Blue Lakes Hut

aspen, moonlight, Sneffels Range, San Juan Mountains, Colorado, December
Winter's Breath : Prints Available

On Wednesday Claudia and I skied along snow-covered County Road 7 to the Blue Lakes Hut, one of five huts in the San Juan Huts system here in southwest Colorado. These small but cozy huts provide great winter base camps for exploring the remote northern side of the Sneffels Range.

sunrise at the Blue Lakes Hut
December sunrise at the Blue Lakes Hut, as seen from the outhouse.

The Blue Lakes Hut is situated in small meadow a short distance from the summer Blue Lakes trailhead. From the hut you have a foreshortened view of the summit of Mt. Sneffels (14,150 ft). There are south facing windows that let a good amount of light in, and a wood stove that cranks so hot that we had to open the windows at night!

skiing in front of Mt. Sneffels
Skinning with a great view of Mt. Sneffels.

We had hoped for some decent tree skiing on the slopes above the hut, but unfortunately all we found was impenetrable forest and flat meadows. After two hours of breaking trail through the powder on switchbacking old forest roads with no skiable terrain in sight, we pulled the plug and basically skied back down our skin track with the occasional bushwhack mixed in. A bit frustrating, but once we were back in the hut a hot cup of gluhwein made everything ok! I think there are some worthy ski descents in the area up in the higher peaks, but they are far from the hut and would require a full day tour and stable avalanche conditions.

Mount of the Holy Cross

Mount of the Holy Cross, Sawatch Range, Colorado, Notch Mountain, October
Stormy Holy Cross : Prints Available

Mount of the Holy Cross, 14,005 feet, as seen from Notch Mountain – Holy Cross Wilderness, October 2003.

I just dug up this photo from deep in my archives while searching for a photo request of this mountain. I took this shot way back in October 2003, just over ten years ago! Back then I was in the early stages of being serious about photography. So much has happened in my life and my photography in the decade since then… It almost seems like it should have been 20 years ago, not just ten! It’s so amazing how much life you can fit into ten years. And it makes me wonder what’s in store for the next ten years…

Anyhow, Notch Mountain, in the Sawatch Range just south of Vail, Colorado, has a perfect front-and-center view of Mount of the Holy Cross and its east facing cross couloir, made famous in 1873 by legendary wilderness photographer William H. Jackson. In the early 20th century, the mountain became a destination of Christian pilgrimages, and a rock hut was built on Notch Mountain (very close to where this photo was taken) for shelter during Sunday mass at 13,000 feet. The hut is still there, and back in October ’03 my friend Todd and I backpacked up there and used it for shelter ourselves. This was a memorable trip, so I thought I’d write up a trip report, ten years later. Continue reading “Mount of the Holy Cross”

Winter Camping at Blue Lakes

Sneffels, San Juan Mountains, Colorado, winter, camp, tent, snowy

Hungry for an adventure, on Tuesday I hiked up to Blue Lakes in the Sneffels Range to camp out in the snow. Late autumn can be a good time for winter camping – kind of like “diet” winter camping since there’s less snow to deal with and usually less avalanche danger (*depending, of course). Also, road access to most trailheads is still possible, and if you time it right the alpine lakes aren’t frozen yet which can offer some nice photo opportunities.

The weather forecast called for a brief but intense snowstorm, with little or no wind! Perfect time to head out into the mountains. Sure enough, in the late afternoon just as I was setting up the tent the storm clouds rolled into the mountains and it started snowing in earnest. I fell asleep to the sound of snowflakes falling on the tent, cozy in my puffy down cocoon. In the middle of the night, around 2:30am, I woke up and saw moonlight shining on the tent. I poked my head out and saw a dreamlike scene as the storm clouds were lifting off the peaks and the fresh snow glistened in the moonlight. Of course I jumped out of the tent as fast as I could to photograph the moment!

Blue Lakes, Sneffels, San Juan Mountains, Colorado, winter, camp, tent, snow, moonlight
Blue Lakes Winter Moonlight : Prints Available

Winter camp in the snow above lower Blue Lake – October.

Though the clouds still covered the peaks in the morning, eventually they gave way to crystal clear blue skies.

Continue reading “Winter Camping at Blue Lakes”

Tough Luck in the Pyrenees

Lescun, France, Pyrenees, sunrise, town
Sunrise Over Lescun : Prints Available

Sunrise over the town of Lescun.

On the first day of September Claudia and I started walking into the Pyrenees, the great mountain range that forms a natural border between France and Spain. Our plan was to trek along the Pyrenean Haute Route as far eastward through the range as we could in the next three weeks, staying in mountain huts and occasional small towns along the way. Unfortunately, due to a sudden stroke of bad luck our trip came to an abrupt end on the sixth day; I’ll explain more below. Continue reading “Tough Luck in the Pyrenees”

Zugspitze

Zugspitze, Wetterstein, Germany, klettersteig
Approaching the summit of Zugspitze via the Höllantal klettersteig climbing route, nearly 2,200m (7,200 ft) vertical above our start in the valley below.

