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.
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.
This last weekend we went on a little road trip to the Great Sand Dunes, followed by a couple nights of camping and hiking in the Sangre de Cristos. We arrived at the dunes in the afternoon on Friday and started the hike into the dunes under a sky full of wild ominous clouds, along with sandblasting winds.
With the heavy clouds above and a clear horizon to the west, I knew that we were in store for a special sunset. I was not disappointed! We found a high west facing dune with a nice vista over the ocean of sand, and waited in the wind until the sun dipped below the clouds and illuminated the scene with intense sunset light. Pretty freaking amazing…
After sunset the clouds cleared and the wind calmed down enough for us to stroll around under the moonlight and enjoy our bottle of wine! Not the best night of sleep, though, with sand blowing in our sleeping bags for most of the night. But it’s hard to beat waking up in the middle of the dunes on a glorious bluebird morning!
Hiking out in the morning. I was excited to show Claudia the Great Sand Dunes, one of my favorite places on the planet. She was impressed, and is already looking forward to our next visit.
After I left the Great Sand Dunes in the morning on Tuesday, on a whim I headed to nearby Crestone and went backpacking up the North Crestone Trail in the Sangre de Cristo Range. Unlike the San Juans, which are still smothered in snow, the Sangres are almost totally dry already. Although I was planning on camping up at North Crestone Lake, when I finally arrived there [six fairly grueling miles later] I was disappointed to find no suitable spot to camp near the lake. Besides, it was very windy up there… too windy. So I retreated back to the next meadow down where I spotted a nice established camp spot in the forest next to the creek. Exhausted from my lack of sleep the night before in the Dunes, I took a nap, shot the sunset, lit a small campfire for a while, then fell fast asleep in my tent for nearly 12 hours!
The valley where I camped was not particularly photogenic, imo, and the boring blue sky was not inspiring either. After wandering around for a while the most interesting thing that caught my eye was a bunch of dead trees up on the mountainside. So I hiked up there and shot the setting sun beaming through the bare tree skeletons. Certainly not my best photo ever but I like it and I was proud of myself for putting in the effort to find one intriguing scene to shoot when normally I probably would have just not even bothered.
The lower/middle portion of North Crestone Creek is special because the valley is chock-full of aspens. This would be a spectacular hike to do in the fall when the trees are golden yellow!
On Monday I headed to the Great Sand Dunes for a quick overnighter. I hiked in at about 10pm, slept on a dune for about 4 hours, then woke up around 3:30am to shoot the setting (nearly full) moon, followed by sunrise.
I had a blast out there with the camera… so much fun! And the hike out with Pink Floyd Meddle playing on my iPod was pretty groovy too! Here are some photos from the trip.
This weekend I went on a little road trip to the Sangre de Cristo Mountains near Westcliffe, Colorado, to meet up with a friend for some camping and hiking around South Colony Lakes. The lakes are situated at the foot of three 14ers, making them a perfect basecamp for several days worth of hiking.
The weather was grim during our first two days, with rain, hail, lightning, thunder, and relentless Patagonia-esque winds. On the third day, however, I woke up at 2:30am to clear starry skies, so I jumped out my sleeping bag, got my stuff together, and started hiking via headlamp up to Broken Hand Peak, hoping to get a sunrise shot of the Crestone Needle fourteener from the neighboring summit. After some tricky routefinding around some cliffs and up some snowfields, I made it to the summit at about 5:00, and witnessed a spectacular sunrise from the top.
After the Broken Hand Peak hike, I made my way back down to the lake where my friend was hanging out, and since the morning was still showing great blue-sky weather, we decided to hike up Humboldt Peak, another nearby 14er. Having just climbed one mountain, I wasn’t expecting to immediately go do another one, but I was feeling good and perhaps still had some more pent-up energy after the two previous stormy days. The weather held out, and we got to the summit around 11:30am along with about 20 other happy hikers.
After three completely sedentary weeks at the computer, this last weekend I was desperate for some wilderness action, so I headed out on a backpacking trip in the Great Sand Dunes. My initial plan was to do a simple three day hike up and back the Sand Ramp Trail along the eastern side of the dunes. But on the first night I was feeling ambitious and decided to hike all the way around the dunes! Read more about the trip below, and be sure to check out my gallery of photos from the trip.