The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad passes through the heart of the San Juan mountains in southern Colorado, and they make a special stop in the middle of their trip. As you’ll see in the video, the train ride has some exciting moments twisting through deep gorges and alongside sheer drop offs. Half way to the town of Silverton (where the train stops and then heads back to Durango), the conductor stops the train, in what feels like the middle of nowhere, to drop off those who want to backpack into Chicago Basin (a large drainage area surrounded by 4 14’ers). It’s a pretty eerie feeling watching the train pull away knowing that it would be a 40 mile hike back to civilization in either direction with no cell service in case of an emergency.
Alex and I hiked the very strenuous 6 miles into the basin. The trail followed along Chicago creek and gained some 4,000 feet in elevation. Packing light, I was more than ready to eat some dehydrated food and crawl into my bivy sack not long after selecting some trees to camp by.
We spent the next two days hiking the 14’er’s. I’d start around 4:30 am with a headlamp while Alex slept in. He would catch me by 10 or so and then we’d come back down by noon so as to avoid the afternoon thunderstorms. After a particularly strenuous morning of climbing Alex decided to enjoy the cold and thrill of jumping into a high alpine lake and we both got a great laugh out of the mountain goats who followed us along the would lick the rocks any time we stopped to pee. Apparently, they like the salt left behind by the hikers.
The final thrill of the trip was heading back down to catch the early afternoon train into Silverton. A late chili lunch at one of the town’s diners was perfect for warming us up before taking the train back to Durango. While the smoke and ash can get thick at times, it’s a great ride. If you get there, don’t forget to see the museum and roundhouse back in Silverton. To get more information on the Scenic Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad visit their website at durangotrain.com.