Friday Corn

Colorado,Red Mountain Pass,San Juan Mountains,skiing
Skier: Claudia Brauer.

On Friday, Claudia and I got back out into the mountains to enjoy some more turns. Monday’s foot of fresh snow had baked down to about 3-4 inches of old powder corn snow (For those who don’t backcountry ski, “corn” snow is snow that goes through multiple melt/freeze cycles, resulting in a firm but smooth snow surface that softens up nicely by around noon on a sunny spring day. In my opinion, it’s the next best thing to fresh powder!)

Colorado,Red Mountain Pass,San Juan Mountains,skiing
Skier: Claudia Brauer.

I took Claudia up to one of the taller peaks around. It was Claudia’s first time skiing corn snow, and she rocked it!

Backcountry spring skiing in the San Juans, Colorado

We skied/snowboarded from the summit down a beautiful long untracked line, then skinned back up to the high ridge and scored a nice long bonus descent down the front side. What a day!

Monday Powder

Colorado,Red Mountain Pass,San Juan Mountains, snowy, trees

As we drove home from our recent desert road trip, the rain we passed through in Utah had turned into snow when we reached the San Juans in Colorado. Despite my desire to rest after our big trip, I knew I couldn’t pass up a beautiful spring powder day!

Colorado,Red Mountain Pass,San Juan Mountains

A fresh foot of powder blanketed the San Juans on Monday. What a great welcome home to the mountains – just like last time we returned from the desert!

Colorado,Red Mountain Pass,San Juan Mountains, skiing
Steven skis a big powder field.

The snowpack was sturdy after the previous warm days melted the various snow layers, followed by cold nights that froze it solid again. The new snow came in wet, bonded well to the surface, and then became blower powder on top. Perfect conditions for riding some bigger, longer lines up in the high peaks!

Colorado,Red Mountain Pass,San Juan Mountains, Dan Chehayl, skiing

Skier: Dan Chehayl.

We skied/snowboarded through this big gully I’ve had my eye on for years, followed by a second lap up high again.

Colorado,Red Mountain Pass,San Juan Mountains, wind, snow

Bryce and Red Canyon

Bryce Canyon,Utah, Navajo Loop, hiking, trail
Hiking the Navajo Loop Trail in Bryce Canyon National Park.

The last stop on our two-week road trip through southern Utah was the famous Bryce Canyon National Park, which Claudia just had to see since we were so close already in Escalante. The shot above was taken right before we randomly ran into my photographer friend Rich Voninski. Nice to see you, Rich!

Bryce Canyon,Utah, clouds

Ominous dark clouds contrast with the brilliant orange spires of Bryce Canyon.

Despite the threatening storm clouds, we day-hiked the Peekaboo and Queens Garden loop trails and were fortunate to not get rained on! The dark clouds actually provided a wonderful atmosphere against the bright orange hoodoos all along the trail.

Bryce Canyon,Utah, national park
Stormy Bryce : Prints Available

Ominous stormy clouds over Bryce Canyon National Park – April.

Red Canyon,Utah, sunset
Red Canyon Sunset : Prints Available

Sunset over Panguitch and the Sevier River valley as seen from Red Canyon.

After hiking the fantastic trails in Bryce, we needed to escape the crowds there since we were more adjusted to solitude after two weeks of camping on our own in the wilds. So we headed over to nearby Red Canyon and found a nice secluded camp spot for the evening. A quick scramble above our camp provided a broad vista from which to enjoy a windy sunset.

Red Canyon,Utah
The Coming Storm : Prints Available

Ominous clouds signal the approach of a spring storm – April.

That night it poured rain for the first time on our trip, and with the continuing stormy weather in the morning we decided it was time to end our desert journeys and head home to the mountains.

Death Hollow Loop

Boulder Mail Trail,Escalante,Escalante National Monument,Utah,tent
Slickrock Camp : Prints Available

Sunset reflection in a small waterhole at our slickrock campsite along the Boulder Mail Trail.

Boulder Mail Trail,Escalante,Escalante National Monument,Utah
Slickrock Sunrise : Prints Available

Sunrise illuminates a sea of slickrock along the Boulder Mail Trail between the towns of Escalante and Boulder.

The morning after returning from our previous Escalante backpack, we embarked on another even more adventurous trek – this time into the slickrock country just east of the town of Escalante. For years I’ve driven the spectacular stretch of highway between Boulder and Escalante and always wondered what it was like up amongst all that slickrock. During this trek we would find out! Continue reading

Canyons of Escalante

Escalante,Escalante National Monument,Utah
Henry Mountains Sunset : Prints Available

The Henry Mountains rise above the slickrock desert between Boulder and Escalante.

The Escalante region is one of my favorite areas in the southern Utah desert. Though perhaps less impressive at first glance than other Utah destinations, a little bit of hiking reveals countless deep canyons and slots. The variety of canyon country around Escalante is staggering.

Choprock Canyon,Escalante,Escalante National Monument,Utah, alcove, camping, tent, stars
Alcove Camp

Camping under a huge alcove near the Escalante River.

