Spend ten days ripping singletrack and fly fishing through Colorado’s San Juan Mountains with a group of your best friends and you might just have a dream vacation. This August, photographer and rider Ben Kraushaar put together a crew of MTB and adventure junkies to do just that. With Telluride as the jumping off point, Kraushaar was joined by Justin Reiter, Dylan Stucki, Sam Simmons, and Trevor Downing for some high country trout, great riding, and plenty of challenging Colorado weather. Here, Kraushaar shares some favorite shots from their San Juan mission.
Photo: (Left to right) Sam Simmons, Justin Reiter, and Dylan Stucki pedal towards Bridal Veil Falls, the tallest waterfall in Colorado, in Telluride. We started our ten-day bikepacking trip in Telluride with the intention of fishing numerous alpine lakes and streams on our course through the San Juan Mountains.My setup: The Yeti Cycles SB5.5C outfitted with ENVE wheels and Maxxis tires was my weapon of choice for this trip. The Revelate Designs handlebar bag carried my ultralight Big Agnes tent, sleeping bag, and pad, in addition to my stove, fuel, and cookpot. My Redington Rod was also strapped to the bar for the duration of our journey. In the seat bag I carried my food, fishing supplies, and Bedrock Sandals. On my back I carried clothes and camera equipment.Despite warnings from a fellow fisherman about the steep and technical terrain on the trail to the first lake, we were fueled by determination to make it up the 1.2 miles. Rain made the rocks extra slippery and bushes had grown over the trail, making it nearly impassable with a bike on your shoulders. But we managed: three and a half hours later we crested the steepest part of the trail and were rewarded with a foggy view of a waterfall and large peaks in the background.After the steepest and most brutal hike-a-bike any of us had ever experienced, we finally made it to a beautiful lake nestled high above Telluride, where we camped. Unfortunately, heavy rain resulted in frustrating fishing and lots of tent time. Here, Sam Simmons surveys our camp between downpours.Simmons looks for risers through the heavy fog at camp one. Despite throwing everything we had at the fish (dries, streamers, and nymphs) they seemed uninterested. Collectively we only managed to outsmart one fish at the first lake, thanks to Olympic snowboarder Justin Reiter’s perseverance.Dylan Stucki takes advantage of a break in the weather to shred his Yeti SB4.5C on some amazing Colorado singletrack. The ridiculous hike we suffered up a couple days prior sure was a lot more fun to ride down.(Left to right) Reiter, Stucki, and Simmons ride past old tailings piles on their way to the top of Bridal Veil Basin on the third day of our quest.Stucki watches as the next wave of rain makes its way up the valley. For the first five days of our trip we battled through horrendous weather. Cold rain at nearly 13,000 feet, for days on end, makes for an epic journey.This old mining cabin saved our crew. Instead of making a push over an exposed pass in pouring rain, we were able to post up, make a fire, and sip whiskey until we were warm and in good spirits.(Left to right) Kraushaar, Simmons, Stucki, and Trevor Downing take refuge from the monsoon weather in a small mining cabin. The crew studies the upcoming day’s routes, hoping for sun and hungry trout.During our tour of the San Juan Mountains, we were constantly reminded of a generation of people that were beyond tough. I mean ridiculously tough. The things those old miners accomplished blows my mind. If you think pushing a loaded bike up a mountain is a chore, try hauling tons upon tons of lumber and steel to 13,000 feet for the fleeting chance of striking it rich. Mad respect.Stucki shows off one of many high country brookies that he tricked into eating his fly. After days of battling the elements, we were finally rewarded with a plethora of hungry trout willing to eat anything.Out of nowhere, following a killer fishing session at this lake, a hailstorm hit like a swift smack to the head. With toes looking like they’d been hit with a fully automatic BB gun, we couldn’t help but notice that the hail stones were falling in spite of an otherwise sunny afternoon.It’s amazing the places mountain bikes can take you. The feeling of finally getting into some beautiful fish after days of pedaling through cold rain is incredible. We never caught any monsters, but we would much rather hook into small, wild brookies in remote backcountry lakes then catch fish hatchery pigs out of dirty reservoirs.Simmons blasts down some high-speed singletrack deep in the backcountry. Descending technical trails fully loaded down with gear is exhilarating. A loaded ride makes for higher speeds, more momentum, and increased traction through corners. It can also facilitate harder falls, as Stucki learned firsthand.Stucki and Simmons ride across a section of the Continental Divide Trail. When the weather cooperated we were rewarded with breathtaking views on some of the best singletrack in the world.Nothing beats catching chunky cutthroat out of tiny streams. This guy couldn’t pass up the opportunity to smash a hopper. The deeper we got into the backcountry the more willing the fish were to eat. We caught fish on every pattern we had including mice, dragonflies, and huge terrestrials.Simmons getting rowdy on the final day of our quest. The last section of trail we rode was sick. Miles of whoops, deep ruts, and chunky rock gardens welcomed us back to civilization.