If the avalanche debris we were finding off on the side of the road was any determination to what we were bypassing in Elk Creek, we were assured of our decision to take the detour.
Colorado Trail Segment 24 of 28
Start: Stony Pass TH
Distance: 10.8 miles
Decisions. At the beginning of segment 24 we had to decide whether or not to take the traditional route down and through the Elk Creek drainage or the official detour that cyclists must take around the Weminuche Wilderness. It was a tough call, this is one of the highly anticipated beauties of the Colorado Trail, unfortunately it was also one of the red flags along the CT for the 2019 hiking season. The snowpack over winter was extreme in this area making for quite a few avalanches. The Elk Creek drainage was not exempt from these natural disasters and was on the receiving end of several damaging slides. The avalanches created mass debris fields of twisted, broken and impassable trees, mud, rock and snow in the bottom of the valley, atop the trail, not easily traversed to say the least. While some hikers were getting through, it was slow going and tedious travel. Watching each step carefully was pertinent to avoiding injury, but certainly not guaranteed.
We were already dealing with some issues of our own and did not want to risk further damage and/or trail-ending injuries, especially so close to the end. Staring at our feet the entire time had very little appeal, we had seen them for several hundred miles as it was. Climbing over, through, around and under piles of mangled trees, snow, mud and rock might sound like fun to an extreme sport fanatic, but not us. We wanted to enjoy our hike, especially this part of the CT we had heard so much about. It was hard to make the decision to take the alternate, but it was also the right thing for us. We stayed on the road, crested the pass and were pleasantly surprised at our first view down the opposing valley as we began our long decent into Silverton. Surrounded by high rock walls on each side and larger than life views in front, we continued on enjoying the wild landscape that continued to wow us, even on a road walk.
We were dropping fast. Our toes were jammed in the front of our shoes and our hiking poles were jammed into the ground. It was a slippery slope descending out of 12,657′ to 9,304′, but safer than the war zone down in the drainage we were going around. If the avalanche debris we were finding off on the side of the road was any determination to what we were bypassing in Elk Creek, we were assured of our decision to take the detour. Now dropping into treeline we were enjoying the shade from the intense sun for the first time in quite a while. The only drawback was the now consistent parade of ATVs, OHVs, Jeeps and dirtbikes that were coming up from the valley below. At first only a few here and there, but as the day went on they just seemed to multiply.
Patience, we would be in Silverton later that afternoon enjoying our last resupply and town food before finishing in Durango. Granted we had anticipated the road down to be somewhat busy, it was a weekend and the weather was perfect. Adding to the amount of traffic was the fact that this was not just any weekend, it was Labor Day weekend, the last hoorah of the summer for many in Colorado. We began to wonder if we would find a room in town. We kept checking for a signal and fortunately found one. This time we were the ones who put the “No” on the vacancy sign. Silverton would be a quick stop. We did our laundry, enjoyed a hot shower, another great pizza, got our resupply box and readied ourselves for the final push. Durango was next and our excitement was growing.