July 25, 2012

Weekend Away from the West Elks: San Juan Self Support


Words & Photos: Dave Bunt |

The geology of the San Juan Mountains is nothing less than spectacular. Any passing motorist can witness this while driving over Molas Pass. Peaks such as Vestal and Arrow in the Grenadier range, beckon adventurers to explore such great country. However, the Weminuche Wilderness allows only foot traffic, which is why we decided to head the opposite way.

Our route started at little Molas Lake heading east toward Jura Knob, and ultimately a spot labeled Section Point for camp. As we began to climb toward the base of Grand Turk on the Colorado Trail, rolling hills draining in the direction of Lime Creek created classic cross country style riding at nearly 11,500 feet above sea level. This was the first test to see if our gear was properly secured to our high mountain carbon fiber stallions.


Evan Bunt scopes out a seemingly endless downhill off of Rolling Pass

As we continued along some of the Rocky Mountain’s best single track, we started to notice remnants of winter. Small plugs of snow and overflowing creeks started to cross our path as if to remind us of what was to come. But we were ready for almost anything Mother Nature was to throw our way. By now we were a few hours in and feeling good. Our first fork in the trail lay in front of us just below Jura Knob. Evan, like a high mountain Robert Frost, proposed we take the road less traveled; so Rolling Pass it was. A short climb, including a few hundred yards of hike a bike due to the elements, left us to experience the first sustained downhill of the day. A fast, flowy trail scattered with switchbacks and water bars yielded ear-to-ear grins under a flawless blue sky. Our next stop for food and water was Cascade creek, a true high mountain paradise.

After a quick snack, a craggy side hill climb lead us toward Sliderock Ridge and a spectacular view of the entire Lizardhead wilderness to the east. The cruiser downhill jettisoning us away from the backside of Engineer Mountain emptied us out at the top of Bolam pass, just a short distance from Section Point. I couldn’t wait to relax under the sunset and hit the sac around before stars were to materialize.

And I thought a beer would have been too much extra weight….damn

After a colder than expected night under the San Juan stars, Evan led the way to what may have been the best riding of our journey: Blackhawk Pass. Remaining humble as I witnessed my partner in crime rally up what I thought was surely a hike a bike, I actually had a chance to take in the views. The distance and terrain we covered was amazing. My previous trips into similar country wile backpacking and hiking were dwarfed by what we had accomplished. Bikepacking was beginning to look like my go-to mode of backcountry adventure.  As we approached the summit of Blackhawk Pass I could see my brother  sprinting upward under peaks of glory, only to let my mind wonder what was on the other side.

I have purposefully left out a detailed picture of the downhill off the back of the Blackhawk Pass to allow our readers to create their own image of what the trail provides…yes it was that good. And that long!

Hotel Draw was our next point of interest. An easy drive to the top allows outdoor enthusiasts to explore a vast forrested area with many drainages leading in all directions. The path we chose was down West Cross Creek ending at Hermosa Creek and another mind-blowing segment of trail. After a few more hours in the saddle we completed our expedition at the truck in the town of Hermosa with fresh fruit and cold smoothies provided by our indefectible shuttle driver, Christine (I will not include a write up on this segment due to its popularity).

As I started this adventure I was a little skeptical of what I was getting myself into but I knew I had to remind myself that Evan had led me to the best times of my life and there was no doubt that this would be anything less. In the end, despite their foreboding appearance and inherent high alpine dangers, the San Juans were kind to us and nothing had gone wrong. Not even a single flat tire over the 60 miles of premier Colorado Trail single track. That said though, for my first experience bikepacking, it was a considerable physical endeavor. But just like any long ride I remembered to dig deep and embrace the challenge. With that firmly in my mind all that was left was to enjoy the scenery and camaraderie of my brother. That reward was worth every drop of sweat along the way.

The Bunt brothers refueling at Cascade Creek for the next epic segment of the journey

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Toph says:

Great read but no Indian Ridge. Next time 😉