Friday, December 15, 2017

Day 28: The Old Hundred Gold Mine

September 21: I woke up to another beautiful, clear day! It was extremely annoying since I really wanted to get back and finish the Colorado Trail and I hated the idea of wasting such a beautiful day sitting around town, but the snow storm was still expected to blow in tomorrow so wait I did.

Although "sitting around town" didn't appeal to me, and I learned about a gold mine that was open for tours about five miles outside of town. I could walk there if I had to, and walk back. Ten miles on a beautiful day like this--no problem! Without carrying a heavy pack? No problem! On a nearly flat road? No problem!

Today would take me into the Old Hundred mine.

Not that I was particularly excited about walking ten miles that weren't on the trail--and less excited about the out-and-back nature of the walk. (I prefer loops!) I'd rather make it a one-way hike, but I could probably hitchhike in one of the directions at least part of the way.

I thought about asking some of the other people in the hostel if they'd like to join me, but I knew nobody was going to want to walk 10 miles round-trip to the gold mine. Except.... Nicole had a car! She didn't have to walk to the mine--she could drive! And extra bonus for me--I wouldn't even have to hitchhike one way to make it a one-way hike.

So I found Nicole. "Hey, Nicole--you interested in a gold mine tour?"

She thought that sounded like a swell idea. We also asked a couple of others if they'd like to join us since she had more room in her car, but everyone else turned us down. It would be just the two of us.

Shortly before we planned to leave, Jan--the proprietor of the hostel--asked if we could help her. She was trying to buy a truck, but had to drive all day to get to the seller and back and asked if we could check people in later that afternoon. She's a one-woman operation and had no employees to watch the place while she was gone. She didn't expect to get back until close to midnight, but she'd comp us a night for free at the hostel. Sure, why not? I've never worked at a hostel before, and I'm willing to try almost anything once in my life. Anyhow, it's not like I had anything better to do!

Well, except for the gold mine tour, of course, but we'd finish that early and neither of us had any plans for the rest of the day. Jan gave us a quick tour our of responsibilities--where the towels were for people who came in just to shower, the reservation book (the names of people who were crossed out had already paid), where the cash was to make change for people, etc. The tour that most guests never get!

Then Nicole and I piled into her car and we drove out to the Old Hundred gold mine.

The tours start on the hour every hour throughout the day, and we only had to wait about 15 minutes to get in on the next tour. Besides Nicole and myself, just one other person had arrived for the tour. It would be a small group! This late in September was far off from the busy, tourist season. In fact, the mine was scheduled to close for the season in about a week. Had we arrived much later, we wouldn't have been able to do this tour at all.

Nicole and I wait for our gold mine tour to begin. We're dressed the part! =)

You can read about the long history of the mine at History of the Old Hundred Gold Mine--but to make a long story short, the mine was first started in 1872 and closed down for good in 1973. It reopened again as a tourist trap in the 1990s as I recall (that part isn't the history of the mine which only covered the history up until the mining activities ceased). The part of the mine that the tour covers are in the lower levels that were drilled between 1964 and 1973 at the end of the mine's life--and never made any money.

After paying the entrance fees, we were given yellow jackets and helmets to wear, and at the top of the hour, we boarded a small, vintage electric powered mine train used for hauling people around a mine which carried us about 1/3 of a mile into Galena Mountain.

From there, we disembarked and traveled through the rest of the mine on foot. I've been in a number of mines before so I kind of knew what to expect. (It was the first mine that Nicole had visited, though.) But this mine had actual working mine equipment that they would turn on so we could see how it worked and how loud the equipment was.

Our guide told us about the history of the mine and about all of the equipment they used to extract minerals. They call this a "gold mine" but they also mined silver, copper and such. I think they call it a "gold mine" tour because it sounds sexier than a "copper mine" tour. =)

The man on the right was our tour guide. The man on the left was the one other person who was taking the tour, but I forget his name. (I never saw him in town--just during this tour.) We're on the electric train, about to head into the mine!
I also used my fancy new camera rather than the point-n-shoot I used most of the time because why not? And in the low-light conditions, that fancy camera did fantastic. Normally, I'd have trouble getting photos without a flash that were sharp and crisp, but I had no trouble with the large sensors of my DSLR. (And I think the photos look so much better not using a flash.)

At the end of the tour, we boarded the little electric train and were hauled back out under the sun.

After the tour was over, we could "pan for gold" at a nearby sluice box--which was included with the price of the mine tour. Nicole seemed to think it was a waste of time ("You aren't going to find any gold in there!"she told me), but I knew they seeded the box with tiny amounts of gold, silver and copper. It wouldn't be worth much, but really, people don't do this to make fortunes--it's for the experience!

