The last six days of hiking have brought me to near the end of the San Juans, to the town of Silverton, nestled deep within steep mountans.
Around quarter after six, I noticed from my tent another hiker on the trail hiking past. I couldn’t tell for certain, but I suspected it was Patches, getting an early start to the day.
I left camp myself about an hour and a half later. Since it was still pretty cool out, and seeing that there were willows on the trail ahead, I left my pants legs on to keep my legs from getting scratched up. (This worked well, though I did have to take them off after not even an hour as it warmed up.)
It didn’t take long to pass the lake we planned to camp at yesterday, West Ute Lake. Dropping into the lake’s bowl, it was cooler and noticeably more humid; I was glad we didn’t camp there.
It may have been cool out, but that didn’t stop the mosquitoes. (Or, at least, I thought they were mosquitoes.) I hiked through a swarm of them this morning. They didn’t seem to try and go after me, which was nice, but hiking through a swarm of any insect, no matter how docile, is still annoying.
Due to the snow melt, the lake’s outlet, which crosses the trail, was overflowing into the trail. There were some stepping stones that, under lower water conditions, would have been more than adequate But now, there was so much water that the entire intersection was flooded at least six inches deep, and the bottom of many of the willows in the area were submerged. If it weren’t for the willows, I might have been able to find a dry route across at a different point in the outflow’s channel, but the willows made access anywhere other than the trail crossing impassable.
I expected to get my feet wet, but managed to find just enough footing on the rocks and the edge of the water that I made it across with only getting one foot half wet, and the other foot just a tiny bit wet. I considered it a win, and it didn’t take that long for my shoes to dry out in the dry air, once I got further away from the lake.
One other thing I’ve noticed over the past few days is a gradual increase in blooming wildflowers along the trail. There’s a mix of yellow and purple flowers. I’ve been told that, once the afternoon rains start happening, there will be much larger flower blooms.
The trail today is, on balance, a bit less steep than it had been. As a result, I think, it’s been easier for water from snow melt to pool on the trail, and there were several places today where the trail was a creek, or in a couple of places, filled with standing water.
I stopped for a break with Slowpoke at a trail junction, and chatted with him a bit before he took off on his side-trail adventure, which should see him summit Leviathan Mountain, pass by some lakes, and gain and lose a pretty substantial amount of elevation in the process.
Dog Bite and Plus One also arrived. They clarified exactly what their plans were with regards to going into and coming back from Silverton, and I decided that it would probably be better if I head all the way to Stony Pass and hitch in from there, rather than follow their alternate, which would easily add a day’s worth of hiking.
Later, a big fluffy cloud appeared over a mountain, as I was climbing up out of a valley. It started to drizzle a little bit, but it felt like it had the makings of a substantial storm, rather than just a little bit of rain, so I stoped and put my pack cover on.
I’m glad I did, because not long after I made it over the ridge and started down the other side, it started raining, and then hailing. it was pretty cold, and I’d wished I’d also put my rain jacket on, but rather than stop (and get wetter) in the process, I instead hiked on, as fast as I could, hoping that I’d be able to hike my way out of the storm.
The rain and hail only lasted for about half an hour, but that was enough to cause flooding on the trail and a couple of dirt roads the tail crossed. On one of the dirt roads, from a distance, I saw a truck; clearly, we weren’t the only ones getting wet out here.
As the trail climbed out of a valley, I noticed a pretty significant change in the character of the mountains. The headwall I was hiking towards was nearly completely green, with a thin rim of snow just below the ridge. (I wondered if the area had once been used as pasture; there were two old barns on the other side of the valley from the trail.) It also seemed like the storm had been confined to the valley behind; here, it seemed dry, with no sign of hail on the ground.
After crossing a pass, the CDT joined with the Colorado Trail, which continues southwestward to Durango; a couple hundred trail miles north, the CT splits off the CDT to head to the outskirts of Denver. By the time I got to the junction, my shirt, which had been soaked by the hail, was dry.
From here, I was above the treeline for the rest of the day. The terrain was a series of gentle rolling hills, with mostly short grasses, flowers, and the occasional small shrub. The trail was like this for most of the way to Stony Pass, with the occasional steep hill to climb (or snowy patch to avoid or plow through).
It was also quite windy, and the wind didn’t let up until late in the afternoon.
As much as I’ve enjoyed hiking with other people, having now effectively completely detached from the group I was hiking with, it was rather freeing. Now that the snow is (hopefully) largely a thing of the past, I’m probably going to wind up hiking a large portion of the rest of the trail solo, rather than in a group. (At least, I don’t expect to join a large group like I’ve been in again. It was fun, but also logistically challenging.)
About quarter after four, I reached the trailhead at Stony Pass, and began to walk towards town, a ten mile walk down a very steep dirt road. If I had to walk all the way into town, I’d probably get there after dark, but my hope was that someone would drive by and I’d be able to get a ride into town.
About ten minutes after leaving the trailhead, a truck driving up from Silverton appeared; they asked if I was going to Silverton; I asked if I could get a ride. The answer was “maybe”.
The driver, Jason, was shuttling two hikers to the trailhead. The “maybe” was because there was some kind of unwanted noise his truck was making, and he wanted to check the truck out a bit before heading back down the mountain. The truck passed whatever test he did, which meant it was probably safe enough to get us down the mountain. I joked that as long as the brakes and power steering worked, we’d probably be fine. (Though, if another opportunity to get down the mountain had presented itself then, I’d have taken it in a heartbeat.)
The truck felt nearly as wide as the road, in contrast to the much smaller ATVs that regularly zoomed past us, and with as steep as the road was (and with several very tight u-turns), there were times when I couldn’t actually see exactly where we were going. (The driver, though, was much more familiar with the road, so he knew where he was going, and could probably see more of the road from the mirrors.)
It took nearly an hour to descend all the way from Stony Pass to the edge of town. The ATVs that zoomed past us probably made it in half that time, even though the speed limit for most of the road was ten miles an hour, and with good reason.
My first order of business was to head to The Avon. I’d booked a bunk for tomorrow night, but now that I was in town a day earlier than planned, I needed somewhere to go, and it made sense to try the same place. There was easily space for me in the bunks, but, I decided that, after six hard days of hiking, I wanted a private room to myself for the evening. This was expensive, but so worth it.
I dropped my pack in my room and made my way to Avalanche Brewing, where I got beers and pizza. The beer was great, and the pizza was not bad.
I returned to my room, got a shower, and passed out.