Tuesday, October 10, 2017

San Juan Huts Day 4: Now we know why they warned us about the mud.

This is the 5th post in a series about 3 couples experiencing the San Juan Huts Durango to Moab mountain bike adventure. The first post starts here

I think all six hut sleepers at the Dry Creek hut slept fairly lightly on night 3.   The rain pitter pattered and then loudly pounded constantly on the hut's metal roof.  If we had had a helicopter pick up scheduled for the morning of day 4, we might all have found the rain's voice a lovely sound, but instead, we rested fitfully knowing we might have very tough going with knobby tires on mud instead of rotor blades on air.

Less than 10 feet from the hut and already mud slicked shoes.

So we started out from the dry creek hut by carrying our bikes the quarter mile from the hut to the improved gravel road. After just that little way, we had to spend 15 or 20 minutes cleaning our shoes and bikes to be able to ride.  But the skies were clear and the forecast was for just a chance of afternoon thunderstorms, so we began another day of pedalling.

As a matter of principal, mountain bikers normally stay far away from pavement. But when our route description gave us two choices: 1) more pavement leading to some singletrack on a rocky ridge, or 2) faster flat dirt roads through the heart of the Dry Creek basin with potential for serious tire-stopping mud, we had to choose the first. We had tasted what Dry Creek basin mud could be, and wanted no more of it.

Option 1 meant a good 7 miles in a pavement mileage-eating pace line. none of us “mountain bikers” showed the least bit of distain for our roadie environment.

Especially because that pavement took us to a pretty fun section of singletrack up a rocky ridge and down the other side.

Fun descent

But we soon abandoned the longer singletrack option to rejoin the dirt road route as we raced the rain clouds.  We did not want to find out why the hut directors had given us directions and instructions for bailing out of the hut system here and getting a hotel for the night in the nearby town.

Impending doom.

But despire our best pedalling efforts, we got caught out in a thunder storm, ...  on a ridge, ....   with knobby tires.  A very bad situation.  The previously smooth fast dirt road turned into a trap.  Riding was out of the question - the tires became so clogged with mud, the wheels would not turn. We also risked damaging our drivetrains miles and miles from a bike shop.

Although we werre only a few miles from the hut, we were in a bad situation. We were at the highest elevation around with lightning not far away.  We tried to carry our bikes, but with our backpacks and probably 20 pounds of mud on each bike, it was slow going. At one point, somebody suggested abandoning the bikes, hiking to the hut, and coming back for the bikes later.  Clearly, we were desperate and delusional.

The storm moved off, we carried the bikes to the top of the final hill and cleared the tires enough so we could coast downhill a mile to the Wedding Bell hut. We were never so happy to be safe and off the trail.

We spent the next hour cleaning bikes and recovering from our ordeal.

It was way worse than this looks.

But the hut master in the sky must have thought we had proved our hut worthiness because warded with fantiastic view and the most beautiful sunset I've ever seen!!!!

Dolores River from the Wedding Bell Hut

There were some old mining ruins and associated trash next to the hut.

This half sunset took our breath away!

We soaked in every last ray of that incredible view before a dinner of spicy vegetable soup.  Tomorrow we would face the Catch'em Up trail, but for tonight, we rested in friendship.

Monday, August 14, 2017

San Juan Huts Durango to Moab Day 3: downhill to rainbow colored clouds

This is the 4th post in a series about 3 couples experiencing the San Juan Huts Durango to Moab mountain bike adventure. The first post starts here.

Days 1 and 2 were amazing. Amazing scenery, amazingly variable weather, amazingly long days in the saddle, amazingly compatible people. Day 3 was smooth sailing downhill on easy roads to a cozy hut with a lucky break or two.

Black Mesa hut specifics

Before I tell of our lovely ride on day 3, I wanted to give you a few details about the hut we stayed in on night 2.

Black Mesa Hut nestled in the big pines.

Can you think of a more peaceful setting for a composting toilet?

Perhaps my readers do not care to see the inside of the composting toilet shack, but as I am one for details, here you go. The procedure for doing your business was: 1) do your business, 2) deposit your used toilet tissue and NOTHING ELSE (many signs warning about the horrible consequences for someone if garbage is added to the toilet), and 3) add half a scoop of wood shavings from the large garbage can.  Their was surprisingly little smell and no flies that I remember.  I didn't spend a whole lot of time in the shack though. 