So I panned a bit finding a couple of suspiciously shiny grains at the bottom, but I wasn't really sure what I had found. And truth be told, I didn't really care. When I was done, I poured it all back into the sluice box.

I pan for gold after the tour is over, but I didn't find much and threw it all back! I guess that makes me a "catch and release" miner?

We walked back to Nicole's car and she drove off. I, of course, wanted to walk back to town.

The walk back was good and bad. The first half of the walk was on a gravel road which I didn't mind in principle, but it turned out to be a remarkably busy road with far more traffic than I ever imagined and I was annoyed at the clouds of dust each passing vehicle would throw up. But the walk itself was otherwise a beautiful one with lots of nice views, colorful aspen trees, and lots of the area's history described on various signs. There was even a small waterfall I noticed that I hadn't noticed on the drive out.

The route also took me past the Mayflower Gold Mill tour which I was also keen to check out, but alas, it had already closed for the season a week before. I admired the exterior of the building but was a little sad that I wouldn't be able to tour it.

I was disappointed that the Mayflower Gold Mill had already closed for the season, so I wouldn't be able to take a tour inside this place. It was built in 1929 and produced over 1.5 million ounces of gold and 30 million ounces of silver, but closed when the last mine in the area closed in 1991. Fun fact: In 1997, the Mayflower Mill became the movie set for James Steward and Audie Murphy in the film Night Passage. A big gunfight was staged at the mill and the heroine escaped harm by riding a tram bucket to safety. Silverton (and the area) has been the backdrop for a number of movies over the years!

It was on the walk back that I also realized how windy the weather was. Wind gusts blew the hat right off my head, so I used the chin strap to keep in place. It might have been beautiful, but I had little doubt that hikers were practically being blown off the mountaintops today!

Upon my arrival in town, I ordered lunch at a bar. I was feeling peckish by then, then headed back to the hostel by around 3:00 to take my "shift" watching the hostel. I figured Nicole was handling it until I got back, then she could take a break and tour around town or do whatever else she had planned for the day.

I stopped for lunch here.

She had checked several people into the hostel already, and I pulled out my laptop and sat in the lobby working until anyone came in needing help and chatting with the other people at the hostel.

But a weird thing happened: nothing! Hour after hour went by, and nobody arrived to check in. We knew there were something like half a dozen people who had made reservations but hadn't arrived yet, but nobody else checked in after I got back.

I got up occasionally to stretch my legs, but had literally done absolutely no real "work" hours later. Nicole left for a bit, and even she seemed surprised when--at 10:00 at night--we still had all those missing people.

Jan arrived back at about 10:30 that evening--quite a bit earlier than we had expected and it turned out the deal she was getting on that truck had fallen through and she turned back early. That must have been annoying, though, to drive all those hours for absolutely nothing. She asked Nicole and me how things were going, and we told her it was pretty boring. Nicole had checked a couple of people in early in the afternoon, but absolutely nobody had arrived since I'd been there since 3:00.

And I swear--not five minutes later--all of the missing people showed up at once. It's almost as if they had been waiting around the corner for Jan to arrive. They weren't part of a large, single group that arrived together--just multiple groups that happened to arrive at the same time and surprisingly late in the evening.

Jan dispatched them all to their respective rooms quickly and efficiently but I felt like my first day working at the hostel was a bust. I literally did absolutely nothing except keep an eye in the lobby waiting for people that never showed up. (Not during my shift, at least!)

I worked some more on my laptop before eventually heading to sleep later in the evening. My second zero day in Silverton was officially over.

More photos from inside the Old Hundred mine.
I set off a blast of dynamite! Well, okay, that box really isn't attached to anything, but how cool would it have been if it were? I'll dock the mine a star in my review for not letting me blow stuff up. =)

On the walk back to town from the mine.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Day 27: The Silverton Zero

September 20: Having decided to take a zero day in Silverton, I slept in late then worked on Atlas Quest and Walking 4 Fun all morning. After being offline for nine consecutive days, I had a lot of catching up to do!

I checked the weather forecast and Friday and Saturday were looking even worse than they did the day before. Now it was predicting up to two inches of snow on Friday and four inches on Saturday--six inches total! And that was in town, not in the mountains where I'd be hiking! To be fair, Silverton is one of the highest towns in the entire country with an elevation of 9,318 ft (2,840 m)--but the mountains I'd be hiking in were typically in the 11 to 12,000-foot range.

Silverton has just one paved road--and Blaire Street isn't it. =) The whole town looks like the set of a western.

