Happy Halloween from Savannah, Georgia! If you aren’t following my other blog, you might not know that I’ve been a nomad for the past thirteen months. I try out a new state every five to six weeks, staying in long-term AirBnBs. Over the summer, I stopped back in Colorado to hike some more mountains and stay in a remote area of the San Juans that was too far away to visit more than handful of times during my twelve years living in that state. The area has a long mining history and a fair number of related tragedies, so it’s fitting that I had two “scary-esque incidents”, let’s call them, while I was there, and what better time of year to share them than now.
Nellie Creek Nightmare
Silverton to the Nellie Creek trailhead is a 31.5 mile stretch over a death-defying mountain pass. On the best of days, it takes 2 hours and 15 minutes. Or you can go the long way around the mountains on proper roads, which is 150 miles and 3 hours and 40 minutes. If you and your car are up to the task, the mountain pass seems the way to go. Except it had been raining for weeks when I drove it and the pass had big washouts and intense fog. Three hours and 30 minutes later, I was still two miles from the Nellie Creek trailhead, it was pitch black in the forest, and I had arrived at a stream crossing, the depth of which I had no idea about. I found a turnout to pull my car into and got ready for bed. I would be getting up early to hike the 14er, Uncompaghre.
At some point in the night, I woke up needing to pee. The “road” up to the trailhead is gnarly and used mostly by OHVs in the daytime for recreation. If you can drive all the way up though, you save yourself over eight miles on the roundtrip hike to the peak. I had been the last one to drive up it that night and had passed only two vehicles at the start. I was totally alone out there. Or so I thought.
As I squatted by my car door, pants around my ankles, I swear I saw a light flash through the trees. Nonsense, I told myself. There was absolutely no one else out in that forest. There might be a bear somewhere, but not any people.
Then I saw it again. Flashlight, definitely a flashlight. I whipped up my pants, dove back into my car, locked the doors, checked the locks again, and buried myself in my sleeping bag, head covered. I tried not to breathe. Maybe it was the exhausting and stressful drive over or maybe the forest had bad juju or maybe I watch too much true crime, but I got it in my mind that it was a serial killer and I was defenseless. In my mind, he was about to tap on my car window with a gun and force me out into the woods where he would rape and murder me. I cowered under my sleeping bag, waiting. And waiting and waiting and waiting.
I did eventually fall asleep, probably for no more than an hour. I packed up, and drove up higher. Turns out that the creek crossing itself was no big deal, but what I couldn’t see in the dark was that the road did a 90-plus degree turn right after the creek and you had to gun it up some massive rocks and crank the wheel hard at the same time to make it. I would have damaged my car and missed the turn had I tried it in the dark.
I started up the summit trail alone, ahead of two groups of men, thinking that I might actually be the first person going up that day. But after two miles, I encountered a foursome coming down from the top and we chatted a minute. They said didn’t have a vehicle that could get up Nellie Creek so they started from the main road. And because that added over four miles to their hike each way, they started early. Really, really early. And around three in the morning, they passed a white SUV right before the creek.
It Came From Below
The house I rented in Silverton was an old mining house, built in 1900. It was a bit crooked and had that funny, old house smell, but the weirdest thing about it was the basement. The basement door was through the master bedroom on the first floor. What looked like a closet door opened to a short ladder that led into a room that was no bigger than ten-by-ten. It had a stone and dirt floor and held the hot water heater, furnace, and not much else. The rest of the house had only a crawlspace beneath it.
The house also had a bedroom on the second story, so this cavity in the middle of the house that was the basement also continued skyward as a very steep stairwell to the upstairs bedroom. The bed in the master, where I slept, was flush to the well where those stairs were.
I had a lot of visitors while in Silverton, but mostly people sleeping in the second downstairs bedroom. One weekend, I had three visitors, so one person had to sleep upstairs. We had been out all day, hiking mountains, riding ATVs, and drinking (obviously) so when I fell asleep, I fell asleep hard. I woke up at some point in the night to the sound of footsteps. Heavy, clomping monster footsteps. In my disoriented state, possibly still a little drunk but definitely very tired, I was convinced the sound was coming from the basement. I lay very still, listening, for what felt like a whole minute but couldn’t have been more than five seconds. My mind started going wild.
How did someone get in the basement? How long had this person been down there? What did they want? My body felt paralyzed. The stomping grew louder and louder. I was half a second away from screaming for help to my friends who were sleeping in the other downstairs room, when my brain cells connected and I realized the sound was the third friend coming downstairs to go to the bathroom. The way the house was constructed, the steps echoed throughout the stair cavity in a way that made the origin indiscernible. In a non-sleep-disoriented state, I would have understood right away that since there was a ladder to the basement and not even stairs, someone coming up wouldn’t have made those kinds of sounds. But in the condition I was, I gave myself a good fright.