Yesterday I went on one of the most memorable backpacking trips of my life. With a weather forecast clear of rain for all of New Zealand, I was excited to get up high and get some views of the Fox Glacier and the west side of Mt. Cook. My plan was to hike a steep route trough the forest and camp on a high ridge above treeline. I set off under clear skies and started the grueling route through the forest – so steep that some of it consisted of climbing up what can only be described as root ladders.
When I finally got high enough to see through the forest canopy, I was disappointed to see a completely overcast sky. By the time I got to the ridge above treeline, it was completely socked in fog. I was bummed, but I set up my tent anyways and ate some food. After studying the map, I decided to do a long hike further up the ridgeline… what the hell, it may clear up later I thought. Hiking out the ridge was challenging in the thick fog, but with careful map and compass work and a bit of intuition, I made my way out. Several times when there were drop-offs I had no choice but to sit and wait for a bit of clearing in the fog to see where I needed to go next. I kept going though, and as I hiked higher and higher, I noticed that the clouds were becoming brighter. Sure enough, I eventually popped out above the cloud layer into bright sunshine and a glorious clear day, with huge views of the gleaming white peaks! I was so stoked.
This last week I did a 7 day backpacking trip through the high and rugged Needle Mountains south of Silverton, Colorado. See my photos from the trip here. This trip had a couple unexpected events in store for me, but fortunately, Lady Luck was really by my side this time.
A near tragedy for my camera! I woke up at 3:30am one morning, and hiked up 1200 feet in the dark to the summit of aptly-named Knife Point, a 13,265-foot spire with a killer view into the heart of the Needle Mountains. Once the dawn light started illuminating the surrounding peaks, I started to take some photos. At one point, I decided to switch spots, and grabbing my tripod I started bounding up some rocks to get to the other side of the summit. I heard an odd jiggling sound coming from my tripod, and turned to look just in time to see my camera falling off the tripod, crashing and bouncing off boulders. Oh crap. In a state of shock and denial, I jumped down to the camera, noticing shattered glass and dismembered plastic. OH CRAP!
This last week I hiked the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) through the South San Juan Wilderness with two of my friends. It’s a 60+ mile trek from Cumbres Pass near Chama, New Mexico to Wolf Creek Pass near Pagosa Springs, Colorado. Although we initially planned for 6 days out there, we ended up hiking an average of 13 miles per day, finishing in 5 days.
This hike was the longest distance backpacking trek I’ve ever done, and the first time in a long time that I’ve gone on a trip where the priority for me was the hiking itself, rather than the photography. We had a lot of ground to cover and we spent a good portion of each day just hiking. The photography was mostly unplanned, take-what-you-can-get shots along the way.
It’s pretty amazing to hike so far, basin after basin, each day looking back at distant mountains on the horizon and knowing that you just walked all the way from there, step by step. Although I usually prefer to hike shorter distances each day (to have more time to relax at each camp spot and concentrate more on photography), the South San Juans are well-suited for this style of long multi-day trekking. The mountains are remote with poor access, and the trail is fairly flat and mostly on high tundra with the logical camping spots being few and far between.
This weekend I went on a wonderful 25 mile backpacking loop from Ouray. I started at Bear Creek, a few miles up the road from Ouray, hiked up to the rolling green tundra paradise of the Uncompahgre Wilderness, along the Horsethief Trail to the Bridge of Heaven Trail, then back down into Ouray. I camped two nights along the way.
The tundra is so beautiful right now, with lush green grass and wildflowers popping up everywhere. In contrast to last week’s brutal bushwhack, this trip was a stroll through paradise. I was practically ecstatic as I walked through one gorgeous basin after another. This hike easily ranks among the best I’ve done in Colorado, and it’s basically in my backyard!
During the last three days, I bushwhacked through the Cow Creek valley, a rugged and remote mountain valley in the Uncompahgre Wilderness of the San Juan Mountains east of Ridgway. My original plan was to hike through the valley and continue up to the high alpine zone, where I would hike a high loop route around to Wetterhorn Basin and then take a trail back to my truck. However this plan was thwarted by geography – the Cow Creek valley is absolutely impassible six miles up, forcing me to turn around and bushwhack all the way back out the way I came.
This photo shows a sample of the kind of terrain and bushwhacking I was dealing with the entire time. There are many obstacles along the river which forced me to constantly hike up and down through thick bush and forest and along steep, loose, rocky slopes. Over the three days, I spent 23 hours of tough hiking to cover a mere 12 miles round trip, for an average of about 0.5 miles/hour! I can think of a few words to describe this bushwhack; it was brutal, tedious, frustrating, demoralizing, maddening, hellish, unrewarding, exhausting, etc, etc.
Below are some more photos from this fruitless exploration.
On Saturday I camped up in Blaine Basin, with Mt. Sneffels towering above. That evening, I hiked up to the summit of Peak 12,910, which has an incredible vantage point directly facing the rugged north face of Sneffels. I’ve hiked to many different vantages around Mt. Sneffels, and I think this one is the best!
This last weekend I went backpacking in the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park in Utah. After shelling out 25 bucks for entrance and permit fees, I set off into the “wild”. Is it just me or do national parks feel like nature amusement parks? All the regulations and designated trails and campspots definitely spoil the notion of being out in the wilderness. But these areas are national parks for a reason – they are undeniably spectacular!
Here are some DP1 digital photos from the trip, as well as a few 4×5 film ones.
It’s April, it’s snowing, and we still have two more months of snowboarding ahead (this is a good thing). But as each day passes I’ve been thinking more and more about summertime. Here’s a few photos from a backpacking trip I did last summer in the San Juan Mountains near Durango, Colorado.
Lily on the lookout for marmots. Lilly carries all her own stuff, and even some of my stuff too! What a team player.
Lured by a full moon and a forecast of clear skies, this last weekend I went backpacking for two nights in the West Needle Mountains in the San Juans near Silverton, Colorado. This area is incredibly photogenic; from my campsite on a 12,200 ft ridgeline, I enjoyed broad vistas of the Needle Mountains, the West Needles, and all the peaks of the Molas Pass area.
This weekend my friends Momo and Pavel drove up from New Mexico to go winter camping with me. Our plan was to try out this new Igloo making tool that I recently bought. The tool is specially made for constructing igloos – it is basically a curved box attached to a pole which is staked in the center. You rotate the box around the center radius and keep packing snow into it to form perfect blocks, spiraling up layer upon layer and adjusting the pole to preset lengths as you go, eventually forming a perfectly egg-shaped igloo. Simple enough in theory.
We hiked up about 1600 feet above Ouray and at 2:30pm started building the igloo on a flat ledge with a nice vista to the west. The manufacturers claim a 3 hours build time, so just to be safe I was planning on 4 hours (after all we had three people). Well, long story short, it took us 8 hours to build this damn thing! It was pretty nerve-wracking when we realized how long it was taking, since we were depending on the igloo shelter for our warmth in the bitter cold night. Plus we were never quite sure whether it would really work or not. We could have always just packed up and followed our tracks back down to the truck, but we were pretty exhausted from the hike up, and were determined to make this thing work. Well, with headlamps and a large dose of stubborn determination, we finally completed the entire igloo at 10:30 at night.
Though the igloo took a surprisingly huge amount of effort to build, it really was pretty awesome when it was done. Outside was blowing snow, with temps in the single digits, but inside the igloo was calm, peaceful, and relatively warm. Too bad we didn’t have much time to enjoy it, as we all pretty much immediately got into our sleeping bags and crashed for the night.