I had pretty much resigned myself to the idea of waiting out the storm. I just didn't have the gear for it. Worse case, it could kill me. Best case, I'd be absolutely miserable. It was Wednesday now, though, which meant I had to take four consecutive zero days to wait out the storm. Five night, four days in Silverton. With a total population of 630 people, the town isn't exactly a bustling hive of activity. At least I had a laptop to get a lot of work done which I figured should keep me busy.

The forecast for Sunday showed a little snow in the morning but clear the rest of the day. So far in the future, though, I knew the forecasts could change. And I needed at least four days to get from here to Durango. There was no forecast that extended far enough to show the weather through the four days after the storm. It was too early for that. For all I knew, another storm might blow in two days after this one passed, so I still couldn't be sure when--or if--I could get back on the trail.

In any case, I was off the trail for at least four zeros days. By the time Saturday came, I should have a better idea of what the weather would be like for the next week and make a decision about what to do. In the meantime, though, I was stuck in Silverton.

After working all morning, I figured it was time to explore this little town that was to be my home for several days. I went out for lunch where the streets were packed with people and one of the old steam trains was parked in town. It was the first time I got a close-up view of the magnificent machine.

The old 1880s steam train is a hugely popular tourist attraction!

I ate lunch--a burger and fries, nothing exciting--then wandered to the edge of town where there was a museum. I paid the $8 entrance fee and was led into the old Silverton jail--a fascinating place where the jail cells looked more like cages that one could walk around rather than the cell blocks I've seen in every other prison I've been to.

To my surprise, though, the museum then led downstairs to a basement area which then connected to the main museum building. Half the museum was actually underground! It was vastly largely than I had realized when I walked up to it!

The museum covered everything about the history of Silverton and the surrounding area. The town was created by miners, for miners and named after one of the things they mined--silver. They also mined gold, copper and I don't remember what else. Seemed like there were four minerals they they mined in this area, though. Lead? (How do you think Leadville got its name, after all?)

And the exhibits were absolutely amazing! They even recreated an actual mine spanning several levels that was startling life-like given that it's inside (and under) a building. I was absolutely blown away at the extensiveness and quality of the museum. I had admittedly set my expectation pretty low not thinking that a small museum in a town of 630 people would have much to offer, but WOW! It is really a top-notch museum and worth far more than the $8 entrance fee!

The museum is hidden behind this courthouse at the edge of town.

I spent a few hours going through all the rooms and exhibits. The biggest chuck was dedicated to all things mining since mining is what built the town in the first place, but it also had information about early photography, potbelly stoves, railroads, and more.

The last half hour I rushed a bit realizing that the museum closed at 5:00 and I might not be done before then. I had no idea I would spend so much time there when I arrived. Looking at the size of the buildings from the outside, I figured I might kill an hour going through it. Maybe two if I went slow and had a lot of information to read. I never imagined I'd be there until closing!

But I stuck with it until the end at 5:00, my only regret that I didn't arrive earlier so I'd have even more time to explore all the exhibits.

It looks like a mine, right? But no! This is inside the museum! It's like walking through an actual mine! (At least in this part of the museum it is.)

I headed back into town and was surprised to see the streets absolutely deserted. The place felt like a ghost town, which seemed strange when it had been so packed to the gills with people before I went to the museum. Where did they all go?!

And that was when I realized how utterly dependent Silverton is on the tourist train. People had told me that the town wouldn't exist without the railroad, but I kind of wrote it off as an exaggeration. When the last train left, though, taking the vast majority of the tourists in town away, all of the shops set out their 'closed' signs and closed shop for the day. A few bars and restaurants were still open, but even most of them had closed their doors for the day as well. The main tourist street turned into a ghost town. All it needed was a tumbleweed to blow through the street to finish the effect. The hours of the shops had clearly been synchronized to the train schedule. They open when the first train arrives, and they close when the last train leaves. There were two trains that ran each day, although I heard later that earlier in the summer they would run three of them each day.

I walked over to the local general store--which fortunately was still open (probably because that's when the townspeople could shop now that their shops were closed!) and picked up some chips and dip that I'd turn into nachos at the hostel.

Nicole was at the hostel making herself a nacho-like concoction herself and we pooled our resources. She had something much more elaborate in mind that looked a lot better than what I had in mind and let her run with it. It was delicious too. =)

Nicole relaxes in the lobby of the hostel.

While I was in the museum, Jan--the proprietor of the hostel--had moved me to a different room. She texted me about it when a couple of people reserved the entire room that I had been in. I didn't mind the move, though, and was moved into a room with Kevin, a thru-biker who had been riding his bike from Denver to Durango. We didn't chat much tonight, but I'd see a lot more of him while in town.

