San Juan Mountains in Colorado

The Hotel Telluride Blog

The Hotel Telluride: "Telluride trek in San Juans, a nice intro to a Box Canyon Town!" Written By: Josh Berman

"Rock!" I yell, warning the squeaking pica and marmots below, as a basketball-size boulder tumbles violently.

I'm clinging to the side of a crumbling, precipitous cliff. As I kick loose another mini-avalanche, the Rocky Mountains are actually shaping themselves beneath my boots. But I am far more concerned about staying alive than witnessing geology in action.

I am ascending a steep, scree-covered gulley toward an unnamed saddle beneath Palmyra Peak in the San Juan Mountains. I search with frantic hands for something to grab and, once again, the rock disintegrates in my fingers, sending me sliding.

I push back up, using a "step" that my guide kicked into the ground. It works. I rise.

Lexi Tuddenham, 29, is a mountain guide with the San Juan Outdoor School in Telluride (tellurideadventures.com, 970-728-4101). She's more sure-footed than me on this choss-coated, treacherous mess. The air is thin. The Alta Lakes, below, are translucent green. It feels like we are in the middle of nowhere, and we are — tramping around the upper reaches of southwest Colorado.

But across this alpine basin, a tiny matchstick of a ski lift pole reminds me that just on the other side of this ridge is Telluride, a town where some 3,200 smiling souls are self-exiled in a high-elevation box canyon.

Telluride, where Main Street dead ends at Colorado's tallest freestanding waterfall; where, every summer, the residents invite 16,000 of their closest friends to listen to the world's best bluegrass musicians in Town Park; Telluride, where the local radio station broadcasts a community carpool: "Julie needs a ride to the Denver-Boulder area, she has three bicycles, call her at..."

Telluride has a free gondola to Mountain Village, which I know my wife and daughters are thoroughly enjoying today. They'll ride through the high hills, enjoying the scenery, then they'll soak and splash in the hot tubs at The Hotel Telluride ( thehoteltelluride.com, 970-369-1188), a cozy, boutique affair with mountain-view balconies, reasonable rates, and a lobby guitar next to the fireplace. I'm comforted knowing they are safe and content, but I am still pushing upward.

Tuddenham and I finally make it to the top. We find 360 degrees of sheer, burly grandeur. I gawk at the largest concentration of 14ers in the United States — but it is a single, iconic triangular summit that captures my attention: Wilson Peak, jutting 14,017 feet above sea level.

I rest for a moment; I breathe heavily and slap the dust off my pants, pick rocks and snow out of my shoes, and then walk along the ridge, looking for the perfect spot. I pull a brown bottle out of my pack and hold it up to the horizon. The angle is a little off, but there's no mistaking it. Wilson Peak is indeed the mountain on my bottle of Coors.

Coors beer is "brewed with Rocky Mountain water in Golden, Colorado" as anyone who's ever stared at and/or peeled off the label knows. But few would be able to identify that snow-streaked graphic with Wilson Peak. Maybe next time, I think, maybe I'll accept the challenge to hike to its summit, which includes a 3 a.m. wake-up call and a long, epic slog.

Today, however, I'm happy exactly where I am. I take a picture, pound my beer, and head back down the mountain.

Joshua Berman is the author of "Moon Nicaragua" and "Moon Belize." He can be found on the Web at JoshuaBerman.net and on Twitter at @tranquilotravel.



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