Mount of the Holy Cross

Mount of the Holy Cross, Sawatch Range, Colorado, Notch Mountain, October
Stormy Holy Cross : Prints Available

Mount of the Holy Cross, 14,005 feet, as seen from Notch Mountain – Holy Cross Wilderness, October 2003.

I just dug up this photo from deep in my archives while searching for a photo request of this mountain. I took this shot way back in October 2003, just over ten years ago! Back then I was in the early stages of being serious about photography. So much has happened in my life and my photography in the decade since then… It almost seems like it should have been 20 years ago, not just ten! It’s so amazing how much life you can fit into ten years. And it makes me wonder what’s in store for the next ten years…

Anyhow, Notch Mountain, in the Sawatch Range just south of Vail, Colorado, has a perfect front-and-center view of Mount of the Holy Cross and its east facing cross couloir, made famous in 1873 by legendary wilderness photographer William H. Jackson. In the early 20th century, the mountain became a destination of Christian pilgrimages, and a rock hut was built on Notch Mountain (very close to where this photo was taken) for shelter during Sunday mass at 13,000 feet. The hut is still there, and back in October ’03 my friend Todd and I backpacked up there and used it for shelter ourselves. This was a memorable trip, so I thought I’d write up a trip report, ten years later. Continue reading “Mount of the Holy Cross”

Winter Camping at Blue Lakes

Sneffels, San Juan Mountains, Colorado, winter, camp, tent, snowy

Hungry for an adventure, on Tuesday I hiked up to Blue Lakes in the Sneffels Range to camp out in the snow. Late autumn can be a good time for winter camping – kind of like “diet” winter camping since there’s less snow to deal with and usually less avalanche danger (*depending, of course). Also, road access to most trailheads is still possible, and if you time it right the alpine lakes aren’t frozen yet which can offer some nice photo opportunities.

The weather forecast called for a brief but intense snowstorm, with little or no wind! Perfect time to head out into the mountains. Sure enough, in the late afternoon just as I was setting up the tent the storm clouds rolled into the mountains and it started snowing in earnest. I fell asleep to the sound of snowflakes falling on the tent, cozy in my puffy down cocoon. In the middle of the night, around 2:30am, I woke up and saw moonlight shining on the tent. I poked my head out and saw a dreamlike scene as the storm clouds were lifting off the peaks and the fresh snow glistened in the moonlight. Of course I jumped out of the tent as fast as I could to photograph the moment!

Blue Lakes, Sneffels, San Juan Mountains, Colorado, winter, camp, tent, snow, moonlight
Blue Lakes Winter Moonlight : Prints Available

Winter camp in the snow above lower Blue Lake – October.

Though the clouds still covered the peaks in the morning, eventually they gave way to crystal clear blue skies.

Blue Lakes, Sneffels, San Juan Mountains, Colorado, winter, panorama, snowy
Blue Lakes Winter Panorama : Prints Available

Lower Blue Lake surrounded by snowy peaks – October.

winter tent
A room with a view.

Compared to summer backpacking when you can lay in the meadows and let yourself melt into the scenery, winter camping feels more like being an astronaut. It’s clear that you don’t belong there, and your survival is dependent on the gear you’ve brought with you. Everything is more difficult in the cold and snow – getting water and keeping it from freezing, cooking, keeping your stuff dry, putting your boots on, even just moving around! Add to that a lingering apprehension that if one little thing should go wrong your survival (or at least basic comfort) could be in jeopardy. For those reasons, winter camping is more about the challenge of being out there rather than the pleasure of being out there!

One night in the snow proved to be enough adventure for me and by the second afternoon the thoughts of Claudia and our warm house proved irresistible so I packed up and hiked out. I think it’s time to flee to the desert to find some warmer adventures!

Tough Luck in the Pyrenees

Lescun, France, Pyrenees, sunrise, town
Sunrise Over Lescun : Prints Available

Sunrise over the town of Lescun.