Also arriving into town was Bushwacker who I had last seen at Marshell Pass over a week ago. He seemed surprised to have caught up with me thinking I was long since gone. Nope.... He was assigned the same room as Kevin and I making a nice, happy group of three.

Also arriving were the Indiana boys who I traded stories with, but they were put in another room. It was fun seeing familiar faces walking into the hostel, though.

Nicole told us a bit more about the run she was scheduled to do on Saturday--and freaking out over the snow storm that was supposed to hit that day. She won her entrance into the race and felt compelled to do it, but was very worried about the weather. I joked that at least we didn't have that problem--we could wait out the storm and start hiking again whenever we wanted to.

The race was a crazy one too, called the Double Dirty 30. I'm not sure why it's called that, though, because the race included a 55-kilometer and 100-kilometer route (or about 34  and 62 miles respectively). And it's not an easy route over flat terrain. No, much of it was up in the mountains, on the Colorado Trail, going up and down gigantic mountains at high altitudes. And, just because that wasn't enough, they decided to throw in the snow storm that was expected to dump several inches of snow on the city and even more in the mountains in gale-force winds. Sounds like fun--not! "And people think we're the crazy ones," I joked. I couldn't imagine the horror of hoofing it over SIXTY FRIGGIN' MILES in a single day, much less on such a rugged route through a blizzard! Nicole was "only" doing the 34-mile run, but still--THIRTY FOUR MILES?! My longest day on the trail was a measly 23 miles, and I was exhausted. Yeah, okay, I carried a heavy pack, but I didn't have to go through a snow storm so let's call it a wash.

The big news of the day: the Double Dirty 30 run! Weather expected to be absolutely, utterly miserable....

I told my story about my own concerns about the weather, which is why I decided to sit out the storm and figure out if I'd keep going or not after it passed. I didn't really have the gear for snow camping, I explained, not even carrying a pad to sleep on.

Nicole, who had driven in from Los Angeles, had a lot of camping and backpacking gear in her car and offered to lend some stuff to me that she didn't need--not in the immediate future, at least--as long as I promised to mail it back to her when I was done. Definitely!

Which is how I ended up with with Nicole's sleeping pad and sleeping bag liner. The liner might add a few extra degrees of warmth to my sleeping bag, but the pad would be worth its weight in gold. My biggest concern was that I'd be up in the mountains and not be able to find snow-free ground to camp on. I might be okay with sleeping on a cold, hard ground, but I drew the line at sleeping directly on snow. My body heat would melt the snow and I'd just sink in and never be able to get warm. A pad gives me the power to sleep on snow--or rather, just above it with an insulating layer. This pad, I declared, may have just saved my hike!

It was getting late and everyone else started heading off to sleep. I stayed up in the lobby and worked on my laptop when, at around 10:30 at night, a guest checked in fairly late. No big deal. Jan took care of them, they headed off to their room, and Jan left.

Then Jan came back a couple of minutes later.

"Ryan, could you help me for a bit?" she asked.

"Sure," I replied. "What did you need?"

"I locked myself out of my room." Jan stayed in a room upstairs so she was always nearby, but I wasn't sure how I could help her.

"I'm going to crawl through the window, but I need someone to hold the ladder steady," she explained.

Oh! I thought. This is gonna be fun! =)

Without street lights, most of the streets of Silverton were very dark!

Jan left and returned with a full-sized ladder, and we stepped out into the quiet, dark streets of Silverton. It was dark too. Most of the streets didn't have street lights lighting up the street. Heck, the street wasn't even paved. She leaned the ladder against the building, right in front of the front door and started climbing up. I held the ladder steady as she ascended and kind of hoped a cop would happen by to ask us what we were doing, but I didn't imagine that a town this small would have a cop on duty. But maybe it does? The town might be small, but it is the only incorporated town in the county and it is the county seat of government. They might have one guy around to keep the peace.

No cops showed up, though, and Jan slid open the window and started crawling through. My last sight of her was her feet dangling out the window, kicking, which looked like something out of a comedy sketch.

She unlocked the door and descended back down the steps to me to put the ladder back, thanking me for my help. No problem, I told her! It was worth it! I really wished I had a photo of her feet dangling out that window, though. I didn't think to have my camera ready.

I continued working on my laptop, eventually crawling into bed at around midnight. Day 1 of the Silverton Zeros was officially over.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Day 26: Hiking into Silverton!

