Nothing Comes Easy

The fall colors may be easy on the eyes, but at nearly 12,000 feet, the altitude is brutal on the lungs. The group coasts along the Indian Ridge section of the Colorado Trail, stocking up on breath for the numerous 12,000-foot punchy climbs ahead.

Nothing Comes Easy Crooked Trails and Amazing Views in Colorado's San Juan Mountains

Etched into the mountainside below soaring, 13,000-foot peaks is a steep, one-lane jeep road.

Watermelon-sized rocks shift and settle underneath our truck as it slowly crawls up the track. To the right is a sheer, thousand-foot incline, littered with mining debris and automobile bones; to the left a precipitous face of loose boulders and cliffs.

Barely clinging to the hillside ahead of us is a two-wheel-drive rental van, surrounded by a panicked German family. Our nerves in the truck cab are already frayed, and reversing down the half-mile of rough, chassis-scraping road behind us is not an option. Besides, the only pullout behind us is occupied by another vehicle escaping the traffic jam. 

Chasing singletrack in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains takes its toll, on both vehicles and bodies. Many trailheads are only accessed by remote jeep roads, and you’re a long way from any sort of help or cell service. Hair-raising thunderstorms can arrive in a matter of minutes whatever the season, as can rain, hail or snow. Most of the routes have barely evolved from their mining, hunting and hiking origins, and there’s far more trail than maintenance. And above 10,000 feet, the altitude can quickly turn even the fittest riders into pieces of jerky.

Among these obstacles exists some of the most remarkable trail in the lower 48. All-day epics are common, and the tumultuous weather is often offset by sunny and serene calm. Soul-crushing climbs lead to long descents, varying from Pacific Northwest loam to lonely, high-alpine tundra, or chunky, scorched rock. 

For our crew, made up of riders Sabina Kraushaar, Sarah Sturm, Teal Stetson-Lee and myself, this is somewhat of a reunion tour, four days of exploring our backyard. We know nothing here comes easy. And we also know—like Edward Abbey’s desert—wilderness cannot be truly experienced until “traces of blood begin to mark your trail.” Because no matter how much time you’ve spent in the San Juans, some things are guaranteed: You’ll usually suffer, and you’ll always be surprised. 

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