It rains, sleets, hails all night, but we sleep warm and cozy save for moments where the wind pushes the sides of the tent down on top of us. It’s hard to get up in these conditions, but I pack up inside the tent and wait for a break in the action before daring to brave the outside.
I throw my shoes on and throw myself out of the tent, bouncing around for warmth; Crankster tells me to go ahead and get a move on – she’ll pack up and grab the tent and catch up. So I set off first for once, wondering how long I can keep my lead.
There’s no more hail, but the wind’s vicious. Still, I heat up so quickly that I have to take my puffy off, alternately warm and cold underneath my rain jacket.
It’s up and around, the wind howling, shoving me around on the path, clouds racing along before it, dappling the earth below. They’re still vaguely threatening, and I’m trying to move fast, get to where the climb ends before the afternoon with its higher potential for storms comes.
Up, up-up, through willows and past ponds, Crank’s red jacket bobbing behind me in the distance, but catching up.
And then the land opens up, and the wind steals my breath away.
Songs for a New World seems to be the appropriate the soundtrack of the day, what with this beautiful landscape coming seemingly out of nowhere. I’m taking so many pictures I think my fingers are going to freeze in the wind. Crank catches me, and we walk, chatting quietly, awed by the scenery around us.
We come to the place where the CT and the CDT split1 – the two have been sharing the same path for 314 miles, and I, for one, am both sorry and excited to see it go – 90 more miles, and we’ll be in Durango.
This last climb before the long downhill provides the prettiest view I think I’ve ever seen.
The trail, on the downhill, seems to have learned about switchbacks, and so meanders gently down into the valley:
Crank peeks into an old mine as we start to follow Elk Creek down, down, down.
We get a little weirded out when the water changes color at some point along the way, bleaching the rocks underneath it while the rocks around it stay the same.
Elk Creek does flow into the Animus, and while we’re not quite sure what’s causing the bleaching, the tailing pond breech in a mine somewhere in this general vicinity here makes us nervous, and we’re glad we picked up water further upstream where it looked normal.
We’re having a conversation about the book Wild2 when we come upon a couple out for a couple of sections; they started yesterday where we started this morning. It feels good and a little strange to be the fast ones now. Our conversation’s getting louder when we cross paths with another couple, asking after a moose recently sighted in our general vicinity. We feel bad – we’re pretty convinced our loud talking scared it away. We’re in homo sapiens central, further proven as we run across two gentlemen out for the segment. Everyone catches up with us when we stop to shed layers, but we have ourselves a nice break, get re-situated before moving on.
The trail’s all rolly-polly, up and down, following Elk Creek through here. We run across a couple of hikers I’ve met at CDTC events, thruhiking northbound, and we chat for a second before easing on down the trail.
We’re out of the Weiminuche Wilderness before we know it, dropping down to the railroad tracks that’d take us to Durango or Silverton, if we wished it. We continue along to the Animus instead, cross it and Molas Creek as well, chat with the first couple we met today taking a break under a tree. Then, we’re heading up up up towards Molas Pass.
Much to our pleasant suprise, THERE ARE SWITCHBACKS HERE. WHAT IS THIS BLESSED FORM OF UPPINESS THAT WE HAVE
NEVER HARDLY EVER SEEN BEFORE.
We’re moving along surprisingly quickly; I’m focusing by eating a ginger candy and counting my steps up up up, until the land levels out a little.
We spot the road, but we’re still a mile (and then some) out, and that mile seems to take forever; it begins to rain, and we have to flee into our coats shortly before we hit Highway 550, the road to Silverton. Awww yisss.
We’re thrilled to have made it so far today – and looking forward to a bed tonight – but it’s 6:30, and the hitch isn’t simple; a couple from Texas stops after a while, but doesn’t have room for us, and it’s another ten minutes before another gentleman stops. He has a daughter at school in Chicago, and hopes someone would do the same for her were she hitching somewhere. He even tries to pick up the couple we’ve been leapfrogging with, who have made it to the road, but they’re staying just across the way at Little Molas Lake. Our ride has lots of questions for us on the way down, particularly what our parents think, and we talk fall colors3 and bears as we wind down the road to town.
He drops us off in front of the grocery store, where we call hotel after motel after hostel, but only one – the Grand Imperial, which is apparently haunted – has room for us, what with the weather being as testy as it is. We splurge on a suite, get showered up, and stuff our faces at the Hungry Moose; we only leave after our butts have conformed to the bar stools. I limp my way back to the hotel after Crank, and after I settle in, don’t get out of bed for anything.
Start: 390.6 • End: 410.7 • Day: 20.1
Notable Accomplishments: 20 mile day • Basked in the beauty of Segment 24 • Silverton!
 For those of you following along, they split yesterday, too – that was on an alternate, rather than on the path proper. That path was a shortcut for them, and the CDT is more of a Choose Your Own Adventure trail anyway.
 Crank’s tired of the comparisons of lady hikers to Cheryl Strayed – not because the author was ill-prepared for the PCT in Wild, but more that she dislikes the comparison to the depressed heroin addict aspect of Cheryl Strayed’s life therein.
 It’s odd; the colors are just starting up high, but down here in Silverton, they’re properly kicked off. Weird.