September 19: It was a cold night, but a dry one. Knowing that I had a short 10-mile day into the town of Silverton, I decided to stay in my nice, warm sleeping bag and sleep in late, not hitting the trail until about 8:00.

The trail descended deeper into Elk Canyon, continuing its descent from the day before. I don't know that the canyon is actually called Elk Canyon--if it has an official name, I don't know it, but Elk Creek flows through it so Elk Canyon seems like a reasonable name. =)

A couple of hours later, I made to the bottom where the Animas River flows from Silverton to Durango--at 8,920 feet above sea level, it's the lowest point of the entire trail since I left Salida nine days earlier.

But the creek wasn't the most interesting part of the trail. No, is the was the narrow-gauge railroad track that went through. I'd heard stories about this train--a historic steam locomotive built in the 1880s that now shuttles tourists between Silverton and Durango, and there's an actual stop for it on the trail! I didn't have a train schedule, though, and wasn't entirely sure when the next train would go through in my direction, although Jared--one of the Indiana boys I met a few days ago said it was supposed to go through at 11:15 less than an hour away. I could wait for it, but it would mean I was subject to the train schedule on the way back as well and Jared warned that it was rather expensive for such a short ride.

But, more relevant from my point of view, was that Molas Pass was another five miles down the trail and it was barely 10:00 am. Molas Pass has a busy highway running through it that I could hitch a ride into town. I wouldn't be subject to a train schedule, and I'd already knock off another five miles of the 79.0 miles I had left to the end of the trail. Growing increasingly concerned about the winter-like conditions I've had to deal with, I figured I should get the miles in now while it was sunny and beautiful. If the weather were miserable, I might have been inclined to quit the day early.

But it wasn't, so I didn't!

An actual train stop! In the middle of the woods! =)

There were a few men working on the railroad track, tightening bolts and measuring the distance between the tracks, and a sign at the tracks pointed the Colorado Trail directly down the tracks. I was a little unsure about where the Colorado Trail went exactly. The sign appeared to point directly down the tracks, but I couldn't imagine that they'd really route the trail directly on the railroad tracks. Usually trails will cross a railroad track with giant warning signs about looking both way and being careful before stepping over the tracks.

And I didn't really want the railroad workers to bust me for walking on the railroad tracks when I wasn't supposed to. But I couldn't find any other route for the trail and walked towards the workers asking them if this was the Colorado Trail. They assured me that it was, and that the trail would veer off into the woods on the other side in a short distance, which it did. But for about a minute, I walked directly on the railroad tracks because that's where the trail was!

I was a little tempted to ask the men if they ever sang I've Been Working on the Railroad while they were out there but refrained. They've probably heard that joke before, and they probably hate the song by now. =)

They've been working on the railroad... all the live-long day....
They've been working on the railroad... just to pass the time away!

I took a short break by the Animas, eating a few snacks and filling up with water, then proceeded the long, steep climb to Molas Pass two thousand feet higher. Another reason not to take the train into Silverton: at least now I was hiking with a relatively light pack empty of food. When I left Silverton, I'd be weighed down with food and the climb up would feel a lot worse then!

The views from this side of the tracks were absolutely breathtaking. Coming down I was trapped in Elk Canyon with limited views, but now I was climbing up the ridge of another canyon with commanding views sprinkled with colorful aspen trees. Absolutely spectacular!

Views up the steep slope from the Animas River were spectacular!

About an hour later, I looked back down into the canyon and I saw a cloud of smoke. Did the railroad workers accidentally start a forest fire or something? But I didn't see the railroad workers on the track anymore. I could see the bridge where the Colorado Trail crossed the Animas River, but the railroad workers were gone. Then I realized the time and thought, it must be the train! It's a steam locomotive, after all, and they belch all sorts of pollutants. But where was the train? I didn't see a train.

Then I saw it, rounding a curve and into view. From my perch up high, it wasn't a very good view of the train, but I was still strangely excited to see it and it belched more smoke into the air. A little part of me wished I had stopped and taken the train into Silverton, but it was too late for that now. I pulled out my fancy camera with the zoom lens to get a better view of the train and get some photos. Click! Click! Click!

The train took several minutes to wind its up upriver--towards Silverton--and out of view, at which point I packed up my camera again and continued the hike. To Silverton!

The old, historic steam locomotive pulling tourists between Silverton and Durango since the 1880s.

Shortly after the train, I left the ridge of the canyon. Had I been just a few minutes faster, I might have missed the train completely.