On the first day of September Claudia and I started walking into the Pyrenees, the great mountain range that forms a natural border between France and Spain. Our plan was to trek along the Pyrenean Haute Route as far eastward through the range as we could in the next three weeks, staying in mountain huts and occasional small towns along the way. Unfortunately, due to a sudden stroke of bad luck our trip came to an abrupt end on the sixth day; I’ll explain more below. Continue reading “Tough Luck in the Pyrenees”

Zugspitze

Zugspitze, Wetterstein, Germany, klettersteig
Approaching the summit of Zugspitze via the Höllantal klettersteig climbing route, nearly 2,200m (7,200 ft) vertical above our start in the valley below.

At 2962m (9717 ft), Zugspitze is the tallest mountain in Germany. The white limestone massif of Wetterstein (of which Zugspitze is the summit) rockets out of the green hills below, towering above all surrounding peaks and dominating the landscape in this part of southern Bavaria near the towns of Garmish and Erwald. The mountain is reminiscent of the Dolomites in the way that its sheer walls soar vertically over the landscape, though the Wetterstein is perhaps even taller and larger than many of the Dolomite groups.

A month ago when Claudia and I summited Muttekopf peak in the nearby Lechtal Alps, we saw the impressive Wetterstein massif off in the distance and I immediately thought “What is that??!!”, followed soon after by the next thought “I want to go there!” We did, in fact, spend a few days then in the town of Ehrwald under the Zugspitze, but poor weather shut down any chance of climbing the mountain. So, last week we returned to the area and climbed to the summit via a fantastic klettersteig (cabled, aka via ferrata) route, and we even spent a night on the summit to catch a wonderful sunset over the clouds! Continue reading “Zugspitze”

Ferrata Trek in the Rosengarten

Dolomites, Italy, Rosengarten, via ferrata, Laurenzi, Molignon
Climbing along the ridgeline of Molignon during the Via Ferrata Laurenzi.

The Rosengarten is a group of mountains in the Dolomites with a dense cluster of exceptionally jagged peaks. 10 years ago I did two hikes through this range, and since then I’ve longed to return for some better photography and more challenging via ferrata climbing. Last week Claudia and I did just that, spending four days trekking, climbing, and photographing our way through the mountains. See lots more photos below! Continue reading “Ferrata Trek in the Rosengarten”

Lechtal Alps

Lechtal Alps, Austria, hiking, Gutelsee
Hiking above Gutelsee in the Lechtal Alps, Austria.

Our latest adventure in the Alps was an 8-day trek through the Lechtal Alps in Austria, the neighboring range just south of the Allgäuer Alps of our previous trek. In fact on many days of our trek we could look across the valley and see the peaks and ridges which we had just hiked and climbed over the previous week.

The Lechtal Alps are characterized by mountain ridges soaring steeply out of deeply cut valleys, topped with green basins ringed by countless jagged peaks. While the Allgäuer Alps seemed to offer mostly broad sweeping vistas, the Lechtal Alps have more immediate views of towering pyramidal peaks right in your face. The close and rugged peaks, combined with the clear air after some rains cleaned the haze away, made for some stunning photography! Continue reading “Lechtal Alps”

Wetterhorn Peak

Wetterhorn Peak, San Juan Mountains, Colorado

Unlike other mountain ranges in Colorado, the San Juans have a volcanic history. Around 35 million years ago this region was home to several dozen stratovolcanoes, similar to those in the present day Pacific Northwest. Then, starting about 30 million years ago the volcanism here was characterized more by massive circular calderas. Many of the mountains in the San Juans owe their uniquely rugged shapes to the eroded volcanic ash (tuft) that was deposited by all of this volcanism.

In the Uncompahgre Wilderness, with its craggy peaks rising out of vast tundra-filled basins, one can visualize this volcanic history more than in any other part of the range. While the specific geology is certainly more complicated, it’s easy to imagine Wetterhorn Peak and Uncompahgre Peak as the eroded lava plugs from ancient volcanoes.