Downhill to the desert

The route today had one small single track option, that, frankly, didn't sound very appealing. (Overgrown, difficult trail that would add a couple of hours.) We decided to take the FS roads and county roads all the way to the hut instead, as we needed a "rest day". This turned out to be a good decision, as you will learn later.  On the agenda was 2061 feet of climbing (is that a rest day?) and 54547 feet of descending (oh yeah!) over 35.2 miles. 

The crew ready to depart Black Mesa Hut, Day3
We rode on well-maintained roads almost the entire day, through conifer forest for the first 15 miles or so.  The scenery was not as spectacular as our first couple of days, but still nice and the smell of fresh pine forest was intoxicating. I wanted to inhale 100% of the time.  

Our directions said this was "Navajo Mountain and Groundhog Reservoir". Is that really the name? There must be a story there.

Our last good view of high country from near the border between the Uncompahgre and San Juan National Forests and the San Miguel and Dolores Counties. The mountains in the distance are on the Uncompahgre Plateau. I wanted to stop and take more pictures, but the group seemed to be in a rush.  This is often the story of my vacations.

Side note: this picture shows the size of my pack pretty well.  Without water, I was carrying 18 pounds of gear and packs. Pretty lean for a 7 day trip at elevation. It also show my hair poking through my helmet, which Drew thought was picture worthy.

This is as "singletrack" as we got on Day 3. 
The climbing was mellow, the descending was even mellower. It was so mellow I could take pictures while riding looking back at some of the group.

And then we came to Miramonte Reservoir.  Beautifully quiet, refreshingly cool, surprisingly clean Miramonte Reservoir at 7750 feet elevation. My lunch of cherry pie Lara bar in honor of Pie n Beer day was made infinitely better by watching Karl ride his dirty bike into the water.

The reservoir was also a great place to clean bikes and bodies.

It was getting into afternoon, and Heather, who seems to have an internal barometer warning her of impending rain, urged us to get back on those moderately clean but still uncomfortable bikes and head for the hut before we got doused with an afternoon thunderstorm.

We pounded out another 6 miles of easy gravel road to arrive at Dry Creek Hut, perched on the edge of a beautiful valley.  Here is the Relive 3D graphic of our ride.
Day 3 recap video link

The date today was July 24, which is Pioneer Day, a Utah state holiday commemorating the day in 1847 that the Mormons came to Salt Lake Valley and decided "this is the place", thus giving us Pioneer Day and the largest parade in the United States.  Us gentiles celebrate Pie 'n' Beer day instead.

No horse and wagon delivering fresh kegs and hot apple pie, but we did have Kenny and Heather, who carried Hostess fruit pies for all of us for the past 3 days without smashing them. Who needs covered wagons when you have friends like this.

And then, as we sat enjoying the epitome of after trail deliciousness, the puffy white clouds decided to play chameleon and treat us to the most unusual blast of color.
A spectacular rainbow cloud, or, as we called it, the amazing rain-blob. More precisely, this is cloud iridescence, but none of us had seen such a colorful cloud surrounded by regular clouds. The coincidence of us all sitting at the edge of of the basin, enjoying the post-ride glow and snacks instead of this cloud happening half an hour earlier or later when we would have been riding or getting busy with tasks made us feel like the most special bikers on earth at that particular moment.

Our luck manifested itself minutes later when the sprinkles started. Then full fledged rain that lasted all... night... long.  If we had loitered at the reservoir for another half hour or took more pictures and breaks throughout the day, we would have been caught out in the famous mud of Dry Creek Basin. As it was, we just hunkered down, spacing our trips to the toilet as far apart as we each could because going meant a hazardous slip-slide-y walk in which you chanced falling face-first into tan slime and a mandatory 5-minute shoe-cleaning session upon your return.

Massive Mud Foot. photo by Karl

First we napped in the hut (or if you are me and think it is too stuffy in the hut, just took shelter under the hut in a sling chair), then ate yummy spaghetti and garlic toast, and, for the evening's main event, painted tiny acrylic renditions of our favorite scenes from the last three days.  Yes, that's right, we had a Paint Night Party at the hut. Karl had carried 5x7 canvases for each of us, plus 4 or 5 tubes of acrylic paints with him for the last three days. First pies, now art. I have generous friends.

Thanks to Karl: Paint night - Hut edition.
photo by Karl

Our masterpieces.  We left them at the hut to brighten it up.
 We closed out the night feeling lucky for our experiences and good friends, but trepidation that the all night rain would kill our ride tomorrow.

