Into Silverton

“Mountains are not Stadiums where I satisfy my ambition to achieve, they are the cathedrals where I practice my religion.” 
Anatoli Boukreev

After a short walk through the cloudless high tundra in the morning, the trail follows a narrow ridge between two canyons, and begins the long descent through the Weminuche Wilderness down towards the town of Silverton.

a flower

The canyon I drop into literally looks like it is out of a movie. I am not an extraordinarily religious person, but this valley feels like it was carved by God himself. I start the descent on over two dozen switchbacks . The ground is slightly less steep than a cliff, yet it’s packed with wildflowers thicker than I’d ever seen in my life.

a mountain

Once through the switchbacks, the drop continues steeply through a field of boulders and alongside a rushing stream of clear cold snowmelt, which is joined by more streams and waterfalls all alonga waterfall

the way. Across the stream, sheer cliffs tower a thousand feet overhead. The beauty and majesty are enough to put a lump in my throat every time I look around. I can’t spend too much time wandering in awe, however, as much of the trail is scratched into the side of a cliff where a bad step could end my trip for good. And this goes on literally for miles. If you are capable of a hard hike at altitude, put Elk Creek Canyon on your bucket list.a pond

Oh, there was a time in this fair land when the railroad did not run,
When the wild majestic mountains stood alone against the sun.
Long before the white man and long before the wheel,
When the green dark forest was too silent to be real.

Gordon Lightfoot

a train

There is an expression among long distance hikers; “Hike your own hike.” One of the things that I thought would make my hike special would be the rare opportunity that presents itself near where Elk Creek empties into the Animas River. At this spot, you can walk out of the woods onto a train track, wave down a steam locomotive, slip the conductor $35, and ride the train into town. That was an opportunity I was not going to miss! While the others walked the last few miles into Silverton, I “rode the rails” straight out of history and into town. There I proceeded to eat over a pound of ground beef and buffalo along with fries and a salad while waiting for their arrival so we could eat. It was a blast.

(For those of you that have a problem with me skipping a few miles of trail to ride the train; I will walk 99% of the possible mileage of the trail. In addition, I may have the opportunity to pick up those miles at a later date. Also, “hike your own damn hike.” Oh,  and I stopped a train!)

Silverton will be a quick, overnight stop to resupply, then the final stretch into Durango and completion of the Colorado Trail!