Needle Mountains high route, Weminuche Wilderness, Colorado - August 2020
Updated: Nov 26, 2020
In mid-August three of us threaded a 50-mile, mostly off trail, point-to-point through Colorado's most rugged mountain range - the Needle Mountains in the Weminuche wilderness near Silverton in southwestern Colorado.
A fiery sunrise on Turret Peak (13,835') and Pigeon Peak (13,972') from a remote tarn deep in the Weminuche Wilderness.
Our primary goal, in addition to photography, was to see as few other people as possible. A goal which we were mostly successful in achieving. With the exception of the well established trails leading in and out of the mountains, and a couple transfers through basins that are high on peak baggers radar, we only saw a couple other backpackers from a distance. Mission accomplished.
Mike and Donny meander between sun and shadow and through endless piles of talus. Once we had regained our elevation from the Animas River gorge our route stayed well above 12,000' for several consecutive days.
A couple Colorado sentinels Vestal Peak (13,870') and Arrow Peak (13,809') - also "centennial peaks" among the highest 100 summits in Colorado. The Needle Mountains don't hold the distinction of including the state's highest peaks, but they do include one of, if not the, highest concentration of highest peaks in the state. Figure that.
While the Needles may be coveted by many-a peak bagger, we made exactly zero summit attempts on this outing. We did however, cross 6 high mountain pass - the highest of which was in excess of 13,500' - linking many of the range's iconic basins.
By our third night out we had meandered into one of Colorado's most remote basins. The warm glow of Eolus granite looks even more inviting at sunset on the impressive face of another of the Centennials - Jagged Mountain (13,824'). Can you spot the mountain goats?
No trip in this corner of the San Juans would be complete without a visit from these well-habituated, bold, yet docile ungulates.
One of the hairier basin transfers required us to down climb this steep pitch of rotten Eolus granite at 13,000', essentially clinging to ball bearings.
The San Juans, and the Needle Mountains in particular, are famous for stunning glaciated high mountain basins replete with towering headwalls of granite and carpets of alpine flowers. The likes of which we had the pleasure of seeing up close day in and day out. Here is the less often viewed north face of Mt. Eolus (14,085').
Rocky Mountain grass-of-Parnassus (Parnassia fimbriata)
One final high pass then 4,000' down to the river.
The Needleton bridge at the Animas River. In 'normal' years you can ride the Durango - Silverton narrow gauge railroad here cutting 10 or so miles off your journey. With the train shut down due to COVID-19 we walk the river trail out.
The river trail is worth the hike though, especially if you just spent the last five days mostly among talus boulders in the thin alpine air. Cutleaf coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata var. ampla)
Pigeon peak looming large over the Animas River gorge.