Drew's favorite food-cabinet item.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

San Juan Huts Day 2: We like to keep our singletrack options open

This is the 3rd in a series of posts about 6 friends riding San Juan Huts Durango to Moab Hut to Hut Mountian Bike Adventure. The first post begins with this link,

Day 2 had options. Standard route on 100% Forest Service roads, 29 miles and 3722 feet ascending OR an alternate single track of 32 miles, an unknown amount of climbing, and with a description that read "This is a fun single track and well worth doing and is almost all downhill."  What do 6 physically exhausted but newly infatuated by San Juan mountains back-country scenery mountain bikers do? Why, chose the singletrack, of course.  After all, it was "almost all downhill".

The huts

One of the things I really appreciated about this hut system was the excellent variety of food stocks.  San Juan Huts restocks the food cabinet, the fresh food cooler, and the beer after every 14 riders.  The canned and dry goods was especially impressive. Really, any type of food you typically think of as camp food was there, plus a nice selection of lunch snacks, including dried mangoes, jerky, Lara bars, Kind bars, nuts, other dried fruits, peanut butter and almond butter with a couple of types of jelly, and lots of drink mixes.  I think Karl fried up some bacon this morning to take as his lunch. Good thing we didn't run into any bears on the trail.

photo by Heather

The big fresh food cooler had bacon, eggs, butter, and tortillas. The beer cooler had cans of local microbrews. The high elevation huts included wood stoves. The "kitchen" counter had a two burner propane stove, propane lanterns, and everything you need to cook and clean a proper camp meal.  Water was provided in 5-gallon jugs. We heated water to wash dishes in the plastic tubs.

Hut 1 all buttoned up upon leaving.

 Day 2 Riding

I was pretty excited about the "almost all downhill fun singletrack" and the prospect of more jaw-dropping scenery when we started the day.

 My enthusiasm waned when we I almost lost my camera on the rough doubletrack leading away from the hut (Yay for Drew for picking it up so I didn't have to ride way back up!) and also when we took a wrong turn in the first hour of riding. But once we got on the real singletrack, it was pretty fun. 

The numerous high creek crossings with unavoidable foot dunks were not my favorite, nor the numerous rocky technical trail sections that forced us to push bikes up muddy hills ("almost all downhill?"). And, to be honest, the scenery was not spell-binding, but there were some very pretty parts, the weather was holding, we were riding Colorado mountain singletrack with a group of fun friends, and we were making pretty good time. That was the first 10 miles or so. But, we had 22 to go and clouds were building.

So, none of us complained when we hit the paved state road and had to take it down canyon 3 miles to connect to the standard route. Smooth asphalt is my friend.

As we began to navigate the gravel and dirt Forest Service roads, the thunder that had been threatening made good on its rumbles and we rode through light rain for most of the rest of the day.  Light rain we can handle just fine when the alternative is monsoonal downpour.

The miles ticked off quickly, with steady climbs followed by glorious easy road descents.

At the bottom of the last big climb.

 We found the Black Mesa hut at about 6 pm. We had been in the saddle for 6 hours 20 minutes with 5 hours moving time, rode 34.8 miles, and climbed 3900 feet. That's a heck of a day 2 for riders already tired from day 1.

Here is Drew's Day 2 recap 3D motion graphic link  https://www.relive.cc/view/1106114066

Our relatively early arrival at the hut allowed for Karl to create a super spicy curry stir fry and still leave time for the disaffected tender-mouths of the group to cook bland-enough mac n cheese. There was also time for other camp activities. 
Washer women attempt to clean some muddy, smelly ride clothes.

A lovely yoga patio and chillin' pad was just a short walk out of the forest near the hut.

A camper's clothes drying racks.

Back inside the hut, Kenny broke out his ukulele (yes he brought an actual full-sized ukulele and a song book to go with it!) and we had a game of charades where the most popular category was not Movies, or Songs, or TV shows, but Trail Names. It was actually much easier for our bike-tuned brains that way.

Lights out on our tired bodies by 9 pm. Day 2 was a perfect addition to our adventure. Day 3 promised to be easier.

Monday, July 31, 2017

San Juan Huts Durango to Moab Day 1: the adventure begins

The first in this series of posts, which explains why and who entered into this adventure, is here.

