Rocky Mountain Weekender: Weminuche & Vinotok

As I wrote a month ago, there are some places you get to once and you know immediately you don’t have enough time to do them justice on this trip.

I had a two-hour window in August in Durango to hike in the Weminuche Wilderness Area near Vallecito Lake. I turned back after hiking two incredible miles along Vallecito Creek, a majestic jumble of quartzite, evergreen, granite and rapids.

And I immediately knew I had to get back – soon.

And last week, I did just that, heading back to Durango for a three-day backpacking trip into the Weminuche. Most hikers take the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad to a starting point that affords them easy access to the fourteeners ringing the Chicago Basin, or else enter from Purgatory or Molas Pass. Coming in from the trailhead at the Vallecito Campground, we essentially took the back way.

We hiked about eight miles along the creek, crossing it thrice by bridge and fording it once, and then hung a left at the Johnson Creek Trail, where the terrain got much more rugged. While we ascended 1,300 vertical feet over eight miles on the Vallecito Creek Trail, we quickly went up that much and more via many a switchbacks before making a camp a few hundred feet below timberline.

The next day, we carefully stowed our rations and left the camp for a day hike up Columbine Pass. I was quite glad to have left my back behind as our trek peaked at nearly 12,700 feet. The views were more than worth the effort, although I admit I enjoyed one of my favorite naps in recent memory after making it back out to camp that afternoon.

The next day, we retraced our steps and took the same route out that we took in two days earlier, and made it to downtown Durango by 3:30 p.m. After a shower at the General Palmer Hotel and tamales and a few pints at Steamworks Brewing Copmany, I had to admit that civilization indeed has its merits.


Weminuche Wilderness Area:

General Palmer Hotel:

Steamworks Brewery:



If you can make it to Crested Butte this weekend for the annual fall festival known as Vinotok, do it. It’s one of my favorite oddball festivals in the state, culminating in the Burning of the Grump on Saturday night. Here’s an excerpt on the festival from my 2008 book, Ramble Colorado:

“Burn the Grump!” I yell. “Burn it!”

In the heart of Crested Butte, hundreds of people gather for the annual trial of the Grump. After locals dressed in odd, medieval-looking costumes danced, sang, and boozed their way through every eating and drinking establishment on Elk Avenue, hundreds mass in the center of town for the trial. First comes “the infinite” battle between the knight, “representing technology…the molybdenum mine,” and the Earth Dragon, “representing nature, people, good fortune, and everything wild.” The dragon makes short work of the knight, the audience cheered, but the Green Man-a local dressed in green with a crown of green leaves and a green facepaint-begins to suffer onstage next. He is dying. After a smattering of debate, it is decided the Grump must take the Green Man’s place.

“Burn the Grump!”


Gunnison-Crested Butte Tourism Association:

Ramble Colorado:

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