What’s in a name? The Merriam-Webster dictionary, defines purgatory “as a place or state of punishment” and as a “state of temporary suffering”. To avoid purgatory, most climbers ride the historic Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Train, then hike six miles into Chicago Basin. Beware, choosing the Purgatory Flats trail approach to Chicago Basin is punishment and will cause suffering. At a total of 15 miles and over 4,500 feet of elevation gain, it's a route less traveled.
The lush rolling peaceful scenery is distracting; good for easing the burden of a 45-pound load. But, all that changes as you turn onto the Needle Creek trail. The final six-mile 3,300 foot climb is definitely work.
My personal Purgatory Flats adventure took three years to materialize. (Three years of purgatory.) On the final mile of my approach, I kept wondering if I’d only left the Coyote Urine in the car would my pack feel lighter?
We found the Coyote Urine to be the perfect deterrent for mountain goats and marmots. Folklore of the area includes wild tales of climbers returning to camp only to find tattered tents, sleeping bags and clothes destroyed from salt-seeking mammals.
Stats for Chicago Basin approach via Purgatory Flats
15 miles from Purgatory Flats trailhead to Chicago Basin with 4,500 feet elevation gain
Expert tips for Purgatory Flats approach to Chicago Basin
- There is a large parking lot directly across from Purgatory Flats trailhead.
- Stealth car camping is possible at this trailhead.
- If you want to pitch a tent, then you must hike down the trail for 1.75 miles to a large meadow. The meadow is on the edge of the creek. NOTE: Early season hikers may find this meadow swampy.
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