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”

Panel Loader Backpacks for Hiking Photographers

It’s probably safe to say that most photographers are gearheads to some degree, whether we’ll admit it or not. We devote much effort into researching all the specs and reviews to find the cameras and lenses that suit our needs as closely as possible. But as a photographer who shoots mostly while hiking or backpacking, I am as much concerned about HOW I carry my camera as I am with the camera itself!

Panel loader backpacks
F-Stop Satori, Granite Gear Aji 50, and Boreas Sapa Trek

When it comes to finding a photo backpack that not only provides easy camera access but is actually designed for carrying weight comfortably on long treks, the options are surprisingly few. The vast majority of dedicated photo-bag companies seem to have a design philosophy based entirely around camera storage, with human ergonomics a distant afterthought. These backpacks offer endless configurations for camera and lens compartments, but they are typically overweight with under-built, poorly designed suspensions (the frame, shoulder straps, and hip belts) and little extra space for normal hiking/camping gear. These packs might be good for carrying gear across the street from your car to a roadside overlook, or maybe even for a short day hike, but serious hikers cannot rely on these backpacks to comfortably carry a load for many miles.

The obvious solution for most hiking photographers is to simply stuff their camera gear into a real backpacking backpack and deal with the inconveniences. The outdoor backpacking companies really know how to make comfortable, high performance backpacks; however, quick and efficient camera access is usually not even a consideration at all.

This huge gap between camera-centric and athlete-centric backpack design has left a big niche market which is begging to be filled, but with surprisingly few companies attempting (successfully) to do so. The only company I know of that is proactively filling this niche is F-stop, but the demand for their packs is so great that they cannot keep up with the production; pre-orders of their out of stock backpacks can take half a year to be fulfilled (as did mine).

So, are there any other backpack options for the hiking photographer? Yes, panel loader backpacks! Unlike the usual backpack design that has cumbersome top-loading access with buckles and cinch straps, panel loaders have zippers that unzip the entire pack, allowing for quick and easy access to the contents within. The camera gear can be organized in a basic padded camera case (of which there are many options), and the case is simply placed into the panel loader backpack. This is essentially what F-stop has done, with a few extra bells and whistles.

I’ve done a LOT of research lately trying to find the best panel loader backpack options for photography, and in this article I will share and review some of the options that I’ve found. Continue reading “Panel Loader Backpacks for Hiking Photographers”

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!

Updated Colorado Screensaver

Mountains of Colorado Screensaver

I have just released an updated version of my popular Mountains of Colorado Screensaver, a downloadable screensaver application featuring 130 of my favorite photos from the Colorado Rockies.

The new version provides added support for newer operating systems like OSX Mountain Lion and Windows 8. While I was at it I also added about 20 of my newer Colorado photos!

You can purchase and download the screensaver here. If you are already a customer and would like to get the newest version, please email me with the email address you originally used to purchase the screensaver, and I’ll send you fresh download links.

Cedar Mesa with Fujifilm X100S

bonfire, Cedar Mesa, Utah, stars

Bonfire Under the Stars : Prints Available

This last weekend we drove out to Cedar Mesa, Utah for one last desert camping trip for the season. We arrived a few hours prior to sunset, found a nice spot to car camp, and eventually lit a little fire to enjoy. After being glued to the computer the last few weeks, the fire, stars, and open space were balm for my soul! The next morning we would wake up early and embark on a three-day backpacking loop through Fish Creek and Owl Creek Canyons.

For this trip I decided to leave my workhorse Canon camera and lenses at home, instead opting to travel light with only my new little Fujifilm X100S large sensor compact camera. These three days in the canyons provided a good opportunity to get to know the X100S. Since it’s a popular new camera I will write a “mini review” of my first impressions below, and this post will be more of a camera report than a trip report. All these photos were taken with the X100S, but please note that some are stitched panos and most of them are adjusted in photoshop to some degree.

The photo above is a two-shot stitch taken with the X100 28mm wide-angle conversion lens (the X100S has a fixed 35mm equivalent lens, and the 28mm conversion lens screws on top of that). Continue reading “Cedar Mesa with Fujifilm X100S”

8 Dayhikes in the Utah Canyons

Metate Arch, Devil's Garden, Escalante National Monument, Utah, April

Metate Arch in the Devil’s Garden – April.

On our way back to Colorado from California, we spent about 10 days in the canyons of Utah car camping and doing some fantastic day hikes. We started in Escalante National Monument, probably my favorite canyon region in all of Utah.

Red Breaks, slot, Escalante, Utah, hiking

Hiking in a narrow slot canyon.

Our first hike was through a seldom visited slot canyon called Red Breaks. Although the guides I read called this a “non technical” canyon, it ended up being a very challenging slot canyon, with numerous puzzling chokestones that had to be climbed over. Some of these chokestones required sketchy exposed moves or chimney maneuvers to pass, and we became a bit worried after we had climbed over enough of these that turning back would not have been a safe option, yet each successive chokestone became more and more difficult.

Red Breaks, slot, Escalante, Utah, hiking

Hiking in a deep and narrow slot canyon.

Not only were the chokestones challenging in Red Breaks, but in some areas the slot was so narrow that we could barely squeeze through while pulling our backpacks behind us. A wider person or anyone with claustrophobia should not attempt this slot canyon! I would classify this slot as “non technical” only for very proficient canyoneers and comfortable climbers; for anyone else I would stress that this is an extremely challenging slot canyon. In fact it was the first slot that I was happy to finally exit!

cosmic ashtray, escalante, utah

A bizarre and fascinating sandstone formation, filled with orange sand.

From Red Breaks we hiked cross country over slickrock slabs and valleys to a fascinating sandstone formation called “The Cosmic Ashtray”. This is one of the more curious and mystifying geologic formations I’ve seen, and I have no idea how such a thing could have formed. It’s difficult to comprehend the scale in the photo above, but suffice it say, it’s enormous! We stayed until sunset and hiked back to the truck in the dark… all in all, a 12 hour day of hiking! Not too shabby for the first of eight days in a row of hiking!

slot canyon, Zebra, Escalante National Monument, Utah

The famous Zebra Slot.

Our second hike was to the famous Zebra slot. The slot itself is actually very short and not very deep, but it has these beautiful striations and embedded moki ball stones which make it very photogenic. Photogenic, that is, if you don’t care about taking the same photograph that every other photographer takes, more or less. Claudia was kind enough to pose in there for me, which adds some scale and reality to the otherwise surreal formations.

Little Death Hollow, Escalante National Monument, Utah

Hiking through deep narrows in Little Death Hollow Canyon.

After Zebra, we drove around to the other side of the Escalante River drainage via the incredible Burr Trail Road which leads east from the town of Boulder through jaw-dropping canyon scenery. I’m not sure if I’ve ever driven a more scenic drive in the desert! Our destination was Little Death Hollow canyon, another slot canyon off the Escalante.

Little Death Hollow, Escalante National Monument, Utah

Hiking through the narrows of Little Death Hollow Canyon.

Little Death Hollow is not an especially deep slot canyon, but it goes on for quite a long way and makes for a great hike – especially around midday when the sunlight is bouncing around between the canyon walls.

More photos below! Continue reading “8 Dayhikes in the Utah Canyons”

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