Llama-Packing The San Juans

Llama Packing the San Juans

Llama Packing the San Juans

There is nothing—absolutely nothing—half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. —Kenneth Grahame


Following our adventures with Grant and Vance, it was time to begin our third mode of travel for the traverse: packrafting. The packraft has always made an appearance in our escapades. This innovative backcountry travel tool allows creative thinkers to look at maps in different ways, especially in the prominence of the blue lines. The far-reaching Rio Grande river begins in the upper reaches of the San Juan mountains and flows an impressive 1,896 miles to the Gulf of Mexico. Of course, in this day and age of high water consumption, by the time the snow melt of Colorado reaches the gulf, nearly 80% of its flow has been siphoned off for agriculture, drinking, and other purposes. 

For us, a strong current near the headwaters would carry us south and east. It would be yet another opportunity to utilize the powers of Mother Nature to discover a new facet of our backyard. The challenges of this segment would include the opening class III/IV box canyon and our need to cover 62 miles of river in just two days in order to stay on schedule. The release out of the Rio Grande Reservoir was at nearly 1,800 cfs, which seemed like a perfect level for accomplishing both goals. 

After watching Diana drive away with Vance and Grant peering over the back gate of the trailer, we pushed off into the fast-moving current of the Rio Grande. Just around the corner we began the descent into the box canyon. We entered the canyon with some trepidation due to the year’s high water flows and the possibility of downed timber from a recent wildfire obstructing our passage through the canyon. 

With conservative spacing and heads-up boating, we took on each rapid with exhilaration. The canyon’s beauty was mesmerizing as the liquid conveyor belt carried us past steep, craggy walls interspersed with the remaining blackened toothpicks of once-proud pine trees. The amount of debris in the river was minimal, so we made quick work of the canyon. As we emerged into the expansive Creede valley and its consequent flat water, we were all left wishing for more horizon lines and whitewater.

For the remainder of the day, the river carried us at a brisk pace towards South Fork, CO—our final segment of the ramble. It felt good to be off our feet and have our upper bodies propelling us onward. After a night camped on the river, we were up early to paddle the remaining 23 miles to our takeout. By early afternoon, we were lounging on the riverbank letting our gear dry out before re-mounting our bikes for the final 70 miles of riding, including a bike ascent of Bennett Peak—the highest point of the trip.

It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation. —Herman Melville

Many forces both internal and external were responsible for this trip coming to fruition. Internally, my adventure partners and I are, by nature, not ones to follow in another’s footsteps, tire tracks, or otherwise. We tend to seek out the obscure and think outside the norm when it comes to adventure by bike, climb, ski, boat, etc.  For some, these musings may seem pointless and contrived, but for us, it is an experience that we are creating to test ourselves; bring us closer together as friends; and learn about the places and environments in which we travel. For this particular trip, it allowed us to explore and experience new parts of our own backyard. None of us had ever climbed Lone Cone or Bennett Peak; ridden or hiked most of these trails; paddled the upper reaches of the Rio Grande; or spent time with the amazing pack animals that are llamas. 

Before it was implemented, the trip was just an idea lying dormant in my mind. It had been that way for years and most likely would have remained there if weren’t for the external forces. Due to a very busy summer of work for each of us, Doom, Jon, and I didn’t have a significant block of time in which we could fly off to Alaska or some other wild place to explore via human powered means. Additionally, none of us was keen on the expense and logistics involved in such ventures. Despite being busy and limited on time, we still wanted to make a trip happen. 

As I pedaled the final few feet to the summit of Bennett Peak at 13,209’, my mind began reflecting upon the past ten days and how we came to this moment in time. I was struck by the absurdity of it all, and yet, how fulfilling it was to have rambled across our home mountain range utilizing a variety of means to do so. The will to create and do something was buried deep, but it took factors outside of our control to make the trip a reality. Out of the countless trips that I have planned and attempted during my lifetime, this simple backyard traverse ranks as one of the more inspiring, original, and satisfying. When I hear the words, it has all been done, I chuckle and challenge myself to question the neatly-drawn boxes and begin to dream up new possibilities. There is nothing like necessity to bring out originality.  

Llama-Packing The San Juans