Smoky Sunrise on Mount Wilson

Colorado, Gladstone Peak, Lizard Head Wilderness, Mount Wilson, San Juan Mountains, Wilson Peak, wildfire, smoke, smoky, sunrise
Smoky San Juan Sunrise : Prints Available

A smoky sunrise as seen from the summit of Mount Wilson (14,246 ft) in the San Juan Mountains, Colorado. Wilson Peak is on the left, Gladstone Peak near the center, and the Sneffels Range barely visible through the smoke in the distance.

On Monday morning my alarm woke me at 2:00am in my tent at Navajo Lake in the San Miguel Range near Telluride, Colorado. Groggy after only four hours of sleep, I started trudging up towards Mount Wilson under the light of the waning full moon. I could smell wildfire smoke in the air, and the stars were quite dim, but I didn’t think too much of it and continued on my mission to get to the summit for sunrise. Three or so hours later, after much rock hopping and a bit of airy scrambling, I stood on the 14,246-foot summit of Mount Wilson… disappointed with the view. My hopes of a glorious clear Colorado sunrise were crushed by the sight of thick smoke filling the valleys and shrouding the mountains. As I sat on the summit waiting for morning, I knew that my sunrise photo was toast and felt like my whole endeavor was a collosal waste of effort.

But then the sun rose as a red orb filtered through the haze like a lunar eclipse, becoming oranger as it rose higher and casting a warm glow over the smoky landscape. The surreal and somewhat apocalyptic scene wasn’t what I expected but it made for a unique photo opportunity after all!

I learned later that all the smoke came from an 800-acre wildfire west of Montrose. As luck would have it, the wind was blowing due south pushing all the smoke right into the San Juans. That’s a lot of smoke for a relatively small 800-acre fire!

This NOAA satellite image from Monday 7/30/18 shows the Bull Draw wildfire smoke blowing south into the San Juans in southwest Colorado (just above and to the right of the Four Corners). Notice numerous other wildfires above in Colorado and Utah.

Grenadier Loop

Colorado, Grenadier Range, San Juan Mountains, Trinity Peaks, Weminuche Wilderness, panorama
Trinity Peak Sunrise : Prints Available

Sunrise as seen from the summit of West Trinity Peak in the Grenadier Range, San Juan Mountains, Colorado.

In late July we went on a 6-day backpack trek in and around the rugged Grenadier Range in the Weminuche Wilderness of the central San Juan Mountains of Colorado. Along the way we scrambled up several 13ers, hiked over numerous high passes, and visited some gorgeous remote alpine lakes. Continue reading >>

Wetterhorn Moonrise

Colorado, San Juan Mountains, Uncompahgre Wilderness, Wetterhorn Peak, moon, 14er
Wetterhorn Sunset Moonrise : Prints Available

Full moon rises behind Wetterhorn Peak, a 14er in the Uncompahgre Wilderness, Colorado.

After returning home to Colorado at the end of June we did a quick one-night backpack trip in the Uncompahgre Wilderness of the San Juan Mountains in Colorado. That evening we hiked up to a high ridgeline to watch the full moon rise behind Wetterhorn Peak at sunset. It’s nice to be back in beautiful Colorado!

Colorado, San Juan Mountains, Uncompahgre Wilderness, Wetterhorn Peak, moon, 14er
Moon on Wetterhorn : Prints Available

Full moon behind the 14015 ft / 4272 m summit of Wetterhorn Peak.

Trek Around Ausangate, Peru

Ausangate, Cordillera Vilcanota, Lago Uchuy Pucacocha, Peru, South America, sunset, panorama
Ausangate Sunset Light : Prints Available

On a cold and windy evening the last rays of sunlight beam through the clouds to illuminate Ausangate, Peru.

In June after our Salkantay trek to Macchu Picchu, our next big Peruvian adventure was a 7-day trek around Nevado Ausangate, a giant 20945 ft (6384m) peak in the Cordillera Vilcanota south of Cusco. This is a high mountain range – almost the entire trek is over 14,000 ft elevation, the majority of hiking and camping is over 15,000 ft (4500m) elevation, and the highest pass tops out at about 16,750 ft (5100m). Although the month of June is typically the dry season in the Peruvian Andes, this trek turned out to be more like winter camping with all kinds of wild weather including blizzards, howling winds, and near-constant cold temperatures. Continue reading >>

Salkantay Trek to Macchu Picchu, Peru

Cordillera Vilcabamba, Macchu Picchu, Peru, South America
Misty Macchu Picchu : Prints Available

Misty clouds in Macchu Picchu, Peru.

In early June we flew to Cusco, Peru for some mountain adventures south of the equator. Our first hike was the famous Salkantay to Macchu Picchu trek. Of course Macchu Picchu is the #1 tourist destination in all of Peru and perhaps all of South America for that matter. The most famous way to walk to Macchu Picchu is the Inca Trail, which is extremely popular and requires reservations months in advance – something that we hadn’t planned for. A popular alternative for trekkers is the Salkantay trek, which passes over a high alpine pass below the glaciated peak of Nevado Salkantay, then traverses around several jungle valleys until reaching Macchu Picchu. There are several possible itineraries for this trek; we opted for a guided 5-day version. Continue reading >>

Buckskin Gulch/Paria River Backpack

Buckskin Gulch, Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Utah, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, hiking

Buckskin Gulch, Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Utah

With 15 miles of continuous narrows, Buckskin Gulch in southern Utah is renowned as the longest slot canyon in the world. Buckskin flows into the even longer Paria Canyon and hiking through both these canyons forms a famous backpacking trip showcased in numerous guidebooks and coffee table books, requiring permits reserved months in advance. Twice before we’ve had permits but had to cancel last minute due to rainy forecasts and potential flash flood danger. This April we had permits for a third time and the weather forecast was nice and sunny, allowing us to finally experience these amazing canyons. Hiking through Buckskin and Paria is an unforgettable experience, like a sacred journey into the heart of the Earth. Continue reading >>

Narrowing Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

Grand Staircase - Escalante National Monument, Utah, Willis Creek, hiking

Light at the end of the tunnel in Willis Creek, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah.

In mid April we hit the road again for more desert time, and spent a week camping and hiking through various narrows and slot canyons in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in central southern Utah. This has long been one of my very favorite parts of Utah and I was happy to return and check out a bunch of canyons new to me. This was also the first time I’ve returned since the monument size was controversially reduced by 46% last year, and I have a few words to say about that below along with the usual trip report. Continue reading >>

Backpacking in the Superstition Mountains, Arizona

Arizona, Superstition Mountains, Superstition Wilderness, tent

‘Stonehenge’ campsite surrounded by rocky pinnacles in the Superstition Wilderness. Though it looks kind of like sunset, the clouds are actually illuminated by the light of Phoenix.


After our time in the Kofa Mountains in March, we drove east through Phoenix and immediately embarked on a two-night backpack trip through part of the Superstition Mountains. We hiked a clockwise loop from the Peralta Trailhead around the prominent Weavers Needle spire via the Peralta and Dutchman’s Trails. I imagine that this popular route is probably often done in a day by trailrunners, but as usual we wanted to savor the scenery so we camped two nights along the way. Continue reading >>

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