Lunar Alpenglow at Ice Lakes Basin

lunar alpenglow, moonlight, Ice Lakes Basin, Colorado, alpenglow, stars
Lunar Alpenglow : Prints Available

The rising moon casts lunar alpenglow on the peaks of Ice Lakes Basin in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado on this chilly November night.  The 30-second, high ISO exposure enhanced the light and stars beyond what our eyes could see. 

On Thursday I headed out backpacking to Ice Lakes Basin, near Silverton, Colorado. This previous week there has been a high pressure system over Colorado, with warm temps and clear skies, so I figured it would be a good time to head up into the high country for a quick overnight trip. The trail up to Ice Lakes Basin generally faces south, and I enjoyed a dry trail most of the way to the lower basin, and even after that the snow was only shin deep at most. With no snowshoes or snow-boots required it was like winter camping but easier! I found a nice little flat spot near the lake and set up my tent.

I knew the post-full moon would be rising an hour and half after sunset, so I hiked around looking for a good vantage point of the basin, set up my camera, and waited in the dark. While I was waiting I was having fun experimenting with my new camera setup – a Canon 5D2 with tilt/shift lenses. This camera has better high ISO performance than any other camera I’ve used, so it was fun to be able to take photo of the stars and the Milky Way. The moon rose on time, providing some nice lunar alpenglow on the peaks with the stars above. The photo above was a 30 second exposure at f/4 and ISO 2000, with the 24mm t/s lens.

Winter tent at night in the mountains

Here’s the obligatory illuminated tent shot! Even though I was warm and cozy inside in my -30º sleeping bag, I hardly slept a wink due to the erratic gusty winds all night. The wind must have been coming in pulses, or else it was swirling around like mad in the basin, because it would be calm and quiet, then a blast of wind would pound my tent, over and over again every 30 seconds or so for the whole night. I knew the tent was fine, but still the noise was disconcerting enough to keep up awake most of the night.

Ice Lakes Basin, sunrise, San Juan Mountains, Colorado
Icy Ice Lakes Sunrise : Prints Available

A gorgeous sunrise over snowy Ice Lakes Basin, November.

This was right before sunrise. I was stoked to see clouds in the sky after a week of bluebird days.

As for the new camera, so far so good! Everything seems to be laid out nicely, and it seems to do what I expect it to do. But most of all, the lenses I got are sweet. I’ve said it before on this blog, but I am a sucker for good lenses, and the whole reason I decided to get into the Canon system was for their new tilt/shift lenses. Being able to carefully shoot a full-frame dSLR with lens movements makes it feel much more like shooting the 4×5 field camera; I can be ultra precise with the focussing from near to far in the scene. Also, I can easily make two-frame panos by taking two exposures with the lens shifted to either side; then the two exposures can be placed together almost perfectly, with no software stitching required. The first shot above, in fact, was made with two exposures with the lens shifted vertically. Anyhow, I’m sure I’ll write more about this camera setup later on when I know it better, but for now I can say I’m happy with it and will probably be using it for a while.

Grand Gulch Loop Hike

Cedar Mesa Kiva

Over three days and two nights this last weekend I went on a ~25 mile loop hike from Cedar Mesa in southeastern Utah. I hiked down Todie Canyon, to Grand Gulch, then out Bullet Canyon. Most of the way the hike passes through dramatic canyon scenery with vertical cliffs and dramatic rock formations. But the highlights were without doubt the numerous ancient ruins and pictographs along the way.

Check out all the photos from the Grand Gulch trek on my gallery site.

Lightning Overdose at Blue Lakes

Blue Lakes and Mt. Sneffels

On Saturday I went on a quick overnight backpacking trip to Blue Lakes, under Mt. Sneffels. I’ve been to Blue Lakes before in May, with the peaks and lake smothered in snow, and I’ve been there in the summer, with the wildflower fields and lush green tundra. But I’ve never been there in September, and I was amazed at the beauty of the multicolored autumn tundra.

It was also great to get back up into the San Juans again after my last few weeks of laziness (and after my six weeks abroad before that). There’s something indescribable about these mountains that I just love so much. It’s hard to put my thumb on any one thing, it’s more just a feeling I get when I’m here. Perhaps I’ll try to explain this in some future rambling post.

Lightning in Colorado

After a fun evening of photography, I was then treated to an freakish all-night-long thunderstorm. The photo above is a stacked exposure of six shots, taken during five minutes at sunset. This same storm moved up into the mountains around my camp soon afterwards; imagine the nearly constant bolts like in this photo, but all around me in the high mountain basin! I didn’t sleep hardly a wink, but it certainly made for a memorable night!

>>See my photos and read more about the trip here.<<

Columbine Lake Overnighter

Columbine Lake Moonlight

I was fortunate to be able to squeeze in one last backpacking trip this week before I take off for Norway on Saturday. I camped up at Columbine Lake, a high alpine lake situated at 12,685 feet elevation, among the rolling tundra in the mountains between Silverton and Telluride. Though just a quick one-night trip, I had a lot of fun shooting photos and I think I came away some good ones.

I am getting really excited for my trip to Norway, but it’s still tough to leave Colorado right as it’s getting into the beautiful summer primetime here.

>>See more photos from the Columbine Lake camping trip here!

Stormy Sangres

Crestone Needle

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.

Humboldt Peak

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.

See some more photos from the South Colony Lakes trip here.

Bridge of Heaven Winter Camp

MSR Twin Sisters tent

I just got back from an overnight spring-winter camping trip on the Bridge of Heaven, a high ridgeline 2600 feet above Ouray with a killer view of the town and the surrounding San Juan Mountains.

SEE MY PHOTOS HERE.

I’ve been wanting to winter camp up there for almost two years now, but have not had a good opportunity to do it yet. With heavy snows the last two days, and a forecast of clear skies for today, I knew the timing was right to get the shot of Ouray smothered in snow. The fact that I sacrificed two surely epic snowboarding pow days to do this trip shows how much I’ve been wanting to get up there to take these photos. But of course it’s always fun to get out and live in the elements every once in a while too.

I’m Covered in Sand!

Self Portrait in the Great Sand Dunes

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.

Continue reading “I’m Covered in Sand!”

Mt. Aspiring National Park

Matukituki

Mt. Aspiring

Over the last four days I’ve been tramping in Mt. Aspiring National Park near Wanaka.  I started in the Matukituki River valley, an idyllic mountain valley with green grass, turquoise river, soaring glacier-clad mountains, and waterfalls pouring down from the sides.  The bottom of the valley is used for sheep grazing, and while I normally am not too fond of these helpless little creatures, they sure do a good job of mowing the lawn, so to speak, resulting in beautiful grassy meadows.

Continue reading “Mt. Aspiring National Park”

Aoraki / Mt. Cook West Side

Mt. Cook

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.

Continue reading “Aoraki / Mt. Cook West Side”

Luck in the Needle Mountains

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!

Continue reading “Luck in the Needle Mountains”