being challenged. The parking lot was a welcome relief as we stumbled to it's comfort. As all our trips go; things never go as planned. We were fortunate enough to enjoy great weather the last two days. The trip was challenging both physically and mentally, but the views were worth the challenge.