As I closed in on the Molas Pass Trailhead, I met a woman hiking by herself on the trail who asked if I was hiking the Colorado Trail. Yes.... And we ended up chatting for a few minutes. She was in town for an ultrarun that was to take place in Silverton this weekend. She introduced herself as Nicole from from Los Angeles, and came up early to acclimate to the high altitudes and check out the route of the run.

I told her that I planned to hitch a ride into Silverton to resupply and check the weather forecast. I wanted to take a zero day in Silverton--I felt like I deserved one!--but maybe not if the weather for the next several days was nice but a storm coming fast behind it.

Which is when she gave me the bad news--a big snow storm was expected to blow in on Friday and Saturday--two days from now. Up to four inches of snow in the town of Silverton and undoubtedly a lot more than that in the mountains.

Noooo!!!! I can't go out in that! It was Tuesday today. I wanted to take a zero day tomorrow--when it was supposed to be gorgeous weather, but if I got back on the trail on Thursday, I'd be out right in the middle of that snow storm. And I had no idea what the weather after that would look like. But I couldn't finish the trail in two days before the snow storm struck either.

Shoot! Shoot! Shoot! I didn't know what to do right then, but I'd figure something out. It was basically my worse-case scenario playing out in front of me. I hoped my getting off at Molas Pass wasn't the end of my hike, but I knew there was a good chance it might be. So close to the end! It's exactly 72.4 miles from Molas Pass to Durango. Just 72.4 miles to the end of the trail. The idea of quitting now... so close to the end. It gave me a sinking feeling. Crap! Why can't I get just four days of nice weather. Just four, consecutive days and I'd finish the trail and be done with it. Argh!

Nicole said if I wanted a ride into Silverton that she'd be happy to provide it--she was staying at the hostel so it wasn't just on her way, but her destination!--but she was going to keep going down the trail a bit further first then jog back. She'd be maybe 10 or 15 minutes behind me. I said if I was still there trying to hitch a ride, I'd be happy to take one! But I hoped on the busy road, I'd already be in Silverton by the time she finished her scouting trip. =)

I arrived at the trailhead, set my pack down by my feet and stuck out my thumb.

Molas Pass

It took all of about two minutes before a car pulled over for me--a young man named Cameron who said he could get me only as far as Silverton since that was his destination.

"Perfect!" I told him. "That's my destination!"

The highway lead 6.3 miles into Silverton and normally wouldn't have taken long, but there was a delay due to construction work and a section of the highway became a one-lane road with alternating traffic in each direction which slowed us down.

But I made it into town, where I picked up my mail drops from the post office and checked into the Blair Street Hostel.

I looked in a mirror and I looked like crap. I badly needed to shave. I usually shaved every two or three days while hiking the trail, but with the cold and miserable weather lately, I had stopped and sported about a week of stubble. My nose was sunburned badly from walking through the snow for half the day a couple of days earlier, and my lips dry and cracked despite the weather-proof lip balm with its SPF 15 protection. Actually, it probably made me look worse--you could see it applied in thick layers on my lips. I'm used to seeing myself look like crap during a thru-hike, but I seemed have taken it to a new level this time.

The Blair Street Hostel--my home in Silverton!

But a shower and a shave would certainly help a lot, and that's the first thing I focused on. I changed into the spare clothes I had shipped ahead in my maildrop which were clean and fresh and I felt like a new man! I put my dirty clothes into a trash bag which I gave to Jan (the proprietor) for washing. I gave it to her like I was holding a piece of road kill by its tail. "These should probably be burned, but let's try washing them and see how that works," I joked.

Nicole--the woman I met near the trailhead--arrived and appeared stunned at my transformation, like I was a totally different person. "You're the hiker I met near Molas Pass?!" she exclaimed.

"Yep," I replied. "I've been told I clean up well." =)

Next thing I needed was food--I wanted real food, something that I hadn't been carrying on my back for the last nine days--and a couple of people at the hostel suggested a nearby pizza place which I went to. Delicious, but uneventful!

Then I headed back to the hostel where I pulled out my laptop and got online. It was time to figure out how or if I was going to finish the Colorado Trail.....

Silverton is an old, historic mining town with just one paved road. (More than one business, I noticed, included directions about being on Greene Street--"the only paved street in town!") The last mine closed in the 1990s and now it's a tourist destination.

Where the Colorado Trail crosses the Animas River. (Which, if your curious, this river was also the site of the 2015 Gold King Mine waste water spill.)

The aspens were gorgeous!

Friday, December 8, 2017

Day 25: Snow Day!

September 18: I woke up to another beautiful, clear day. Cold--freakishly cold--but beautiful, with about an inch of snow on the trail at my location. Looking around the horizon, it was clear some of the mountains surrounding me got even more.

