Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Why I Hate the San Juan Mountains

I arrived back in Reno around 5:30pm on Monday afternoon. All day the vibrant sun rays stretching across the Great Basin beat against my windows, baking me in the small cab of my truck. I left Salt Lake City earlier that morning en route to home minimally using the air conditioner in an attempt to stretch the gas in the tank as far across the arid landscape as possible; less stops means I’ll get home sooner. Upon arrival I was greeted with regular rush hour “traffic” and smoke filled air from  near by fires. 

The week before I had been living in the most pristine sub-alpine valley, surrounded on all sides by steep limestone and quartzite walls. Every run began with stiff thousand-feet-per-mile trails up the sides of this canyon until you made it to around 12,000ft where you would be greeted with the most spectacular alpine terrain anyone could ask for. Monsoon season was upon the San Juan Mountains, so each day thunder showers would threaten off and on. While in the alpine you would do the dance of determining the actual threat of these storms, treading the line between ambition and safety. “Can I scoot up a little higher, or do these clouds actually mean business?”As dramatic as this sounds, these moody storms create a heightened sense of awareness as well as beautiful high alpine pastures of tuft grasses and wild flowers putting on the most vibrant of color demonstrations. After miles and miles in this enchanted land it would be time to drop back down past tree line through conifer and aspen groves with knee high ferns damply slapping at your legs as you run down hill. Once finished with your purposed route the rest of the tribe of mountain shufflers and ultra-folk would gather, enjoying the stories of each others days well spent under the power of their own legs and lungs. This is Hard Rock 100; a unique time when mountain and ultra runners ritualistically descend on the quaint mining towns of the San Juan Mountains in south-west Colorado to celebrate with the 140 people who were chosen by the Hard Rock lottery to run a big loop around this spectacular landscape. 

By the end of the week I had begun to take for granted the ease of access to a people and a place. “Lets do a 30-something run tomorrow” was a common statement you’d mention in passing. Eight hours of shared trail and alpine meadows became common place. And then, it was time to go home…Camp Hard Rock was over. I never really attended summer camp as an adolescent, but I figure this is probably what it is like when it ends. Damn.

Now, before we go on from here, let me make something clear: I love the Sierra. It is the greatest mountain range in the world (yes, I said that) and the high desert here in Reno has its own spectacular beauty and energy. Nonetheless, coming back to the heat and the stark contrast to the environment from the week before has left me jaded. Since I’ve been home I caught myself thinking, “this trail is too flat”, or “where is the afternoon thunderstorm”, or “why is it so freaking hot”. Thus, for putting these evil thoughts in my head, I now hate the San Juan Mountains. I hate how they have inspired some wild and tough individuals to put on a 100 mile foot race through them. I hate how this race brings together a unique clan of like minded people whom from the outside look to be crazy, but whom I feel more comfortable and at ease with than any others. I hate their rugged beauty as it unrelentingly surrounds you. This is surely a terrible place. See for yourself.

Mt Hayden above Ouray

Afternoon showers and some rhubarb pie. 

Beer Mile

Well, maybe I don’t completely hate them…


  1. The famous San Juan blues ... don't worry, we'll all coming back there next year!

  2. Ahh, simply lovely. I won't be missing out next year!

  3. Bummed I missed out on the beer mile.