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San Juan Mountains Bike and Hike

September 22nd, 2010

If you have been to Silverton, Colo. you have stared up at Kendall Mountain rising 4,000 feet directly above town. I have been fortunate enough to tackle the peak successfully many times in the winter, but I had never made the climb in the summer. I much prefer to ski down something big after a climb instead of walking down, hence the reason that most of the San Juan’s summits I visit comes when they lie under a mantle of white.

With a warm day predicted for the backyard of Durango, I opted to gain some elevation and escape what would hopefully be the last batch of summer heat in town. I packed up the car and started up Highway 550 for the short drive to Silverton.

I parked at the base of Kendall mountain and boarded my trusty steed (A nearly new mountain bike with 6 inches of travel and 29″ wheels). As I hopped on the saddle I took in the spectacular fall foilage that was in absolute peak color.

The jeep road starts gaining elevation quickly as it wraps around the west side of Kendall Mountain. As the grade steepens the oxygen level heads in the opposite direction. I find myself riding in a style known as “delivering the mail” where I go from edge to edge of the road to reduce the pitch to a level my tiring legs and granny gear can handle. I push my bike up some really steep sections and ride a few of the tamer portions. At treeline the road becomes unridable. I’m sure someone could ride it from here, but that someone is not me. I ditch my bike behind the last tree at about 11,800 feet and trade my bike shoes for some hiking shoes and head up the road.

The grade is about 10 percent, which makes for brutal biking, but perfect hiking. I walk the jeep road through a huge basin, wondering how in the world they built this road by hand over a century ago. The road climbs for another 2 miles and then ends a couple hundred feet below the summit. I billy-goat up through scree and boulders to gain the summit. After 2.5 hours I am looking 4,000 feet down on Silverton.

The town looks like a model complete with multiple steam trains. A slight breeze blows at my back and provides some white noise to what is otherwise an environment completely void of sound.

After a few minutes I reverse the process. I make good time to the road and quickly descend to me bike. What took 90 minutes to ride up, take me 7 to ride down. I enjoy the plush suspension on my new bike and feel like I am on a flying sofa.

I toss the bike on the roof and head south in the fading evening light. In 30 minutes I have a date with some grilled Ahi and a nice cold beer or two.

See you on the trail.

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