Total Miles: 693.2
I thought we were done with this foolishness. If there was one thing we had no interest in seeing, it was yet another storm cloud to start the day. The forecast certainly made no mention of them, and yet there it was, dominating an otherwise azure sky, pouring rain on the valley below and now chasing us down with alarming speed. As its leading edge pulled overhead, cold settled into my hands with the rapidly falling temperature while a handful of raindrops and snowflakes tentatively fell to the ground as if merely tuning up for the big performance that would begin shortly.
It never came. In less than 5 minutes, the wind shifted subtly carrying the thunderhead miles to the east where it could do us no harm. It was like a giant hand had appeared and simply shoved it aside. It likely would not have lasted long, but we were all happy that the prospect of going an entire day without having to manage wet gear was still intact.
Yet again quiet and devoid of any particularly challenging ascents or descents, we ambled along under a beautiful cloud-pocked sky and a constant breeze. Passing the high point of the Colorado Trail in what could only be described as the most nondescript place imaginable, we watched yet more pikas scurrying and squeaking, while a lone marmot standing sentinel whistled to alert their friends to our passing.
Staring down the barrel of a 30-mile stretch of trail entirely above treeline, it was also time for some outside-the-box thinking about where to lay our heads to rest tonight. Although we all carry insulated pads to sleep on in the event we get stuck without trees to hang our hammocks from, no one is excited about the prospect. Poring over maps last night, a brief stretch of alternate trail looked like just the medicine. Diverging for a mere 7 miles before rejoining the CDT, this route would take us down off the divide into a river valley with stands of spruce that we can call home for the night. Tomorrow morning, it's less than two miles climbing back up to the CDT. Problem solved.
As we neared the end of our newfound and empty valley, eyeing the highest reaches of the spruce forest, we spotted something else—a massive herd of elk, far larger than any I've ever seen. Young and old, big and small, they dotted the opposite side of the valley to which we were headed. Some standing in the shade at the edge of the forest, some luxuriating in the grassy meadow, there were easily a hundred or more of them. Before long, we were spotted. Elk appeared that we hadn't even known were there a minute earlier, and one by one they all stood to gather close to one another before rushing off en masse into the safety of the forest. An entire herd moving as a single organism like nothing I'd ever seen.
Latitude/Longitude: 37.79969, -107.49902