A Visit to Columbine Lake

Relaxing at Columbine Lake

The lazy melancholy atmosphere of autumn has arrived in the high country… the tundra is golden brown, the air has a crisp edge, and the marmots have either burrowed into their holes or retreated to lower elevations. Yesterday we went out for a quick overnighter at Columbine Lake, in the San Juans of Colorado, to savor some time up high before the winter snows cover the tundra for another nine months.

Colorado,Columbine Lake,San Juan Mountains, sunrise, September, Lookout Peak
Sunrise at Columbine Lake : Prints Available

Sunrise light on Lookout Peak (13,661 ft.) above Columbine Lake – September.

Colorado,Columbine Lake,San Juan Mountains, September
The brilliant blue waters of Columbine Lake on a bluebird September morning.

Handies Peak

14er,Colorado,Handies Peak,San Juan Mountains, Sloan Lake, Jones Mountain, Niagara Peak, La Plata Mountains
Handies Peak Summit View : Prints Available

Looking southwest from the summit of Handies Peak (14,053 ft.) towards Sloan Lake, Jones Mountain, Niagara Peak, and La Plata Mountains in the far distance.

After a wet rainy week stuck inside the house, by Thursday I’d had enough and decided to get out and hike up Handies Peak, a fourteener here in the San Juans which I haven’t hiked before. Despite the cold wind and nasty looking clouds, I continued up the peak, encouraged by the occasional glimpse of blue sky. Sure enough, as I approached the summit the clouds started clearing off a bit, so I sat up there for a few hours bundled up in my down clothes and waited for sunset – which never really did much, but anyways it wasn’t a bad place to hang out for a while!

14er,Colorado,Handies Peak,San Juan Mountains, Sunshine Peak, Redcloud Peak
Handies Peak Summit Sunset : Prints Available

Fast moving clouds at dusk on the summit of Handies Peak (14,053 ft.).  Redcloud and Sunshine Peaks are two more 14ers visible on the left side horizon.

On a side note, earlier this summer in July, Adam Campbell, a runner in the infamous Hardrock 100 endurance race, was nearly struck by lightning high on Handies. He and his pacer were both knocked off their feet, but otherwise uninjured, and he continued on to finish third place!

8 Days In the Wind Rivers

Ambush Peak,Mount Bonneville,Raid Peak,Wind River Range,Wyoming
Desolation Sunset : Prints Available

Sunset above the jagged peaks of Desolation Valley, including Ambush Peak (12,173 ft.) and Raid Peak and Mount Bonneville in the background.

The Wind River Range forms 110 miles of the Continental Divide in central Wyoming. Notable for its plethora of alpine lakes, its soaring granite walls, and some of the largest glaciers in the US Rockies, the Winds are a supremely majestic mountain range and a paradise for backpackers, climbers, and fishermen.

It’s been eight years since my last backpack treks in the Winds, and I’ve been excited to get back ever since. Last week Claudia and I went up there and did an eight-day, ~55 mile backpack trek through the southern portion of the range.

Cathedral Lake,Wind River Range,Wyoming, Cathedral Peak
Cathedral Sunset Reflection : Prints Available

Cathedral Peak (or technically an arm of Cathedral Peak) reflects in Cathedral Lake at sunset.

See lots more photos from our journey below! Continue reading

Wildflower Wonderland

Colorado,San Juan Mountains,Sultan Mountain,rainbow
Sultan's Rainbow : Prints Available

Sultan Mountain at the end of the rainbow.

Colorado,San Juan Mountains,wildflowers, paintbrush
Paintbrush Morning : Prints Available

A large field of Indian Paintbrush wildflowers on a stormy July morning.

Earlier this week Claudia and I backpacked for 5 days in the mountains west of Silverton, Colorado, following an improvised route that took us through numerous high alpine basins filled with endless fields of wildflowers. With a weather forecast calling for lots of rain, we almost decided against this trip – but then I considered that bad weather usually equals good photos, so at the last minute we decided to go for it anyways. Although we did have our fair share of rain, we also witnessed some of the most spectacular scenes of the summer so far!

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Mystical San Juans

Colorado,San Juan Mountains,Stony Pass,wildflowers, July
Paintbrush Sunset : Prints Available

Indian Paintbrush wildflowers backlit by sunset in the San Juans, Colorado – July.

The San Juans were treated to a fantastic sunset last night, followed by an even more spectacular sunrise. I was fortunate to squeeze in a quick trip to the mountains to catch the shows.

Colorado,Grenadier Range,San Juan Mountains,Weminuche Wilderness, Vestal Peak, Arrow Peak
Grenadiers Above the Clouds : Prints Available

Sunrise light illuminates Vestal Peak (13,884 ft.) and Arrow Peak (13,803 ft.) in the Grenadier Range, Weminuche Wilderness, Colorado.

Colorado,Grenadier Range,San Juan Mountains,Stony Pass,Weminuche Wilderness, tundra, July
Rolling Tundra : Prints Available

The rugged Grenadier Range rises above the rolling green tundra of the Weminuche Wilderness – July.

Colorado,San Juan Mountains,Stony Pass,Weminuche Wilderness, clouds, tundra
Weminuche Clouds : Prints Available

Misty clouds above the tundra headwaters of the Rio Grande, Weminuche Wilderness, Colorado.

Colorado,San Juan Mountains,Stony Pass,Weminuche Wilderness, clouds
Rolling Clouds : Prints Available

Misty clouds roll over the high tundra in the Weminuche Wilderness.

Summertime in the Sangres

Colorado,Sangre de Cristos
Sangres Sunset Pond : Prints Available

Sunset over the Crestone group, as seen from the south.

With our San Juans still covered in quite a bit of snow up high, earlier this week we drove east for 3 nights of backpacking in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains where the snow is mostly gone and summer backpacking season is well underway.

Blanca Peak,Colorado,Sangre de Cristos, fourteener
Blanca Peak Dawn : Prints Available

The first light of dawn illuminates Blanca Peak (14,345 ft.), the fourth highest fourteener in Colorado.

We camped the first night up near treeline below Mt. Lindsey, a fourteener I have not yet climbed. Feeling motivated, I set my alarm for 3:00am in order to hike up to the 13,400 foot summit of the “Iron Nipple” (seriously) for sunrise. This rugged peak offered a great vantage point to watch the sunrise light on Blanca Peak, the monarch of this mountain range.

See lots more photos from the rest of our trip below! Continue reading

Through the Dunes

Colorado,Great Sand Dunes
Sunset Ripples : Prints Available

Sunset deep in the Great Sand Dunes.

The Great Sand Dunes in southern Colorado are perhaps the most unique landscape in the Rockies, with 700-foot tall sand dunes nestled at the foot of 13,000-foot mountains. Winds that blow across the vast San Luis Valley carry sand grains which become trapped by the towering Sangre de Cristo Mountains, and the streams that flow out of the mountains keep the sand in one place, resulting in the tallest dunes of North America.

Last week we spent 3 days trekking around and through the Great Sand Dunes. Similar to a trek I did back in March 2009, in which I circumnavigated the entire dunefield, we hiked up the Sand Ramp Trail along the east side of the dunes, then this time instead of circling around the entire dunes we cut directly through the dunes from north to south back to our starting point.

See lots more photos and the whole trip report below! Continue reading