Day 1: Molas Pass to Bolam Hut via Rolling Mountain section of the Colorado Trail

July 22
5:30 am: Rally Drew and Lucy from the Holiday Inn Express for our last hot shower and non-self-cooked breakfast.
7 am: Meet up downtown Moab with the crew. We hired Red Rock Shuttle to take us and our bikes to the drop off spot.

Drive to Durango. Stop at a bike shop to put more sealant in Kenny's tire. Drop off at Molas Pass.
Fresh and full of nerves at Molas Pass Colorado Trail trailhead. L to R Kenny, Heather, Karl, Sally, Lucy, Drew.
12:30 pm begin riding.
12:31 end of tracking the time and beginning of adventure

We opted for the singletrack option on day 1.  The standard route took mostly gravel or dirt U.S. Forest Service roads, which are much, much faster and easier. The singletrack option promised 22 miles, 3750 feet of climbing, amazing scenery, and what every mountain biker lives for - skinny mountain singletrack.  Even with our late start, we decided the high-elevation singletrack would be worth it.  I'll let you see from the pictures, it was!

Shoulder-high wildflowers for miles

Above tree line. Lots of water everywhere as this was only a few weeks after the trail opened from snowpack.

Not without issue

Day 1 scenery was unsurpassed. Day 1 accidents, mechanicals, and weather were also unsurpassed. 

Karl tumbled 40 feet down the mountainside partially connected to his bike. Incredibly, he brushed himself off and rode on with only small abrasions on his arm and bike to show for his brush with a trip-ending tumble.

Getting back to the trail. The rocks in the foreground were the culprit.
The first of Karl's three flat tires. Miraculously, these three were the only flats of the entire trip. That's nearly 1400 combined miles on rocky trail and rural gravel roads with three flats.  Hooray for tubeless.

And there was that bit of hail and thunder.  My fingers were too cold and my courage too diminished to take the time to snap a picture of the intense 15 minutes of hail and hour of thunder and rain that we waited out and then rode in, respectively.  It would be the coldest I would be on the trip, and the episode put the fear of the monsoon season into all of us.


But by late afternoon, the rain mostly stopped and we continued to climb over the high peaks of the San Juan Mountains through fields of wildflowers, ...

past active groundwater features, ...

A big spring gushing from the rocks under that snowbank. There were also karst features and smaller springs on bedding planes.
in marmot territory,...
Two big fat marmots, center, warned us to pass on by with their squeaks.

and around herds of sheep.

The trail went on forever.

Still snow on July 22

We crested the last pass, still with a long way to go, but it was through another unbelievably beautiful basin.  

Mountain biker on singletrack, black dot in center, for scale. The very smooth orange mountainsides in the top center of the picture I think are pretty recent landslides.  I thought they might be mine dumps as we were near the old Graysill mine, but my mining geologist friend Ken doesn't think they look mine-dump-ish. Plus, according to a Google search, the Graysill mine produced a small amount of uranium, not enough activity to make those big dumps, and a big surprise since I assumed a mine here would be for a sulfide mineral seeing the massive oxidation and acid rock drainage visible in this landscape.

Skinny singletrack of the Rolling Mountain portion of the Colorado Trail

This creek was whitish and smelled of sulfur, as it contained runoff from oxidizing sulfide mineralization.  Quite a few of the smaller creeks we crossed on Day 1 had the same characteristics.  I know there is natural acid rock drainage in this area but I wonder of some of this is enhanced by old mine workings.  The rust-color on the peaks and scree slopes in today's pictures indicate loads of iron-sulfide mineralization in this region, which, when exposed to the atmosphere, releases acid, sulfur, and metals.

There was a fair share of hike a bike

The scenery went on for days.

Destination Bolam Hut

Finally, with dark closing in, after 7 hours on the trail having stopped only for storms, catching breath, retrieving people off mountainsides, and flat tires, we arrived at Bolam Hut at 7:30 pm. We had spent the entire day between 10,900 feet and 12,500 feet elevation, alternately riding and pushing our bikes up and down 3750 feet of vertical through some of the best scenery I've ever seen. Click here to see a 3-D satellite motion graphic of Drew's GPS track for the day. It's really cool.

The hut was a very welcome site. Kenny quickly started a fire to dry us out and Karl started a pot of super-oregano pasta and creamy mushroom soup (the kind I don't eat anymore due to partially hydrogenated oils but gladly chowed this night). The only thing that could have made this day more epic was a cooler full of microbrews at the hut, and there it was!

 We toasted the day and crashed out in our cozy, smelly, muddy hut.