Getting a little bit too high

America’s victory over the English (celebrated by Independence Day this weekend) actually had some advantages for me, being a Brit living in the US. The biggest one is the ability to take a 5 day weekend from work and not be missed. The second is that all my American friends are also up for adventuring. I made the most of this by heading to Durango with Katie, Bryan, Wayne and Annalyn. We got into town at 1am on Thursday night after a long but easy seven hour drive from Boulder.

Friday had a lazy start and a supposedly lazy bike ride at ‘Ned Overend Park’ just outside of town; when we discovered the maze of trails back there, thoguh, it ended up being longer and more fun than anyone was expectiing. Here’s Bryan and Wayne ripping the Star Wars trail:


After the short ride and a relax in downtown Durango, the map was pulled out and fingers were blistered as zig-ziggy red dots of singletrack were traced across the laminated paper; ideas were stretched and extended until the maximum possible number of miles were planned for the Saturday ride.  Colorado trail from Silverton to Durango. 80 miles, 10,000 feet of climbing, 15,000 feet of descent. 100% singletrack.

Into the truck at 6am for the hour drive to Molas Pass at 10,905 ft. where Bryan ‘Garmin’ Alders, Wayne ‘Facebrake’ Smith, and I began the 12 mile climb up and over the first pass of the day.

The sun rising over the Needles range of the San Juan Mountains at 7am was breathtakingly stunning.

The unusually snowy and wet spring partly responsible for the lush green alpine meadows; lupine, columbines and alpine primroses were just in  bloom, providing a subtle colour to the fringes of the trail.

We encountered the first patch of snow just five minutes into the ride, and discounted it as an anomaly and continued on traversing in and out of the tree line. The cruising descent required very little in the way of concentration, and allowed sneaky glimpses of huge vistas stretching out over the Animas valley. Obviously, though, Wayne diverted a little too much attention from the trail and the smooth singletrack bucked him 30 feet down the grassy bank, where he did a fantastic job of slowing his slide with his face.

After a ‘full body analytics’, he decided that potentially cracked ribs, a weird lump on his chin and a bloody nose were the extent of the injuries, and a wash in the glacial run off mended the immediate problem.

Things got trickier when we realised the next two hours of our ride were not going to be a ride at all, but more of an epic and gruelling push over the 12,400 foot saddle between Rolling Mountain and Jura Knob.

Bryan is better at riding in a straight line than walking:

Over the saddle and onto the south facing side of the mountains, the snow thinned, and only a few scary snow drifts remained, allowing short respite on the screaming fast pine coated path snaking towards another gully.

We crossed waterfalls, downed trees, gushing creeks and damp, dark mossy alcoves, before ending at lunch stop number 1 at the head of a sharp valley.

The pattern was repeated again, though: now on the North facing slopes, riding was interrupted every 30 seconds by a quick hike over varying depths of snow and downed trees. What should have been a smooth and gradual climb back up to tree line instead took over 2 hours, totaling less than 5 miles in that time.

By this point, 16 miles and 4 hours into the ride, goals were readjusted. Facebrakes’ adrenaline was wearing thin, and in the process the aches and pains revealed themselves to be less than superficial. At Bolam Lake, just below the tree line in a secluded bowl, the map was consulted and Wayne chose to take the ‘easy’ route down Hermosa creek and back to Durango. Little did he know, at 10.500 feet, he would still take almost four hours to get home! Bryan and I soldiered on, buoyed by the snow free trail, picking up the pace and cruising upwards again towards Blackhawk pass.

Again though, snow was an issue. More than an issue. Another five miles of post-holing through drifts up to waist deep was enough to end my enthusiasm for the ride, the next bail out opportunity would have to be taken. Good news though: standing on top of Blackhawk pass, surveying all that stood below, the only way was down. The just melted trail was perfect under the tyres, and we flew the next 25 minutes to meet a dirt road, and a kind lady who filled our water bottles up. From here, the bail out plan came into effect. We were 6.5 hours into our day with less than half the distance covered, with significant climbing left to get to Durango. We decided that, like Wayne, we would head down to Hermosa creek and back into town. Its now apparent that just because that trail doesn’t have any big climbs its not easy or quick. From deciding to turn off the Colorado trail, it was 3.5 hours and 4.5k ft. of downhill. Corral draw, a quiet and untouched gulch connecting the Colorado trail to Hermosa creek, is now my Number 1 all time favourite. Look it up if you’re in Durango.

10 hours after being dropped at the top of the trail, we roll into Durango and up to Katie’s house. Wayne had returned merely an hour before us after struggling within two miles of town for Katie to fetch him. 60 miles on reserve power is impressive! I was completely ruined after our ride, and passed out at 9pm that evening, still fully dressed.

Sunday was left to laziness, thankfully. After wearing through all of my brake pads descending the day before, bikes were (miraculously) fixed, before being forgotten about in favor of jumping off a 40 foot bridge into the Animas river! Way more fun, and we even avoided the impending lightening storm! The evening continued as the day; Margaritas and Taco’s and lots of nothing to do. Very relaxing.

Monday was spent doing a rerun on Corral draw, this time with a truck assisted climb, and the full party:

MUCH better. Having brake pads helped, too! Merely 5 hours of riding, mostly downhill, through aspen glades, pine forests, open meadows and flowing creeks.

The scrub oak common here at lower elevations is very different from Boulder, and gives a completely different atmosphere, both visual and olfactory. I like it!

Monday evening, I pulled on my Union Jack socks in order to celebrate Independence Day with a stunning fireworks display over downtown. We lay on the grass just feet from where they were being set off and got a show that will not be forgotten!

Anna And Ryan enjoy the downtown:


I’m going to be coming back to Durango more often, I feel.