Wetterhorn Peak, San Juan Mountains, Colorado, climbing

14,015 foot tall Wetterhorn Peak feels kind of like a volcano when you’re hiking up it – it towers over the surrounding landscape. Here Claudia ponders geology during the spicy exposed scrambling section towards the summit. Continue reading “Wetterhorn Peak”

Whitehouse Mountain

wildflowers, spreading globeflower, San Juan Mountains, Colorado, June
Globeflowers : Prints Available

On Friday Claudia and I went backpacking to a lesser-known basin in the Sneffels Range.

wildflowers, spreading globeflower, San Juan Mountains, Colorado, June
Globeflowers #2 : Prints Available

Summer is in full swing in the mountains! Except for a few lingering patches, most of the snow is gone and the tundra has come alive with its vibrant green grasses and early summer wildflowers like these Spreading Globeflowers (I think that’s what they are called).

Potosi Peak, San Juan Mountains, Colorado, June, sunrise
Potosi Peak Sunrise : Prints Available

Sunrise light on Potosi Peak (13,786 ft.) – June.

We woke up at 3:30am to hike up to a high saddle from where I shot the sunrise light on Potosi Peak, one of the giants of the range. (For reference on how little snow we have this year, check out the photos from skiing/snowboarding down Potosi’s north couloir in June a couple years ago).

Potosi Peak, Whitehouse Mountain, San Juan Mountains, Colorado, June, hiking
Hiking on Whitehouse Mountain with a view of Potosi Peak (13,786 ft.) – June.

Our goal for Saturday was to hike up Whitehouse Mountain, a seldom-climbed mountain on the northern end of the Sneffels Range. Continue reading “Whitehouse Mountain”

An Evening with Sneffels

Mt. Sneffels, San Juan Mountains, spring, June, green, CR7

On Saturday we ventured into the Sneffels Range for a quick overnighter backpack trip. Summer is in gear, and the aspens have their freshly sprung brilliant green color. We were surprised at how much snow has already melted away up high, and how green the tundra has already become! Though we brought crampons and gaiters with us, we never even needed to use them.

camping, Mt. Sneffels, San Juan Mountains, Colorado, June, sunset

Taking advantage of a clear weather forecast, we camped all the way up at 12,900 feet on a high sub-peak of Sneffels. It’s a rare treat in Colorado to be able to camp up high like this without fear of thunderstorms! We brought the winter tent in case it was windy, and hauled up extra water in a dromedary bag.

Mt. Sneffels, San Juan Mountains, Colorado, sunset, alpenglow
Alpenglow on Mt. Sneffels : Prints Available

Sunset light illuminates the 14,150 ft. summit of Mt. Sneffels, as seen from a high ridgeline in June.

Of course, the main reason I wanted to camp up so high was for the killer view of Mt. Sneffels! I’ve shot sunset from this high point once before, five years back, but I was excited to come back and actually spend a night up here.

Cozy in the mountains

Claudia staying cozy in her down cocoon. When we got to the top and set up the tent, I surprised her with a bottle of wine that I had stashed in my backpack when she wasn’t looking. What a guy! 🙂 This was probably our most spectacular “wine spot” to date!

camping, Mt. Sneffels, San Juan Mountains, Colorado, June

What a great place to spend an evening, with views spanning all the way from the La Sal range in Utah to Grand Junction and Grand Mesa, to the West Elk Mountains towards Crested Butte. And of course the rugged Mt. Sneffels massif dominating the scene.

Mt. Sneffels, San Juan Mountains, Colorado, Milky Way, galaxy
Sneffels Galaxy : Prints Available

The Milky Way shines over Mt. Sneffels on a new moon night in June.

At 1:30am I crawled out of the tent to photograph the Milky Way above Sneffels. This took two successive exposures to pull off: one at 30 seconds at ISO 6400 for the stars and galaxy, then another at 10 minutes at ISO 800 for the brighter mountain and foreground. It’s amazing what the camera can “see” with long exposures like this, even when the only light is starlight!

Despite my grogginess, I woke again to shoot sunrise, though that proved to be less appealing than sunset was. Later in the morning while dozing in the tent we could hear my friend Jim – a mountain guide who we had run into down in the basin the day before – climbing up the Snake Couloir with a couple clients. When the tent got too hot in the sun, we pulled our sleeping bag outside and tried to get some more zzz’s in the fresh air. When I heard Jim’s “woohoo!” shout from the summit, like an alarm clock, I figured it was probably time to get out of bed and start the day!

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