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Backpacker Magazine – May 2011

Going to Extremes

Can you ever really have too much of a good thing? Once you've seen the biggest tree, largest glacier, and deepest canyon, nothing else compares.

by: Ted Alvarez

Mt. Washington's Nelson Crag Trail (Jerry and Marcy Monkman)
Mt. Washington's Nelson Crag Trail (Jerry and Marcy Monkman)
Emerald Lake in the Weminuche (Tad Bowman)
Emerald Lake in the Weminuche (Tad Bowman)
White Fringed Phacelia in the Smokies (Paul Rezendes)
White Fringed Phacelia in the Smokies (Paul Rezendes)

Most Berries
100-Mile Wilderness, ME

Maine’s acidic soil grows more wild blueberries than anywhere in the world—an acre can yield 6,000 pounds of fruit. Gorge yourself in early August; look for bumper crops near bogs and creeks.

Most Remote
Rock Creek Lake, Weminuche Wilderness, San Juan Mountains, CO

Technically, a spot deep in Yellowstone’s Thorofare region is farther from a road than any other place in the Lower 48. But as Mark Jenkins reported in 2008’s “Destination Nowhere” (, hiking to it can feel busy indeed. To experience real wilderness, head to Hinsdale County, Colorado, which a 2007 USGS survey determined to be the continental U.S.’s most roadless area per capita. Why? With only a single incorporated town (Lake City, population 387), the county is dominated by the half-million-acre Weminuche Wilderness (the state’s largest) and the 100,000-acre Uncompaghre Wilderness. Here lies the wild heart of the Rockies, a land of windswept tundra, undisturbed forests, and sheer granite guarded by a handful of Fourteeners, scores of 13,000-foot peaks, dozens of cascades, and persistent rumors of grizzlies.

To reach its deepest hideaway, take the Durango Narrow Gauge Railroad and hop off with a loaded pack at the Needle station. You’ll tromp six miles to camp at idyllic Chicago Basin, where loads of peakbaggers hoping to nab dramatic Fourteeners Windom, Eolus, and Sunlight ensure you won’t be alone—yet. Leave ’em behind on day two by climbing 2.2 miles up and over 12,680-foot Columbine Pass; the next seven miles drop past multiple waterfalls in the Johnson Creek drainage. Connect to the Vallecito Creek Trail for seven miles of brookie-filled stream and wildflower-spotted meadows before passing under the shadow of 13,617-foot The Guardian. Camp near the confluence of Vallecito and Rock Creek. On day three, go six miles on Rock Creek Trail to the middle-of-nowhere: Rock Lake Basin, more than 20 trail miles from any road. Ford the rust-orange, mineral-stained Rock Creek (runs high and fast until July) to reach your treeline camp, encircled by a dozen shark-fin peaks. Climbers: Rise early on day four for a class 3 scramble up 13,684-foot Mt. Oso, towering directly over your camp. Return to civilization by connecting to Half-Moon Lake Pass, Emerald Lake (the second-largest natural lake in Colorado), and the Pine River Trail. End at Pine River Campground at the Vallecito Reservoir.

Do it
Board the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad at 479 Main St., Durango, CO. Shuttle car: From US 160 in Bayfield, turn left on CO 501 for 25.5 miles to Pine River Campground. Map Trails Illustrated Weminuche Wilderness ($12, Guidebook Hiking Colorado’s Weminuche and South San Juan Wilderness Areas, by Donna Ikenberry ($17, Contact and

Deepest Lake
Crater Lake NP, OR

With an average depth of 1,148 feet (it bottoms out at 1,943 feet), Crater Lake is the deepest in the Western Hemisphere and third deepest worldwide. And since it’s fed only by rain and snowmelt, it’s also one of the clearest lakes you’ll ever see. From the PCT, take the Dutton Creek Trail to hike six miles along the ice-blue waters (total route length: 9.4 miles).

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Reader Rating: -


Tammy Vanden Heuvel
Jun 30, 2011

I just was at Black Canyon in May 2011 and hiked to the bottom. The only animals I saw were the birds, squirrels and pikas. But there were posted signs around that the park was having an issue with a problem bear.

Don't let the predators scare you off - this is an absolutely gorgeous park. Take time and the right gear and hike to the bottom.


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