Clearing Storm

Clearing storm over the San Juan Mountains, Colorado
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Here’s yet another 4×5 photo from the archives, unearthed from the depths of a backup harddrive where it’s been collecting dust for 4 years. This was taken back in September 2006, during a backpacking trip in the San Juans with fellow photographers Momo Vuyisich and his friend Csaba. (See more photos from the trip here). We had arrived at the high elevation Columbine Lake in the afternoon in the midst of a rain/sleet/snow storm and sat around in our tents for a while. When we noticed that the storm was clearing we quickly hiked to a high ridgeline above the lake and beheld this amazing view of the storm clouds clearing off the peaks! This was the first shot I took, with a wide angle lens. Since the clouds were lifting so fast, I quickly switched to a longer lens, refocussed, and shot a second, tighter shot that has been a favorite ever since. This one here has more of the clouds, though, and looks really cool especially at full resolution.

I’ll never forget witnessing and photographing this fleeting spectacle from such a lofty vantage point. Nor will I forget Momo’s enthusiasm… he kept shouting “Woooohooooo!!!!! Woooohooooo!!!!!” Good times…

By the way, this orange mountain here is one of my all time favorite mountains on Earth… because of the amazing snowboarding lines it offers in the winter! I’ve ridden countless different lines on many different sides of it over the years. See, and read on below…

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One From Ridgway

Rainbow sunset in Ridgway, Colorado

A sunset snapshot from my friends’ backyard in Ridgway, Colorado this evening. The clouds and rain (and associated weather cinema) came back yesterday and today after several weeks of bluebird sunny skies. Unfortunately* the forecast is calling for a return of more sunny weather for the next few weeks.

*Unfortunate for photography; fortunate for hiking/hunting/any-other-outdoor-activity.

Redcloud and Sunshine

Redcloud Peak, Colorado

On Tuesday my buddy Chris and my friends’ dog Lily and I hiked two fourteeners in the San Juans – Redcloud and Sunshine Peaks. Nothing too spectacular about these mountains, just a long stroll up two massive San Juan rock piles. One cool thing, actually, about Redcloud Peak is its colorful bands of red, orange, and yellow rocks. I spent quite a bit of time up there taking abstract photos of these colors; perhaps I’ll post a small collection of these another time. But for now, here’s a few photos from the hike. The one above is Redcloud Peak, as seen from its neighbor Sunshine.

More photos below!

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Gusty Ouray

Ouray, flowers, and clouds

Here’s a photo I made this evening on a hike above Ouray, Colorado. I tried to use the gusty wind to my advantage by taking long exposures showing the movement of the wildflowers and clouds.

This photo deserves a bit of explanation on how I created it. It’s mainly a stitch of two vertical photos, taken one after the other using a tilt/shift 17mm lens – one with the lens shifted all the way up, and one shifted all the way down. When making panoramas with a tilt/shift lens, the camera does not move at all; only the lens is moving up and down. The beauty of this is that the two photos fit together seamlessly, requiring no stitching software or cropping. Anyhow, since the 17mm is already a really wide angle lens, this double-shot vertical panorama is showing a huge angle of view here, from the little flowers right up close to the lens, to the dark clouds almost overhead.

I also used a little photoshop trickery in the flower portion of the image. I had taken numerous 30-second exposures, and in each one (depending on the wind during the exposure) the flowers ranged from totally blurry, to somewhat sharp with a little bit of blur. The fairly sharp one still had too much blur to use on its own, while the totally blurry one was probably too abstract, just streaks of yellow lacking any context of flowers. So I stacked up three of those flower exposures in photoshop, and turned the upper two layers to “lighten” blend mode, meaning that only the parts of the layers that are brighter show up. The result is this composite of three flower exposures, showing a combination of some sharpness and some blurriness (ok, mostly blurriness). Of course our eyes don’t see like this naturally (at least when we’re sober), but the effect adds a bit of visual interest to the photo by showing the windblown chaos. What do you think… dig it or ditch it?

And, in an unrelated side note – last night it snowed a little bit on the high peaks around here! Yes, the air is getting cooler and Fall feels like it’s right around the corner!

Highline Trail

Yesterday evening we hiked the Highline Trail, out of Telluride, Colorado. After having a late lunch and farting around in Telluride for a while, we started hiking at 4pm. I knew we would watch the sunset somewhere along the way and be hiking a bit in the dark, but what I didn’t realize is that the trail is 13 miles long, and 3,600 feet elevation gain! So, we got back to the truck with weary legs at 10:30pm. Maybe I’m getting old (I hate it when people say that, but I just did), but my legs/knees just can’t take that much hiking in one day anymore. I’m totally worked this morning. Anyhow, here are a couple photos from the sunset:

Alpenglow above Telluride, Colorado

Alpenglow on the peaks above the town of Telluride (which is not visible, but is down in that valley below those big peaks).

sunset and aspens

Sunset behind aspens. Wilson Peak and the San Miguel Range are in the background. You can also see Mountain Village at the left.

Summer of Light

Sunset over Ouray, Colorado

Sunset over Ouray, Colorado

This summer has been notably excellent for the quantity and quality of sunsets and sunrises here in the San Juans in southwest Colorado. It seems that almost every night or every other night there’s an incredible sunset. I don’t often wake up early enough for sunrises, except for when I’m camping, but then too I have seen a number of great sunrises.

I’ve had summers here when I’ve thought that there haven’t been many good sunsets/sunrises, but I always thought that I’ve just missed them – that my own timing was off. Only this summer have I realized that the “light” season can be much like a snow season – some are simply better than others. And some, like this summer, are outstanding!

The reason has been the predominately stormy/cloudy/rainy weather we’ve had here the last few months, but there always seems to be gap of clear sky at the horizon which the sun beams through, lighting up those clouds at the last (or first) moments of the day. As far as I can tell, this means that the stormy weather has been mainly located on and around the mountains themselves, while the western plateaus and deserts have stayed clear.

I have managed to capture a number of these fantastic sunsets and sunrise with my camera while hiking and backpacking, but I must admit that many or most of these light shows have just been admired without camera, at friends’ houses or just running outside of my own house in Ouray when I notice the funky light. The two photos above, in fact, were taken from the street right in front of my house on Monday evening. It was raining like crazy most of the day, and even during the sunset, but still somehow the sun snuck through at the last few minutes.

I’m not sure that these light shows will continue, however, with a forecast of clear, sunny skies for the foreseeable future.

Sunset Atop Sneffels

Panorama from Sneffels Summit

On Sunday we hiked/climbed up the fun southwest ridge of Mt. Sneffels to watch the sunset from the summit. The clouds that afternoon were slowly building up in the blue sky, but they weren’t moving much or doing much so I figured we could go for it without getting thundered out. Sure enough, they started dissipating right before sunset, leaving just enough to catch the warm sunset light. Anyhow, check out the photos here!

7 Day Needle/Grenadier Trek

This last week we went on a 7-day backpacking trek through the Needle Mountains and Grenadier Range, the most rugged portions of the San Juan Mountains in southwest Colorado. Here are some snapshots from the trip. See my gallery of photos from the trip here.

hiking in the Needle Mountains, Colorado

The route we took passes through four rugged valleys and over three high passes. This is a strenuous wilderness route, seldom travelled, with slight unmarked trails for only about half the way. The rest of the way requires good map reading, terrain intuition, some bushwhacking, and lots of trial and error. This is the third time I’ve done a long high route in the Needle Mountains, and every time I get a bit lost at some point(s)!

photographing Knife Point

Here I am with the camera.

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