I wanted to show Claudia a few of the classic canyons off the Hole in the Rock Road, so we backpacked down in there for two nights, establishing a base camp from which we could explore several narrow canyons on day hikes.

Choprock Canyon,Escalante,Escalante National Monument,Utah
Canyon Reflection

Hiking through a deep canyon tributary of the Escalante River.

One day we visited one of the more popular canyons around here, Neon Canyon, but unfortunately while we were there it was mobbed by a large group of backpackers which diminished the mystical experience of the place a bit. I wasn’t able to produce any better photos than from my previous visits to Neon, so I haven’t posted any here. I think it’s a sign I’m getting older when I start to have more and more stories about how things “used to be”! For example during my first visit here back in the 90′s before Escalante became a national monument, my friends and I were the only people around for many miles and it felt like a true desert wilderness. We even camped right underneath the Golden Cathedral, something that would probably be considered quite disrespectful today. Maybe it was then too…

Choprock Canyon,Escalante,Escalante National Monument,Utah
Canyon Bubble

A little whirlpool generates bubbles in a small canyon creek.

Despite my griping, there are still many empty canyons to explore and plenty of solitude to be found out there!

Cathedral Valley

Capitol Reef,Cathedral Valley,Utah
Cathedral Beacons : Prints Available

Light painting amongst the spires of Cathedral Valley.

Our recent dirt-road route around the San Rafael Swell in Utah took us briefly through the Cathedral Valley on the far north end of Capitol Reef National Park. We spent an evening in Lower Cathedral Valley, having fun experimenting with some large-scale light painting (thank you Claudia!) and catching the sunrise light on the Temple of the Sun, a pointy spire that pokes improbably out of the surrounding flat valley.

Capitol Reef,Cathedral Valley,Utah
Temple of the Sun : Prints Available

Sunrise light in Lower Cathedral Valley.

Exploring the San Rafael Swell

Little Grand Canyon,San Rafael Swell,Utah
Little Grand Canyon : Prints Available

A spring snowstorm passes over the Little Grand Canyon, through which the San Rafael River flows.

Although this is my so-called “Mountain Photographer” blog, the next several posts will be full of desert and canyon photos instead! During the first two weeks of April, we were out on a road trip through southern Utah visiting some old favorite spots as well as some new territory for us. We spent the first week exploring the often-overlooked San Rafael Swell region.

Anybody who has driven across I-70 through Utah is probably familiar with the San Rafael Reef, where the highway boldly cuts through the vertical red walls of jagged, tilted sandstone – one of the most dramatic stretches of interstate highway in the country. That impressive highway cut, along with Goblin Valley and the popular Little Wildhorse Canyon, are the most well known parts of the Swell; but as we discovered on this trip, they are just the tip of the iceberg [or sandstone, I should say]. The San Rafael Swell is a huge area with canyon scenery on par with the best that Utah has to offer. Continue reading

Prospecting for Powder

Skinning in the Wind

Yesterday a brief storm hit the San Juans with several inches of snow along with howling winds. Today we ventured up high to see what kind of powder we could find amongst the wind-scoured terrain. Expecting the sunny warmth of March, we were greeted with chilly 16ºF temps and gusty breezes in the morning. Burrrr!

Skier Trio
Jeff, Stephen, and Don racing for gold. (Actually, this is a composite of three different shots taken from the same spot on the way down; we don’t ski like this in the backcountry!)

Of the three lines we skied on various aspects, the second was the one, with about four inches of fresh snow topping the perfectly smooth southern crust – kind of like riding powder on top of a groomer. Not quite the motherload of all powder lines, but a worthy find nonetheless.

Return to Winter

Colorado backcountry skiing

Driving back home from our trip to the Canyonlands last Friday, we entered the world of winter again – the clouds and rain that passed over us in the canyons had blanketed the San Juans in a fresh dump of powder. My friend Dan called me that night to see if I wanted to go ride in the morning. I was fairly exhausted from our backpack trip and said no… then I thought “who am I kidding?!” of course I’ll go!

Colorado backcountry skiing
Skier: Anonymous. Location: Undisclosed.

Although I had been a bit reluctant to leave the desert, I quickly forgot about all that once I was making powder turns and pillow drops!

Colorado backcountry skiing
Skier: Dan Chehayl

Winter is not over yet…

Escape to the Canyonlands

Canyonlands National Park, Needles District, Utah, Chesler Park
Chesler Park Sunset : Prints Available

An awesome sunset over Chesler Park in the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park, Utah. (Sony A7R + Contax/Zeiss 35-70mm)

As winter drags on, there are times when no matter how good the snow is, all I can think about is getting out to the desert for some warm weather backpacking. Such was the case last week when Claudia and I drove over to Utah for four days of backpacking in the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park south of Moab. And what a refreshing trip it was, with exciting weather and some fantastic light to photograph.

The trip also provided ample opportunity for me to test out my new Sony A7R 36mp camera matched up with my favorite Canon lenses. Since this is a popular new camera, and my first new professional camera in over four years, I’ll write a brief mini-review at the end of this post.

See LOTS more photos below! Continue reading