I tried throwing off my tarp, desperate for every little bit of sunlight I could get to warm up, but had trouble because the snow had frozen into sheets of ice on my tarp. You'd think the ice would just flake off, but it seemed like it was glued to the tarp. Eventually, I got the tarp off of me and laid it out on the ground nearby.

Another absolutely wretched night on the trail during which an inch of snow fell. The patch of dry ground was where I camped, and that's Cataract Lake in the background.
I lingered in my sleeping bag mostly trying to stay warm, but my lack of sleep during the night played a part too. I was tired and wanted to sleep in. The wave of four successive storm cells kept me awake for half the night. At least, however, I was dry this time. I didn't have to worry about drying all of my gear like I did after the rain storm earlier in the week. I was grateful for that!

But I also didn't have time to sleep all day, and eventually got up and hit the trail by 8:00. An hour later than my usual start time, but it could have been worse! My biggest problem when I tried to pack up camp was what to do with the tarp. I left it out in the sun so the ice on it would thaw, but it hadn't thawed by the time I left and I couldn't get back in its stuff sack. I wound up folding it up like a piece of giant paper then used the shock straps of my pack to hold it in place. Hopefully--knock on wood--later in the day, the ice would thaw and I could put it back in its stuff sack.

My feet made a satisfying crunch in the snow with each step I took. I could tell I wasn't the first person on the trail in the morning, though. I saw all sorts of animal tracks in the snow. There were mid-sized tracks--perhaps from a marmot or something of a similar size.

There were small tracks--perhaps from pikas which I heard chirping in the rocks. "Had a nice night, did you?" I asked them. I once heard that pikas will die of essentially heatstroke if temperatures climb above 75 degrees which is why you'll only find in high in the mountains above 10,000 feet. When temperatures do get too high for them to handle, they go underground to escape the heat. For an animal that will die at 75 degrees, I figure they must love conditions like this.

Heading up the pass, at about the same point I turned around yesterday. There's definitely a lot more snow on the ground now than there was yesterday!

Then I saw tiny, tiny little tracks. Lizards, maybe? But lizards were cold-blooded animals. Surely they wouldn't be running around in the snow. I wasn't sure what was causing the tiniest footprints.

There were also bird tracks--those distinctive three-pronged feet that might have been left by a crow or something.

Later in the morning, I found a set of gigantic footprints following the trail--as big as my foot, but wider. Bigfoot! No, just kidding.... While I'm not an expert on animal tracks, I suspected they were moose prints. It had a hoof shape to it, so I ruled out other large animals like a bear, and the only thing that big with a hoof shape that I could think of would be a moose. Or perhaps a large cow, but a moose seemed more likely at this location. I scanned the horizon for the moose but saw nothing. I knew he was out there, though, and probably watching me. All of these tracks were fresh, after all! The snow wasn't here yesterday, and even if it was, the footprints would have been covered with the fresh snow overnight. These footprints couldn't have been laid down until after the last storm cell of the night had passed.

The trail climbed ever upward, reaching a pass near 13,000 feet above sea level where it was a winter wonderland. The snow averaged maybe two or three inches deep up here, and I was glad I had turned back when I did the day before. I would have been in a world of hurt had I continued onward.

It's a winter wonderland!

As the morning progressed, the crunchy snow melted into a soggy, wet snow. Fortunately, being only a few inches deep at most, I couldn't really call going through it postholing, but it did slow me down.

The south-facing slopes were melting a lot faster than the north-facing ones, but that turned out to be more of a curse than a blessing when the snow turned the trail into a slippery, wet mud.

I made it over the pass and the trail descended again. Between the warming sun and lower elevation, there were even patches of bare ground now.

In mid-morning, I caught sight of two men on horseback arriving at a trail junction from another direction which took me by surprise. I hadn't expected to see anyone out here after the dreadful weather the night before, and now here were two guys on horseback! I suddenly wondered if the giant hoofprints I saw were from horses, but quickly realized that wasn't the case. I've seen horseprints before, and these prints didn't have horseshoes on them or look anything remotely like a horseprint. Anyhow, I saw the horses arrive from off the side trail--they weren't on the trail where I saw the gigantic hoofprints.

About a half hour later, I caught up with the horse people and passed them by, then they passed me when I stopped for a short break, then I passed them again until I stopped for a lunch break when they passed me again.

Apparently, I hike faster than these horses walked, but I needed more breaks to rest. =)

The horse people, ahead of me on the trail.

By Stony Pass, the snow was largely gone and my speed picked up, but I still had to be careful around the slippery mud.

