Photo Essay: Backcountry Adventure in Durango, CO

Earlier this week we wrapped up our first official summer-time trip to Durango, Colorado – we had launched the trip last fall with the crew from Worldwide Cyclery, but our ultimate goal was to turn Durango into a summer trip.  The wildflowers are blooming, waterfalls are flowing, and the trails are in perfect condition.  Well, that’s what we though… during a typical spring/summer season in the high country around Durango, the trails up high are normally good to go by mid to late June.  This year – very different story!  Up until a few days before the trip, we were scrambling to put together the itinerary due to snow on trails, trees down, and generally poor conditions.  It’s been a very cool and wet spring, and when combined with the historic snowfall this winter, it was not a good combination.  But… it all worked out.

This trip Durango was pretty special for us as a company as well- it was likely the very first where every rider on the trip was a repeat client.  Not only that, but every rider had ridden with someone else on the trip previously, in a different location!  It’s amazing to see so many riders come back every year to discover a new area and push themselves on our trips, and we absolutely love it.



The riding in Durango can best be described as “backcountry adventure”: to us, that means long, hard rides in the high country with incredible views, fairly tough terrain, and incredible singletrack descents that make the effort worthwhile.  It’s not quite “winch and plummet” style riding where it’s a big climb and then a big descent.  Instead, there is a variety of climbing and traversing, but the payoffs are always there!  For this trip, we were able to push the crew a bit harder since we knew their abilities going in; all told the trip stats ended up with 85+ miles, 9500′ of climbing and 18,000′ of descending!  Here’s our take at photographing the trip to show what it’s all about… and we’ve included a brief description of each day’s ride as well.


Day 1: Stagecoach to Hermosa Creek

Our intention on the first day was to take it easy on the crew; let them acclimate, get used to the bikes, and tax the legs/lungs a good amount without over-doing it.  That was a great strategy, in theory.  It turned out differently in reality, however: the first day was hot and dry, with temperatures getting into the 80’s and 90’s (it feels even hotter at elevation!) during the ride.  Combine that with the dry and dusty conditions, and the ride was definitely harder than we had planned!  Everyone loved the drop-in on Stagecoach, a 4-mile, 1800′ ripping descent through aspens down to Hermosa Creek.





Day 2: Ring Around Engineer Mountain

Day two, time to get up into the alpine.  For today’s ride, we combined several trails to circumnavigate Engineer Mountain, an almost 13,000 foot behemoth that towers over the northern part of Durango.  Starting at Pass Creek, then Engineer Mountain, on to White Creek, then a portion of the Colorado Trail, and finally down Graysill and Cascade, this ride had it all.  There were lots of shorter downhills mixed into the first half of the ride, and then after a 45-min climb on the CT, the descent is incredibly fun and fairly technical.  The dip in ice-cold Cascade Creek was well-earned!






Day 3: Molas Pass to Engine Creek

We always try to make the third day of our trips the toughest; a “queen stage”, if you will.  Today’s route started at Molas Pass on the Colorado Trail – part of the group continued on the CT to Rolling Pass, and then made their way back around to Engineer Mountain for 26 miles and 3700′ of climbing (5500′ of descending).  The “easier” ride- which by no means was easy- split onto Engineer Mountain and then dropped into Engine Creek, which is a steep, technical descent with a little bit of everything: 20 miles and 2600′ of climbing (4500′ of descending).  The views on this ride are likely some of the best you’ll ever experience in North America, and the trails are quite spectacular as well.






Day 4: Engineer Mountain Trail

Another day of a split group, a majority of the crew opted for a slightly shorter ride due to tired legs or a tight schedule… just over 10 miles with 1200′ of climbing and around 3000′ of incredible downhill.  A few hard-core riders decided on the longer option today, which meant 14 miles, 1800′ of climbing and just under 4000′ of descent.  Choose your own adventure seemed appropriate for the last day of a tough trip!  For the larger group, the Engineer Mountain descent from Pass Creek is one of the best in the Rockies: 5+ miles and almost 3000′ of vert with a mix of high-alpine meadows, aspens, rocky tech, and super fast singletrack.  We’ll never get tired of this one!



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AUTHOR: Steve Mokan

Steve is the owner (and founder) of Chasing Epic Mountain Bike Adventures, and contributes regularly to our blog. He's passionate about providing customers with incredible mountain bike vacations, and he loves photography and travel when he's not working. Truthfully, he loves those things when he is working too.