San Juans Solo

Eighteen years ago, I went to a corner of the San Juan range.

At that time, the arguably most scenic mountains in Colorado made for a six-hour drive away.

But every we hour we drove made hiking in these mountains worth the trek.

On an unnamed pass in 2003

With Joan out on some solo journeys this month, I wanted to make a route through this area for the 4th of July holiday. Unlike 18 years ago, the mountains end up only a little over three hours away. Moab offers many high desert delights, the San Juans so close by offers another aspect I love about our home.

At Molas Pass, not far from the trailhead.

It is the time of the year where I find it easy to backpack in, make camp, and enjoy a quiet Friday night.

The following morning I made good time down the trail and to where the cross-country route began. The view had not changed much since I last saw it back in 2003.

Being a holiday weekend and well-known climbing area, I found many tents scattered in the basin. But once I left the climber trail and started the more cross-country portion of my route, I soon had the terrain to myself.

And I soon crested the same pass I remember so well from many years ago.

I continued along with a route through the alpine terrain. The tarns, the blue sky, and the jagged rocks left no doubt that I’m hiking far from my desert home.

One last pass came up for the day with two snow chutes that may prove problematic in the hard snow of the morning but very doable in the slushy snow of the late summer day.

Getting somewhat closer to an established trail, I started seeing more people. Not a lot, but the first I’ve seen since early in the morning.

My evening camp gave an isolated area in the alpine terrain with another memorable San Juan sunset and the delight of the Milky Way above while nestled in my quilt.

I woke up and made my way down to the widening stream. The wildflower fan in me delighted in finding some somewhat rare wood lilies.

A quick river crossing brought me back to an established trail.

The trail brought me up to the divide and regained much elevation, not without seeing some local residents.

I left the trail and ended up following the divide above. The ridgeline walk gives superb views that the path below misses.

On the divide, I reached the high point of the trip at just over 13,0000 feet. I savored the summit as I knew I’d soon join a trail again and start my long descent back to the creek.

But the views from the trail did not disappoint, either.

The hike out went well. And with one last view of some subtle sights that make hiking in the mountains during peak wildflower bloom a delight.

I exited early enough to enjoy many cups of coffee, eggs, bacon, and pancakes in Durango, capping off the strenuous but memorable time spent in the Colorado mountains.

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Travis Briles
2 years ago

How have I not been down there yet?

Scott Akers
Scott Akers
2 years ago

As I walk(swim) through the 90+ degree temps and 80% humidity of my East Texas home, I am thankful for your San Juan trip description. Brings back some great memories of my hikes through the same with my dad and brother as a teenager in the late 1970’s. Recently returned from a Colorado hiking trip and am already missing it! Thanks Paul.

Buddy Sessoms
Buddy Sessoms
2 years ago

Outstanding summary and pictures. I have such fond memories of Silverton to Durango on THE trail. (many people) These pictures are temping me to forgo the relative ease of the Collegiate Loop for a San Juan section this fall. Those aspens too…

2 years ago

The south San Juan’s are my back yard. Yet I haven’t been able to get out enough this year.  I love them and your beautiful photographs 

Eddy De Wilde
Eddy De Wilde
2 years ago

Great country,’love the shots with the creek. How did the moose react?