2021 Hut to Hut Excursion turns in to ultimate survival experience
A core four of thinkMTB's strongest riders - Brad, Bernie, Dan and Sidney - took the challenge of riding the San Juan Hut System from Durango to Paradox, CO this month. They would cover 158 miles, climb 15,000 feet, spend two days at more than 11,000 feet, all for a five-day tour of the best of Colorado backcountry. They experienced warm, cold, wet, dry, sunny, cloudy, windy…all four seasons. They pedaled through fire road, jeep track, single track, paved roads, hard pack, sand, rock, mud – basically encountered it all!
The venture started with a one-and-a-half-day drive from Orange County, CA including a quick stop at club member Craig’s in Prescott, AZ. The group then moved on to another club member home in Durango, CO for a town visit, acclimation and a wonderful pre-ride feast hosted by Sharone and Orly…then the real adventure began.
Day 1 Durango to Bolam Pass Hut
There were two options, the standard route of 18 miles with 3800’ climbing, or the alternate route of 21 miles with 4800’ climbing and peak elevation of 12,500'. After much deliberation and considering stories from other riders, the group opted for the “easier” route. Although shorter, this route was no walk in the park. A lot of climbing in a short distance, high altitude and extremely rocky 4x4 trails made for a challenging ride. All rode strong, despite heavy bikes and packs. They only walked some of the steep rocky sections and made it to the hut by lunch time. The views were beautiful, pristine lakes and meadows at 10,000'+. They settled into the hut for the evening, happily discovered it slept eight, and it was just the thinkMTB four. The hut was well stocked and comfortable. Bernie cooked up a great meal of spaghetti and chili and the group reflected on the perfect weather that first day while relaxing in an equally calm night, watching lots of deer around the camp. Little did they know what the next day would serve up.
Day 2 Bolam Pass Hut to Black Mesa Hut
This time the guys opted for the alternate route of 32 miles with almost 4000’ climbing. Weather was great at the onset. There were lots of single track, some fire road, and quite a lot of climbing. This was a challenging day with some hike-a-bike and some long gradual but relentless climbs. They still rode strong, but about 30 minutes before getting to the hut, a storm rolled in with lightning, thunder, and a downpour. Even with rain jackets on, everyone was drenched and more than happy to get out of the storm. Monsoon storms normally come in the late afternoon, pour down for an hour, then get blown out but not this one. It rained and hailed relentlessly thru the night, coming down so hard conversation in the hut was near impossible! Again, Chef Bernie came to the rescue, serving a much needed hot meal of chicken burritos that night. They went to bed hoping for nothing but the rain to stop.
Day 3 Black Mesa Hut to Dry Creek Hut
This was supposed to be the easiest day, 38 miles with a little climbing but almost 6000’ descending down to a breathable altitude. After raining continually thru the night, they all woke up to temperatures in the low 40s and the rain just kept falling. Now they needed to decide what to do. Though they had a few warm clothing items and rain jackets, they were not prepared for driving rain, wind, and such cold temps. This would be even worse given the route had them descending most of the day. They messaged