San Juan Huts Day 1 and Prep

I had been trying to figure out some way to boil down 7 days/6 nights of backcountry mountain biking into just one post.  I don’t really feel like I can do the whole trip justice in just one post, so I’m going with a summary of each day while it is still fresh in my mind.  We’ll see how much I can actually relay in words and pictures.  No matter what I do though, there is no way I can convey the fun, pain, joy, majesty, camaraderie, and a hundred other superlatives into these posts.  So let me just say that it was a wicked awesome adventure!  It was hard at times, but really rewarding and one of those “bucket list” items that will come up in conversations years from now.  If I write “You make fake meat out of pea protein” only 7 (5 riders, 2 gracious hosts) other people know what I am talking about, but 10 years from now it will still make me laugh.

It cannot go without saying that Dean is really the one to thank (or blame) for this trip.  He registered for the spot and then found 5 other hearty souls (morons) to go with him.  I can thank a random ride early in the year when I met him, and we hit it off, and he was gracious enough to invite me on this journey.  So Thanks Dean (I think)!

I won’t go into all the details of the hut systems, you can find those at the San Juan Hut website.  I will try to summarize each day in both words and pictures.

Dean, John, Nick and I left Portland, OR on Saturday evening and drove 17ish hours straight through to Moab, UT to meet up with David and Troy who wold be joining us on this trip and also Thad and Ben who were awesome enough to drive us back to Durango for the start of this adventure.

Sunday night in Moab, meeting everyone else and organizing

After dinner and a quick trip to the grocery store we had a very brief evening of rest before hitting the road around 5AM for Durango.  Thanks to Ben for driving our tired butts!  I was a casualty of miscommunication after dinner and was left behind at the grocery store while waiting in line.  We were split up into 2 cars and each car thought that they had me.  Needless to say it was headcounts for a while thereafter.

Downtown Durango, CO.  I could so easily live here

We had some time to kill before we could check into our condo up at Purgatory Ski Resort, so we had breakfast in downtown Durango and then meandered around for a bit.  I got to send Mia a postcard (great idea Dave) and walk into a bike shop that was more or less a shrine to mountain biking.  You see, Durango hosted the first ever official world mountain bike championships back in 1990.

Like a kid in a candy store
Greg Herbold’s 1990 downhill bike.  Oh how times have a changed!
The view from our condo.  Not too shabby

Monday afternoon was spent organizing, walking around and just getting psyched up for the trip ahead.  The whole journey had been talk up until this point, now it was becoming real and the whole gist of it was really starting to sink in.  7 days in the woods with my bike!

My bike fully loaded

We spent the evening getting all the bikes setup.  I brought my 29er hardtail since everyone else had 29″ wheeled bikes.  I thought it would be easier if we all had the same wheel size, since we had 2 spare tires in case of emergency.  I would spend the next 7 days getting frustrated with my seatbag.  Being a short guy on 29″ wheels is tough enough.  But  then when I load it up with bikepacking bags I get fun things like the rear bag buzzing against the tire on the rough stuff, and the front harness buzzing the front tire on bigger hits.  The setup worked, but in hindsight I should have brought the full suspension bike with 27.5″ wheels……live and learn.

Dean still had a bit of organizing to do

After a night’s rest it was time for the adventure to begin!  I will admit it was hard to sleep with all the anticipation.

Day 1 Molas Pass to Bolam Pass Hut

  • 22 miles
  • 3,806′ elevation gain
  • 12,404 max elevation

I found out today that my magic number for breathing seems to be right around 11,000 feet above sea level.  Every time we went above that I felt like I was breathing through a straw.  Coming almost directly from more or less sea level in just a couple days to a base height of 9,000′ did not help much.  There really wasn’t much time to acclimate to the altitude.

Day 1 starting point

Thad and Ben highly suggested that we take the day 1 alternative route which followed the Colorado Trail.  It would be “way more fun” they said.  It was fun, but it was also insanely hard at times.  From start to finish it took us almost 8.5 hours to go only 22 miles.  Moving time was “only” 4:47, but throw in regroups, lots of walking, and high altitude headaches and it was a hard ass day of riding.  I’ll freely admit that I was pretty discouraged when we finally made it to the hut.  If every day was this hard, would I make it?  I believe that the consensus (except Troy, that dude is an animal) was that we should have opted for the standard route and just gotten our feet wet.  Same elevation gain, but on forest service roads instead of singletrack.  So if you found this blog post because of my tags and are thinking of doing the route,  and if you are not used to high elevation, I would highly suggest giving yourself ample time or taking the standard route.  We found out several days later in Paradox that some groups who opted for the Colorado Trail option ended up bivying in the woods because it got too dark to make it to the first hut!  That would suck.

Enough bitching though.  No matter what the day was awesome and the views were spectacular.  It was a “shared experience” that I will not soon forget.

about half way into the day and at 12,400′
Nice singletrack.  It would be super fun on an unloaded bike

So after a LONG day of riding we made it to the first hut at Bolam Pass.  I believe all of us were very impressed with the layout and how well they were stocked.  Click here to check out a list of what they offer.

It’s super nice to have a solid roof over your head

Each hut will sleep 8, though the group consensus seemed to  be 6 was enough.  Two more people and it would have been pretty crowded in there.  Gas lamps and a small “kitchen” area offered plenty of room for food prep too.

Dinner was very welcome this evening

I’ll admit I was totally blown when we got to the hut.  A soda, some canned pears (which wold be a recurring theme for post ride snacks for me) and just a few minutes to rest and I was whipping up the group dinner.  I volunteered to do a lot of the cooking, mostly because I hate doing dishes, but also because with just a touch of vanity and a smidge of modesty, I think I am pretty good at the whole whipping it up from what is available thing.

Night one dinner was pasta with onions, garlic, tomatoes, some canned chicken, green beans and some spices.  Not bad for making it up as I went along.  After dinner it was not long  before we were all crawling into sleeping bags and dreaming of an easier day for tomorrow.

You can see all of my day 1 pics here.

Thanks for reading,




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