It had been a few years since I had visited Durango for a trip with GG Ambassador Will Rietveld to romp in his backyard, the Weminuche Wilderness. The two previous trips were definitely on the ‘short list’ of best backpacking trips, and I get out a fair amount. For this trip, Will’s friend Tom was coming along, so I would get to meet someone new.
Typically at this time of year, the San Juan Mountains are in a monsoonal weather pattern, so the original trip plan was for shorter days, with early starts, arriving at a lake around 2:00 or 3:00, setting up shelters, napping through the afternoon thunderstorm, and then fishing in the evening. Will and I had done a previous trip with this pattern, and it was an enjoyable and relaxing rhythm. The week before the trip started, a high pressure system set up camp over the area, and it looked like it was going to be entirely clear for our trip. Emboldened, Will modified the trip to take more ‘scenic routes’, which Tom and I quickly learned was code for ‘long, hard days, traveling cross-country over multiple 13,000-foot passes per day’. Will figured with 14 hours of daylight or near-daylight, we could make some serious progress on some new segments of his ‘Weminuche High Route’.
Flat-lander at Altitude
The first day, in partial and short-lived deference to the one guy who lives at sea level, we arrived at our camping lake around 1:00. While Will assembled his lightweight backpacking fishing pole, I whipped out my 0.5 oz. Tic Tac Fishing rig made for me years ago by genius gear tinkerer Rik Christensen.
After a couple of hand casts, I caught the first cutthroat trout of the trip! Since it was a while to dinner, we put our catches in a nearby snow bank for keeping.
The 6 days fell into an easy routine… well, a routine, of rising early, hiking long days over talus, scree, snow, and the occasional game trail. We saw spectacular scenery, wildlife (including elk, mountain goats, ptarmigan, porcupine, weasels, marmots, bald eagle) and walked through ‘Sound of Music’ fields of wildflowers.
I took advantage of the trip for some quality time with the new One. On previous Weminuche trips I had taken a more minimal tarp, but I had just received The One shelter Prior to this trip, and I was anxious to take it for a spin. So while I normally wouldn’t take something as heavy as a full tent, I threw in The One at 19 oz. And I gotta say, it was a sweet palace for sure. At 6’4”, there was plenty of room for me. It set up in a flash using my trekking poles. The first couple of days were pretty windy. I was able to pitch the leading edge to the ground, and brought a couple of extra spectra lines and stakes to provide additional guying, which worked great. The new fabric, while the same weight as the old spinnaker, is super quiet, so I wasn’t bothered by any crinkling in the high winds. The generous vestibule provided protection for my gear, and sheltered the entrance from the wind. There were a couple of locations where we had flies, so I was glad for the full mesh protection.
My sub-6 pound base weight performed admirably for the trip. Trying to keep up with Will and Tom (both of whom are in their 70’s) made me glad I was going light. Even though I am only 58, and run ultra-marathons, those guys are mountain goats!
Thinking about the gear I brought for this trip and what I didn’t pack, I will be adding a safety pin to my repair kit, as that was something that would have been useful to Will, and I could see other potential applications on a trip, for very minimal weight. Also, it seemed like my venerable Derma-safe blade, which I have had for years, was dull when I was using it to clean trout. So I ordered a new one to replace in my kit. I drank over half the water on the trip without any treatment, so only used half of my small bottle of bleach, which is about a 4-day supply if treating everything.
This was my biggest trip so far with my Berghaus Vapourlight 3.2 oz. rain jacket. While I didn’t get a chance to test it in rain, I wore it extensively as a windshirt, and it functioned better than I thought it would. It was definitely breathable enough to serve that purpose for this trip.
I will NEVER go on another Will trip without Gorilla Gloves. I had gloves for sun, but had the last four fingers cut off to save weight. We did plenty of scrambling, and it would have protected my hands to have gloves better suited to the rough rocks.
Boiling water meals can be sketchy at best, but at 12,000 feet, they were a non-starter. After the first night, I ended up simmering them in the pot, and they were much more edible. I found that I could poach two good-sized trout, cleaned and cut in half, in my Zelph Foster’s pot, just bringing the water to a boil, then removing the pot to the insulated cozy stuff sack. After about 5 minutes, I took the fish out, put them on a flat rock, and stirred in instant garlic mashed potatoes to the hot fish water. Picking the trout off the bones in between mouthfuls of mashed potatoes was one of the highlight dinners of the trip.
This report was written by Gossamer Gear founder and ultralight guru, Glen Van Peski. Enjoy more photos from the Weminuche Wilderness below.