That time we climbed Eolus, Windom, and Sunlight

Coyote Gulch enjoying a lunch break in the San Juans.
Coyote Gulch enjoying a lunch break in the San Juans.

My good friend Joe sent me this photo via email yesterday. He took it in the Weminuche Wilderness that time we rode the narrow gauge along the Animas and looped around the needles, bagging Eolus, Windom, and Sunlight, before catching the train a few days later on its way back to Durango. That was a great trip — I was skipping around all day with a big smile after the photo jogged all those memories I had put away over the years.

There was the family on the train destined for the same stop and trailhead. Brand new shiny gear all. The boy, about high school age, commented on my boots, scuffed with more than one cut from encounters with rocks on mountain and desert trails, saying, “It looks like those boots have been around.”

I loved those boots mainly because of the anticipation of the day ahead when I laced them up.

There was Pat’s new tent that he insisted we use. The first night of monsoon rainfall we learned that he had not purchased a tent that was manufactured for drizzle in between downpours like you get in the San Juans in July. As the next day dawned I was up early wringing water out my down bag. Lunch that day above Vallecito Lake was extended while we took advantage of solar radiation to dry things out.

The day we climbed Windom and Sunlight there was a single-engine plane flying around and around, circling Chicago Basin. The engine noise bothered me, I can get that stuff in the city, it has no place in the back country. We thought it was probably a tourist flight taking the easy way up to view the high country.

Some hikers we ran across set us straight. A lone hiker decided to head up Eolus late in the day, by himself, without a guide book, route map, or rain gear. He hadn’t been seen since the afternoon storms moved in. The plane was searching for him.

The next day as we descended, after bagging Eolus (and North Eolus), a Chinook landed in the upper basin. Several rescuers got out and headed for the ridge below us. After a time they pulled the body bag out from behind a snow field and took it to the Chinook.

Joe, Pat, and I sat on the “Sidewalk in the Sky” eating lunch and talking about the need for preparation before you attempt these hikes, and laughing about the experiences (and good luck), that had taught us such wisdom. Danger is not far away in the back country. The mountains let you climb them.

Mrs. Gulch was elated to hear my voice when I called her from Durango. Of course she had heard that a hiker had died on Mt. Eolus and she knew that was where her backcountry tramping husband was at the time. I could really feel the love through the phone lines.

Arriving back at the homestead is always a big deal for me after a trip.

“It’s been a long road, but a good one” — Steve Vandiver

Steve Vandiver enjoys a river float.
Steve Vandiver enjoys a river float.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

A key figure in the San Luis Valley water community will step down from his post this spring.

Steve Vandiver said Friday he’ll resign as general manager of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District in the spring.

The district will begin a formal search for his replacement in the next 10 days.

“It’s been a long road, but a good one,” he said. “It’s time for me to do some other things and let some fresh, young, energetic minds take over.”

Vandiver, who’s been the district’s general manager since 2005 and spent 24 years before that as the division engineer in the valley, said he is stepping down for personal reasons.

“There’s nothing wrong at work. I’m not unhappy with my job,” he said.

The district hopes to hire his replacement by March 1 and Vandiver will stay on for a few months to help with the transition.

“We do so many darn things that trying to sit down in a room and tell somebody in a day what they’re going to do and have them go do it isn’t going to work,” he said.

The district is in the midst of bringing as many as six new subdistricts online in the coming years.
The subdistricts levy fees on their members to help restore groundwater levels and mitigate the impacts of pumping on surface-water users.

It has also sponsored a recovery plan for a pair of federally protected birds to help farmers and ranchers avoid the more stringent provisions of the Endangered Species Act.

The district also plays a formal role in the Rio Grande Natural Area Commission, which was founded to protect a 33mile stretch of the river above the state line.

And it expects to move into a new 7,400-squarefoot building March 1.

Beyond the transition period, Vandiver hopes he can continue to represent the district in some of its external roles.

Vandiver sits on both the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable and the statewide Interbasin Compact Committee.

He also was just appointed to the state’s Water Resources and Power Authority Board, which oversees a $2 billion revolving fund for water and sewer projects.

“I’m not just going to go fishing,” he said, although he allowed that he intended to do more angling once the transition is complete.

The La Junta native came to the valley in 1973 to work at the division engineer’s office and has since been involved in valley efforts to fight off export schemes, avoid federal encroachment on water issues and regulate groundwater use.

“I’ve really come to love this place and certainly have tried my best in my positions to protect it as best I could,” he said.