Backpacking Colorado’s Chicago Basin, Day 2: Billy Goat’s Gruff

Backpacking Colorado's Chicago Basin_Day 2

Matt and I are eating breakfast admiring the view from our spectacular campsite when we suddenly hear the gallop of hoof steps fast approaching. I turn just in time to see a giant male goat charging at full speed right at me! I stand up just in the nick of time, and it barely swerves around our tent. Another goat is in hot pursuit, and the two gallop a mere five feet past us and out to the next rock ledge. Almost getting stampeded by two mountain goats sure is a memorable way to get your heart going in the morning!

The goats were too fast to snap any photos, but we take note of all the goat fur adorning the tree branches around our camp, indicating their frequent presence in our campsite. The skies have cleared up this morning, and the views from our beautiful perch are even more impressive this morning.  Today we are headed over to Columbine Pass. We hear the snow is easy to negotiate, and the views are supposed to be spectacular from the 13,094 foot pass. We finish up breakfast, pack up our bags up with food, water and rain/cold weather gear and head out.

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Our first challenge of the day is a creek crossing where we have to balance on a log jam of small trees to get across. Falling to our left would be cold, but falling to our right would be disastrous. We are careful and make it across without incident.

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The trail leads us up past a small meadow and into the forest where we find a small herd of the Chicago Basin goats foraging in the forest. There are a few moms with babies and even a pair of twins that are so small, fuzzy and cute it’s unbelievable. The goats in Chicago Basin are not shy at all, and it is tempting to move in closer for a better look/photo, but their horns look sharp and serve as a good reminder to give them their space.

After they pass by, we head down the trail to a gorgeous spot where a stream cascades down alongside a flower-filled meadow. We stop and take countless photos, and, by the time we are done, the goats have caught up to us again. We keep the cameras out and click away.

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After the photo session we start making our way to the pass, first climbing above the tree line and then zigzagging our way across an open meadow and up to the rocky realm of the pass. We cross a few small snow patches covering the trail. The snow is soft, and we sink in, a little at first and then eventually up to our knees.

At one switchback the snow seems particularly deep, and we short cut the trail to get around it (sorry!). As we make our way up, we keep our eye on some menacing clouds rising over the mountains to the west. They are billowy and grey but appear to be far enough off, so we make the final push up to the pass. Hiking in these high altitude conditions has now become such a familiar feeling from our long treks in Peru and Ladakh. We are grateful for all of the hiking experiences we have had that help make us feel comfortable and confident in conditions like these.

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Just before reaching the pass we come across beautiful purple flowers in their prime, and they make a magnificent foreground subject for the the incredible views of the peaks in the distance.

From the top of the pass, it’s possible to see into Vallecito Basin spread out ahead of us with its own backdrop of mountain splendor. Columbine Lake is below us, still frozen over but breaking up a little more each day. Perhaps in a week all the ice will be gone, but for now it’s a strong reminder of just how long winter keeps a firm grasp on this beautiful place.

We decide to eat lunch at the pass, and, just as we finish, it begins to hail/grovel. We pack up as quickly as possible and begin making our way down. Thankfully, it’s not too bad and doesn’t impede our progress. Within 10 minutes, it’s over. We retrace our steps back over the snow and down into the meadow. We take off our rain gear and take advantage of the opportunity to snap some photos of the abundant flowers without our packs on.

On our way back to camp we stop at an abandoned mine. There is an old, decrepit miner’s cabin still standing (just barely!) at its entrance, and we stop to have a look inside. There is a thick layer of ice starting at the mouth of the mine and extending as far as we can see into the darkness. Matt is dead-set on going in, so we dig out our headlamps and put on the micro-spikes we are carrying with us to give them a go. It’s amazing how they grip into the ice and give us a sense of sure-footedness on what would certainly be a treacherously slippery surface without them!

We make our way easily across the stretch of ice until it abruptly ends, and now we are walking on the old mine tracks. It’s damp and eerie in the mine. The old rails for running the ore cart are rusted and bent, the wooden planks rotten and askew. We continue about 100 yards until there is a bend in the mine. We decide to turn around here and make our way back to the entrance. Our little off-trail mine excursion is pretty cool!

We retrace our steps back to the trail junction near our campsite and head up on the trail leading to Mt. Eolus, Wyndom and Sunshine, the three 14-teeners that make the Chicago Basin such a popular spot with the peak-baggin’ crowd. We heard from our campsite neighbors and others on the trail that making it all the way up to Wyndom was pretty tough going. There’s still lots of snow and it’s super soft, making post-holing a real concern. Our neighbor post-holed up to his neck!

We have no intention of going that far. There are several pretty waterfalls along the trail, and we want to check them out and chill out for a bit before heading back to camp for the night. A cute, little marmot takes note of us on the way up. Matt scouts out a cool spot on a big boulder high above the falls. We scramble up to the top of it, eat, snack, rest, journal and photograph until we we are ready to move again.

On the way back to camp, we can’t help ourselves from stopping to admire the colorful wildflowers and luscious green foliage growing on the trail yet again. The growing season is officially “on” in the Chicago Basin, and it feels oh, so satisfying to be in the right place at the right time. We are standing exactly where we are supposed to be…

Just as we arrive at camp, it starts to sprinkle again—this time rain, not grovel—and we make dinner in a little grove of trees right next to our campsite to stay dry. It’s only 8 pm by the time we are done with all of our camp chores, and we go for a short walk down the trail. It’s so peaceful and quiet. We see two deer across the meadow grazing by a pond. We are back in the tent, and it’s lights out by hiker’s midnight, aka 9 pm!

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2 thoughts on “Backpacking Colorado’s Chicago Basin, Day 2: Billy Goat’s Gruff

  1. I am imagining the conversation the two of you had at the entrance of the mine regarding whether or not to go in! Very cool shots you took inside. I may have waited outside for you guys and been on the lookout for mountain goats! 🙂

    1. Thanks, Leah! You are so right. I would have totally skipped it (especially with mountain goats around to photograph), but I was eager to test out the micro-spikes and how they would handle the ice in case we ran into icy trails on the JMT. It ended up being pretty cool, so I am glad that I gave it a try. 🙂

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