The trail also flattened out a great deal, turning into rolling hills--from the tops of which I could see for miles. I was quite startled when I reached the crest of one of these rolling hills and discovered dozens are large elk a stone's throw away. I startled them as much as they startled me, however, and they bolted like lightning across the prairie, running over the next hill out and out of view in seconds. One in particular stood out because it was the only one I saw with antlers. Obviously the male of the group! The rest are females.

They ran in the same direction that the trail went so I'd be going over that hill soon enough myself, and I dropped my pack and pulled out my fancy camera with the zoom lens hoping to sneak up on them again and get some photos.

I hadn't taken a step, however, before I saw the elk again. They were heading up the next rolling hill and back into view--albeit even further away. Looking through my camera, I was disappointed to see them as tiny dots. Even zoomed in, I couldn't see much detail on them. I could try getting photos of the whole herd of  animals, though, and worked on that. I hoped they'd stop running soon and I could sneak up close for much better photos, but I suspected my element of surprise was ruined.

Stampede! (And I started it. Oops!)

The deer kept moving, though, further and further away, and I grudgingly had to admit that I wasn't going to get any better photos. I was really disappointed about that.

An hour later, late in the afternoon, I reached the trail junction where the Continental Divide Trail split off from the Colorado Trail. I'd continue on the Colorado Trail, but I cast longing looks down the CDT wondering what adventures lay in that direction. Perhaps someday I'll follow that route, but not today. Not this time.

I took another snack break and the horse people caught up with me again.

"Did you see that herd of elk?!" they exclaimed upon reaching me.

"Yeah, I kind of accidentally started that stampede," I told them. "It was really awesome, but yeah, I got a very good close-up view of them!" I didn't mention that I didn't get any good photos of them.

"Did you count how many there were?" he asked me.

I hadn't even thought to do a count. No, I didn't count them. There were a lot of them, though! If I had to guess, probably between 20 and 40.

"We counted 29," they told me. Which sounded about right. I took photos of the herd, but they had spread out and none of my photos got the entire herd in a single shot so I'll have to take their word for it.

Goodbye, CDT. Until next time....

"Did you see any with antlers?" they asked me.

"Just one," I told them, wondering what their interest in the antlers were. Were these hunters? I didn't see any guns and they'd been traveling all day--not doing anything remotely hunter-like.

We chatted a bit more, and then I continued on pulling ahead towards Elk Creek.

Almost the entire day I spent above 12,000 feet, but the trail practically plunges off a cliff when it goes down towards Elk Creek dropping thousands of feet in just a couple of miles. The view from the top, however, was absolutely breathtaking with two lakes perched next to the edge of a cliff of the dramatic canyon. It was, I decided, right then, one of the top 10 best views I'd ever seen in my life. WOW!

I quickly descended, glad to be camping deep in a canyon where trees were reappearing. I wouldn't be camped in an exposed location tonight! And dropping a couple of thousand feet I figured would make it a good 10 degrees warmer than at the summit. It certainly wouldn't be warm overnight, but I hoped it would be enough to keep out the bone-rattling cold from the night before.

The photos doesn't really do it justice, but this captivating viewpoint I declared as one of the ten best views I've ever seen! The Colorado Trail heads down into that canyon on the left.
At some point, I touched my nose and was surprised it felt painful. I rubbed the ridge of it and realized I had burned badly in the snow and sun. My hat with the wide brim usually keeps my face mostly in shade, but I forgot that snow can be such an excellent reflector and my nose was burned to a crisp since I hadn't put sunscreen on. Crap.

And I realized, while writing in my journal, I had passed the 100-mile mark. I had less than 100 miles left to the end of the trail, but I had my doubts if I would make it. Winter was creeping in, and I didn't have the gear for it. So close to the end....

Tomorrow, though, I planned to resupply in Silverton. I'd go into Silverton no matter what, I'd check the weather forecast for the rest of the week, and I'd figure out if that was going to be the end of my hike or not. I really wanted to finish the trail, but not at the risk of freezing to death!

As the morning progressed, you can tell that the snow is melting rapidly! A lot less snow now than earlier in the morning!
See the trail snaking its way across this ridge?
By this point in the day, the snow was basically gone.

Stony Pass
This collapsed structure was part of the mining operations in the area. It was the only one that the trail went directly next to. (The rest were always off trail to some degree.)

Now how did these poor little things do so well in the storm last night?!

The stampede I started kept going and going and going....
Just look at those crazy switchbacks leading down to Elk Creek! Glad they used switchbacks....

This old mining shack doesn't look safe to stand near anymore!
The trail was a little sketchy at times going down Elk Creek....