Spring Vistas from the San Juans

Cimarrons, aspens, Sneffels Range, panorama, spring, Courthouse Mountain, Chimney Rock, Colorado
Cimarron Spring Panorama : Prints Available

Panoramic view of Chimney Rock, Courthouse Mountain, and brilliant spring green aspens along the Cimarrons, with the Sneffels Range and the town of Ridgway in the distance. San Juan Mountains, Colorado.

Cimarrons, Colorado, Precipice Peak, San Juan Mountains, Uncompahgre Peak, Uncompahgre Wilderness
Cimarron Sunlight : Prints Available

Overlooking the East and Middle Forks of the Cimarron River. Uncompahgre Peak (the tallest mountain in the San Juans at 14,309 ft.) towers at the head of the East Fork valley on the left. San Juan Mountains, Colorado. (Tip of the hat to Matt Payne for the location inspiration).

I’ve been enjoying all the spring green colors in the San Juans lately by getting out for a lot of day hikes and overnight backpacking trips in the Sneffels Range and Cimarrons near Ridgway here southwest Colorado. I’ve posted these and many more recent photos in a Spring in the San Juans gallery here.

A Pleasant Valley Sunset

Log Hill, San Juan Mountains, Sneffels Range, Ridgway, Pleasant Valley
Pleasant Valley Sunset : Prints Available

A fantastic sunset cloud show above Pleasant Valley, the town of Ridgway, and the Sneffels Range, Colorado.

Log Hill, San Juan Mountains, Sneffels Range, Mount Ridgway, sunset
Mount Ridgway Sunset : Prints Available

Sunset light on Mount Ridgway and the Sneffels Range – May.

Here’s a few photos from an amazing sunset we had here in Ridgway a couple evenings ago. I’ve posted these and more recent spring photos from the Sneffels Range here.

Hot Carves

Colorado, Ema's Rollers, Mt. Sneffels, San Juan Mountains, Sneffels Range, skiing

Claudia Brauer skis below Mt. Sneffels – May 2020.

This morning we got out for a [possibly] final ski/splitboard tour on the quickly melting snowpack. After what had been an amazing backcountry winter season here in the San Juans, April brought drought and pandemic, and I actually haven’t been out snowboarding since late March! So it felt amazing to make some carves again on soft spring corn snow today.

At the end of March the San Juan snowpack was at 100% average level, but April and May have been so hot and dry that the snowpack has dropped to only 25% of average for mid-May, and a mere 13% of what the snowpack was at this time after last year’s mega winter. In other words, last year there was 8 times the amount of now as right now! [See SNOTEL data chart here].

Check out this photo below of Claudia skiing in the same place as the photo above, in JUNE last year!

Colorado, Mt. Sneffels, San Juan Mountains, Sneffels Range, skiing

Claudia Brauer skis below Mt. Sneffels – June 2019.

Hopefully we get some weather and rain in late May and June, otherwise it could be a parched and smoky summer.

San Sophia High Camp

Colorado, San Juan Mountains, Sneffels Range, tent, panorama, Mount Sneffels
San Sophia Sunset : Prints Available

Sunset at a 13,200 ft. high camp with a panoramic view of the Sneffels Range, Colorado. From left to right, the prominent peaks are Dallas Peak, Mount Emma, Gilpin Peak, Mount Sneffels, Cirque Mountain, Teakettle Mountain, and Potosi Peak.

It’s pretty rare to be able to camp up high in Colorado. In the summer the threat of thunderstorms above treeline is too terrifying, and in the winter it’s just too damn cold. But in mid-May I had a perfect window of opportunity to hike up and camp at 13,200 feet up on a high ridgeline here in the Sneffels Range of the San Juan Mountains in Colorado. See all the photos here >>

My New Favorite Thing: A Lightweight Backpacking Chair

Colorado, La Sal Mountains, Utah, Dolores River Canyon Wilderness Study Area, camping

Relaxing and savoring the view of La Sal Mountains above the Dolores River Canyon Wilderness Study Area in western Colorado.

Like clockwork, once I hit 40 years old a couple years back I started having back pain issues from all the backpacking I do. To relieve and prevent the pain, I’ve invested a lot of money into ultralight gear to lighten my backpack load, as well as doing rolfing treatments and pilates classes. All these things have certainly helped, but I recently discovered a simple piece of equipment that seems to help more than anything: a chair.

Yes, that’s right, it turns out that perhaps the number one way to relieve back pain is to sit down. In a chair. Who would have thought? But actually when you do think about it, think of all the hours spent on a backpacking trip sitting awkwardly on a rock or a log, with no back support, probably in a slightly tweaked position, inevitably slouching with bad posture. I didn’t fully realize this until I recently started bringing a backpacking chair with me, then the difference was clear as day. Now I can’t believe it took me over two decades of backpacking to understand this!

Us backpackers are typically pretty obsessed with lightening our backpack loads, so bringing a chair along seems like an unnecessary luxury. But I’ve found a good lightweight option that is totally worth the weight: the Sea to Summit Air Chair. Weighing a mere 8 oz., this chair combines with your sleeping pad to create a comfortable and sturdy chair.

While the Air Chair is designed to fit an air mattress, personally I wouldn’t trust using an air mattress for a chair on a backpacking trip, sitting around on sharp rocks and pine needles. Not to mention the possibility of plopping down too hard and popping it! I realized, though, that the Air Chair (size Small/Regular) also perfectly fits the Exped FlexMat Plus closed-cell foam sleeping pad (size Medium). The FlexMat is not your normal foam pad; it has an extra deep egg-crate texture that creates a whopping 1.5″ of padding! While arguably not quite as comfortable as an air mattress, it is far more comfortable than a standard foam pad. I’ve found that compared to air mattresses, while it’s less comfortable on my hips for side sleeping, I think it’s actually more comfortable for sleeping on my back. Plus, foam mattresses have the distinct advantages of guaranteed durability (no chances of popping or leaks) and there’s no fussing around with inflation/deflation every evening and morning.

The Air Chair – FlexMat chair combo probably isn’t quite as comfortable as it would be with an air mattress, but it still works well and is comfortable. And, like I said, by using a foam mattress you can bash it around without any worries about popping it. Using the chair’s side compression straps you can dial in how much back support you want, whether you want to lounge with your legs out or sit more upright.

I can’t stress enough how great of a luxury it is to be able to lounge comfortably in a chair at camp after a long day of hiking. So far I’ve used the Air Chair on four overnight backpack trips and so far I’ve had zero back pain after each trip. It’s been a game changer, and I plan on taking it on every backpack trip from now on, even the long treks. Especially the long treks! At just 8 oz., why not?

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Canyons Close to Home

Colorado, Dolores River, Dolores River Canyon Wilderness Study Area, Bedrock
Dolores Light : Prints Available

Sunrise light above the Dolores River, within the Dolores River Canyon Wilderness Study Area, southwest Colorado.

Yearning for some closer-to-home adventure this spring, we ventured out for a few quick overnight backpack trips to explore some canyon and desert areas along the Dolores and Gunnison Rivers, both major river drainages of the San Juan Mountains where we live in southwest Colorado. See more photos here >>