At 2962m (9717 ft), Zugspitze is the tallest mountain in Germany. The white limestone massif of Wetterstein (of which Zugspitze is the summit) rockets out of the green hills below, towering above all surrounding peaks and dominating the landscape in this part of southern Bavaria near the towns of Garmish and Erwald. The mountain is reminiscent of the Dolomites in the way that its sheer walls soar vertically over the landscape, though the Wetterstein is perhaps even taller and larger than many of the Dolomite groups.

A month ago when Claudia and I summited Muttekopf peak in the nearby Lechtal Alps, we saw the impressive Wetterstein massif off in the distance and I immediately thought “What is that??!!”, followed soon after by the next thought “I want to go there!” We did, in fact, spend a few days then in the town of Ehrwald under the Zugspitze, but poor weather shut down any chance of climbing the mountain. So, last week we returned to the area and climbed to the summit via a fantastic klettersteig (cabled, aka via ferrata) route, and we even spent a night on the summit to catch a wonderful sunset over the clouds! Continue reading “Zugspitze”

Ferrata Trek in the Rosengarten

Dolomites, Italy, Rosengarten, via ferrata, Laurenzi, Molignon
Climbing along the ridgeline of Molignon during the Via Ferrata Laurenzi.

The Rosengarten is a group of mountains in the Dolomites with a dense cluster of exceptionally jagged peaks. 10 years ago I did two hikes through this range, and since then I’ve longed to return for some better photography and more challenging via ferrata climbing. Last week Claudia and I did just that, spending four days trekking, climbing, and photographing our way through the mountains. See lots more photos below! Continue reading “Ferrata Trek in the Rosengarten”

Lechtal Alps

Lechtal Alps, Austria, hiking, Gutelsee
Hiking above Gutelsee in the Lechtal Alps, Austria.

Our latest adventure in the Alps was an 8-day trek through the Lechtal Alps in Austria, the neighboring range just south of the Allgäuer Alps of our previous trek. In fact on many days of our trek we could look across the valley and see the peaks and ridges which we had just hiked and climbed over the previous week.

The Lechtal Alps are characterized by mountain ridges soaring steeply out of deeply cut valleys, topped with green basins ringed by countless jagged peaks. While the Allgäuer Alps seemed to offer mostly broad sweeping vistas, the Lechtal Alps have more immediate views of towering pyramidal peaks right in your face. The close and rugged peaks, combined with the clear air after some rains cleaned the haze away, made for some stunning photography! Continue reading “Lechtal Alps”

Wetterhorn Peak

Wetterhorn Peak, San Juan Mountains, Colorado

Unlike other mountain ranges in Colorado, the San Juans have a volcanic history. Around 35 million years ago this region was home to several dozen stratovolcanoes, similar to those in the present day Pacific Northwest. Then, starting about 30 million years ago the volcanism here was characterized more by massive circular calderas. Many of the mountains in the San Juans owe their uniquely rugged shapes to the eroded volcanic ash (tuft) that was deposited by all of this volcanism.

In the Uncompahgre Wilderness, with its craggy peaks rising out of vast tundra-filled basins, one can visualize this volcanic history more than in any other part of the range. While the specific geology is certainly more complicated, it’s easy to imagine Wetterhorn Peak and Uncompahgre Peak as the eroded lava plugs from ancient volcanoes.

Wetterhorn Peak, San Juan Mountains, Colorado, climbing

14,015 foot tall Wetterhorn Peak feels kind of like a volcano when you’re hiking up it – it towers over the surrounding landscape. Here Claudia ponders geology during the spicy exposed scrambling section towards the summit. Continue reading “Wetterhorn Peak”

Whitehouse Mountain

wildflowers, spreading globeflower, San Juan Mountains, Colorado, June
Globeflowers : Prints Available

On Friday Claudia and I went backpacking to a lesser-known basin in the Sneffels Range.

wildflowers, spreading globeflower, San Juan Mountains, Colorado, June
Globeflowers #2 : Prints Available

Summer is in full swing in the mountains! Except for a few lingering patches, most of the snow is gone and the tundra has come alive with its vibrant green grasses and early summer wildflowers like these Spreading Globeflowers (I think that’s what they are called).

Potosi Peak, San Juan Mountains, Colorado, June, sunrise
Potosi Peak Sunrise : Prints Available

Sunrise light on Potosi Peak (13,786 ft.) – June.

We woke up at 3:30am to hike up to a high saddle from where I shot the sunrise light on Potosi Peak, one of the giants of the range. (For reference on how little snow we have this year, check out the photos from skiing/snowboarding down Potosi’s north couloir in June a couple years ago).

Potosi Peak, Whitehouse Mountain, San Juan Mountains, Colorado, June, hiking
Hiking on Whitehouse Mountain with a view of Potosi Peak (13,786 ft.) – June.

Our goal for Saturday was to hike up Whitehouse Mountain, a seldom-climbed mountain on the northern end of the Sneffels Range. Continue reading “Whitehouse Mountain”

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