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Seven Days Solo in the San Juans
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Paul Magnanti
(PaulMags) - MLife

Locale: People's Republic of Boulder
Seven Days Solo in the San Juans on 08/03/2011 22:43:20 MDT Print View

San Juan Mountains

here are many areas in this continent where I long to return and explore more: Maine in the fall. The Wind River Range of Wyoming. The red rock country of Utah. The High Sierra. The Canadian Rockies.

All areas of intense beauty. All areas that call to see, hear, smell and experience more.

But there is one area in my adopted home that always calls to me. An area full of tall peaks, high passes without any names, alpine lakes of an intense blue, where mountain goats roam and the tundra is a riot of color with summer wildflowers.

This places is the San Juan mountains of Colorado.

And I always want to return.

Adrianna notices how happy, relaxed and calm I seem after even a weekend in the mountains. Any stresses from work seem to go away. I am re-centered. And everything is put in perspective again: It is just a job. No matter how hard I work, nothing will ever truly be caught up and that the more I give, the more will be expected.

Even a night in the backcountry resets me back to where I should be. What Adrianna half jokingly calls "The Grumpster" disappears and the person she agreed to marry is back: The goofy, loving guy who enjoys cooking (and makes a mess of the kitchen doing it) and is happiest when outdoors.

At her suggestion, I put in a for a week of solo backpacking time.

And the first place I thought of was the San Juans.

A chance to be immersed in the mountains again and reset myself back to where I should be.

So, I poured over my maps. Googled some route ideas. Revised. Revised again. Looked over my maps another time. And came up with a plan:

* I'd start in Silverton, walk out of town, hook up to some old 4wd/mining roads and old trail to make my way to Kendall Mountain, and 'shwack over to Silver Lake. (look for SILVER LAKE MINE in the link)
* From there, work my way down by old miner trail and then old road to Little Giant Basin, then over to the Cunningham / Highland Mary TH and up to the Colorado Trail/Continental Divide Trail.
* Enjoy arguably one of the prettiest stretches of trail on the CT (and perhaps the CDT?), angle down to Heart Lake and up to the Continental Divide Trail not far from the Rio Grande Reservoir.
* Walk along the CDT and then get off the CDT to hike the physical Continental Divide almost all the way from below Mt. Nebo until I drop down into the Highlands Mary Basin.
* From the basin, get off trail, hike to the upper lakes and tarns and then hike by Rhoda and Whitehead mountains, drop back to 4wd road and follow it back to my truck in Silverton.

That was the plan. One I pretty much was able to follow. Sometimes the old mining trails and roads weren't there and/or vanished. Other times said mining trails were sketchy and proved to be a little more interesting than I cared for. Other times, the trails on the new maps were in worse condition than the old mining trails show only on older maps! :) The off-trail navigation went from piece of cake to "I better pay attention". The Colorado Trail/Continental Divide Trail segments were both achingly beautiful and relatively busy. Walking the physical backbone of the continent was every bit as awesome as I hoped. And the wildflower displays were stupendous.

I don't know the mileage or elevation gain of the trip. I just know it was a trip satisfying on many levels. And again relished being in some of my favorite mountains.

Rather than detailed description, here is a photo essay of my impressions, thoughts, feelings and general ramblings.

You can scan skip the purple prose by going directly to the almost 70 photos here :)

It was an amazing trip. And I can't wait to go back again.

On to the photo essay….

Leigh Baker

Locale: Northeast Texas Pineywoods
re:"Seven Days Solo in the San Juans" on 08/04/2011 08:21:11 MDT Print View

I always enjoy your trip reports! Beautiful pics of a wonderful place I got a short glimpse of this past summer on my first "real" backpacking trip. I took the train about 25 years ago, and thought how awesome it would be to be dropped off to spend time in the wilderness.
Thanks for sharing!

francis siracusa
(fsiracusa) - MLife

Locale: Northeast
Seven Days Solo in the San Juans on 08/04/2011 08:33:19 MDT Print View

"A picture is worth a thousand words"...your 70,000 word essay described the trip beautifully. Wow.

Trevor Wilson
(trevor83) - MLife

Locale: ATL -- Zurich -- SF Bay Area
Re: Seven Days Solo in the San Juans on 08/04/2011 14:30:49 MDT Print View

Great report and beautiful pictures. I always enjoy reading your blog and trip reports. Thanks!

Ben Crocker
(alexdrewreed) - M

Locale: Kentucky
San Juans on 08/04/2011 17:56:12 MDT Print View

Made what I hope is the first of many trips there this summer. It's hard to imagine what would make it nicer.

Brian Camprini
(bcamprini) - MLife

Locale: Southern Appalachians
Re: Seven Days Solo in the San Juans on 08/04/2011 18:29:21 MDT Print View

Nice. Looks like you picked a great time to go too (like there's a bad time). I bought maps of that area a few months ago and man this fires me up to get out there. Thanks for sharing.

Paul Magnanti
(PaulMags) - MLife

Locale: People's Republic of Boulder
thanks! on 08/04/2011 22:07:33 MDT Print View

Thanks for all the nice words. I love Colorado. And I love the San Juans best of all. :)

James Winstead

Locale: CA
Re: Seven Days Solo in the San Juans on 08/08/2011 22:46:18 MDT Print View


Looks awesome! Pretty impressive route of cobbling together trail sections and crosscountry to pretty much hike where you want(not just where a trail happens to go) Something to aim for in all of our future adventures. Solid photos too.

Scott Truong

Locale: Vancouver, BC
RE: Seven Days Solo in the San Juans on 08/09/2011 04:09:20 MDT Print View

Thanks Paul, beautiful pictures of an area where pictures likely don't do it justice. I really have to learn how to read topo maps better.