Colorado Trail, Day 35: A Return to the Animas

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Waking up to the soothing sound of Elk Creek as it rushes by ten feet away from our tent is a great way to start the day. The white noise of the water made for a great night of sleep as well. It’s a bit darker as we get out of the tent, and we still need our headlamps for a few minutes as we pack up. We are down low in the Vestal Basin with walls of rock rising steeply on both sides, so it will take the sun a bit longer to reach our campsite. It’s also quite chilly as a result, but that’s alright—we are eager to hit the trail and make our way to Molas Pass Campground to pick up our final resupply of the Colorado Trail! First, however, we have some work to do…

The trail from our campsite continues to follow Elk Creek, sometimes next to it and other times rising above it. Eventually it climbs above it and veers away from the creek to the right. Soon we contour around a hillside and begin to catch glimpses of the Animas River and the train tracks below us to our left.

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The trail scene is reminiscent of the hike we did into Chicago Basin two years ago, and for good reason. This is the same Durango to Silverton narrow gauge train that we took up to Needleton, which is only a stop or two south of the Elk Creek stop which we are close to now. It’s fun to be back in familiar territory.

We follow the tracks briefly before crossing the Animas River and beginning a series of nearly 40 switchbacks that will take us up over 1600 feet to Molas Lake Campground. We can tell it’s a Saturday from all the trail runners and day hikers we pass along the way, but it’s exciting because we know we are getting closer to the trailhead and the end of another segment.

As it turns out, the switchbacks are reasonable in length and grade, and every time we turn a corner we get ever-improving vistas of the Animas and the train tracks with Mount Garfield and the surrounding peaks looming in the background.

Eventually we emerge into an open meadow and climb up to a ridge with views of red stone Sultan Mountain and Grand Turks lit up by bright sunlight.

After chatting with an older couple who are training to hike the PCT, we reach the split off to the campground and arrive ten minutes later.

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Big Molas Lake is set beneath a picturesque backdrop of mountains. It’s sunny, and lots of folks are out enjoying the lake—paddle boarding, kayaking, walking their dogs or just lounging in chairs at the water’s edge. It all looks rather inviting, but we are here primarily to pick up our resupply.

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Luckily, the campground office is much kinder than the post office in Creede. They have our resupply box and show us to a hiker box with lots of food and other supplies if we need them. The kind lady even offers to hold onto our backpacks if we want to run into Silverton and camp here later.

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We’ve been debating what to do for accommodation tonight when a brief cloudburst edges us in the direction of pursuing an extra night in a motel rather than camping. I call the Prospector Motel in Silverton, and it turns out we are in luck—they have a room available on a Saturday night, and we can check in as soon as we arrive! With the rain holding off, we grab our box and walk up to Highway 550 to thumb a ride the six miles into town.

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Within minutes, a truck and a Subaru stop for us simultaneously. We opt for a ride in the Subaru with a young couple from New Mexico who are on their way to Ice Lakes to backpack for the weekend. It’s a quick ride and a friendly chat before they drop us off at our motel. We wish them well and step into the tiny office of the Prospector Motel.

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Just then, Juli and Eden round the corner on their way back from breakfast. Once again, we are reunited with the pair of CT thru-hikers whom we have known the longest on the trail—all the way since Day 1 above Bear Creek!

As Alison catches up with them, I check in with Andy, the friendly recent former owner who, as it turns out, is from Chicago. He and I chat about Chicago, the history of the motel that his grandfather originally owned, the beauty of the Silverton area, and also the tough times this place has had this summer. Between the fire and the mudslides, the closure of the railroad and even Highway 550, Silverton has taken a real hit in tourist traffic this summer.

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We are starving for lunch (we packed all morning without dropping our packs!) and take Andy’s suggestion to try the Brown Bag Cafe across the street. There we feast on a giant Greek salad wrap and a hot caprese sandwich. Delicious!

Before leaving, I beg the owners for a bag of ice to help with the swelling in my left shin. The owner’s wife asks what’s wrong, and it turns out she is a former soccer player and athletic trainer and has seen this before. She diagnoses it, not as shin splints, but as tibial tendonitis. The only thing to do is ice it and take good old Vitamin “I” (as in ibuprofen) and rest it as much as possible. I’m grateful for the ice and the advice. Hopefully a few days off trail will allow me to finish out the CT without slowing everybody up!

Next task—laundry! Luckily, there is a small laundromat a few blocks away, so off we go. While we are doing laundry and working on pictures, a friendly college student, Rebekah, asks about our hiking and kindly offers to give us a ride back up to the trailhead on Monday morning—another trail angel graces our hiking lives. We have been very fortunate on the CT thus far!

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Shorty after we return to our motel room, Juli’s husband, David, shows up with two of their sons, and we spend a pleasant half hour chatting with him and getting to know him. We’ve heard a bit about him over the last month, but it’s great to finally meet him in person and see the other side of M8 and Gazelle. David and the boys will join Juli and Eden and hike the last stretch to Durango with them, so we’ll see more of them for sure.

Finally, it’s time for dinner. We walk a short block to Avalanche Brewery and order pizza, a giant Caesar salad and two cold IPAs (the other Vitamin “I”) and sit down on the outside deck to observe life in this old western town.

The only paved street in Silverton is the Main Street through downtown, which is really only about 6 blocks long. All the other side streets are wide, hard pack gravel/dirt streets. The whole town is lined with old buildings that look like something out of an old western movie.

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ATVs are quite popular here, and we see them parked everywhere and driving through town. It’s like ATVs have replaced horses as the new mode of transportation in this mountain town!

Silverton, it seems, is sort of an odd mix of young hipster locals, ATVers, thru-hikers and train-stop tourists. And they are all gathering on this Saturday night at Eureka Station, a bar with a live two-person band that is quite entertaining. It appears that everyone in town is here, including our bartender and the staff from Avalanche and a film crew that is scouting locations for a movie that will begin filming in the area next month. Lots of people are dancing to the music. The Chris Oliver Duo is killing it, and everyone is letting loose.

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We kick up a conversation with a few people from the film crew and enjoy taking in the whole crazy scene. It’s fun to be off the trail and in town on a Saturday night. But it’s way past hiker’s midnight, so it’s off to sleep we go!

Day 35 Stats

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Starting Point: Trailside camp along Elk Creek, mile  405.1
End Point: Molas Lake Campground intersection, mile 409.6
Mileage: 4.5
Segment: 24
Date on Trail: August 4, 2018

2 thoughts on “Colorado Trail, Day 35: A Return to the Animas

  1. I’m on my way to the airport to fly to Colorado and do segment 24 as I read this. I wish I knew your dates in advance. I would have moved up my dates and intersected you. My hiking heroes you are.

    1. No way! That would have made the whole trip if we ran into you in the Vestal Basin. Segment 24 was probably the most beautiful of the entire trip, so we know that you had a wonderful time. Are you enjoying your new home in Florida? Do you have any future hiking trips planned?

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