I slept in a half an hour later than I had wanted to. Sunrise was unspectacular, but luckily, no storms had come through overnight, for which I was very thankful!
I wiped as much of the condensation off my tent as I could, packed up my things and headed off. There were some ducks swimming in an alpine pond, but they flew off before I was able to get a picture of them. I wound my way through the open landscape, up and down hills.
I saw yellow marmots playing on the rocks (the kind that Mel had talked about, but which I hadn’t seen until now). I followed the path around a red, shale rock and onto some switchbacks (which were completely unnecessary-they only lengthened the distance we had to travel).
As afternoon approached, I still had another 5 miles of exposed trail to traverse, above treeline. Dark clouds were already hovering and rain threatened. I hiked as quickly as I could, but I was hungry and needed food. I found a flat rock to sit on and eat some lunch while the wind picked up. Rain began falling with three exposed miles still to hike.
As I came into a meadow region, I saw a horse near a canvas tent. I wondered who was living out here. The horse seemed curious about me and walked towards me, but ended up staying in its territory. I saw a second horse tied to the canvas tent.
The rain became heavier and then turned to hail. On and on I hiked, watching the dark clouds. I felt lucky to notice the sign showing the split for the CDT and CT. The path I was following continued more naturally in the direction of the CDT, while the CT turned a sharp right and headed uphill (not the best direction to be headed in a storm!). I was still quite a ways from the forest.
I made it to the top of the hill, and saw the turn-off for Elk Creek. Before heading down this path, however, I happened to look down into the valley on the other side and heard the “baa-ing” sound of 2,400 sheep, grazing in the meadows! What an incredible sound and sight! I looked on in astonishment! Just as with the moose, I had nearly missed the opportunity to see these animals!
I headed down the switchbacks of the Elk Creek path, which took me a long time because I kept stopping to take pictures. It was so beautiful!
There were flowers by the creek and I could see an old, abandoned wooden shack up ahead. More marmots were playing in the rocks.
Then, I descended the most slippery, steep, dangerous, and slow-going part of the trail that I had encountered yet!
After the treacherous part, the trail followed the path of a beautiful, flowing stream. I noticed the vibrant green color of the moss contrasting with the red rock in part of the stream. The rain continued on and off throughout the afternoon.
After traversing 40 consecutive miles of tundra above treeline, I was happy to finally be back within the safety of the pine trees! The soft pine needles felt welcoming to my feet, and the branches of the trees allowed me occasional respite from the rain.
Just as I was thinking that I hadn’t seen a single ranger on my entire hike, I came upon two of them talking to two girl hikers! Before leaving Boston, I had read about one guy’s encounter with a ranger at the start of his hike, who had sent him back because he had brought an alcohol stove with him. One of the girls asked a ranger if it was okay to sleep with their food in their tent. “Gasp!” he responded. They seemed uninterested in me, so I continued on.
I was feeling very tired, but was trying to get as close to the river as possible because I needed to get to Silverton as early as possible to pick up my maildrop at the post office before they closed for the weekend. My legs were tired and my mind was numb.
I passed by some campsites with lamas, then ran into a man who was headed the opposite way as me, and who wanted to chat for a bit. He told me there were two hikers right in front of me. (I had wondered if I would catch Derek and Amanda, whose parents gave me a ride into Lake City, and now I knew I had). I reached a green pond with some ducks swimming, then walked by more pines, and saw two young hikers huddled under a tree. I asked if their names were Derek and Amanda and they said yes. They were also tired and planned to spend the night there. They decided to end their hike in Silverton. I asked them to thank their parents for me and continued my way down the hill with the rain still starting and stopping.
I met another group of hikers coming toward me. They asked me if I knew the guy camping at the train tracks. I still had a couple miles to go and it took all of my energy. Finally, I reached the train tracks at 6:30 and saw a tent where I would have liked to camp at the edge of the woods. Instead, I found a spot by the tracks in the grass, set up my tent, changed into my warm clothes, and made a pot of thai noodles, which I ate inside my tent. I cleaned up my pot, brushed my teeth, and settled in for what would be my most eventful night on the trail…
Some pretty awesome vistas. Really like the photo with the horse. Looking forward to the next installment. Tom