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!
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!
After a wet rainy week stuck inside the house, by Thursday I’d had enough and decided to get out and hike up Handies Peak, a fourteener here in the San Juans which I haven’t hiked before. Despite the cold wind and nasty looking clouds, I continued up the peak, encouraged by the occasional glimpse of blue sky. Sure enough, as I approached the summit the clouds started clearing off a bit, so I sat up there for a few hours bundled up in my down clothes and waited for sunset – which never really did much, but anyways it wasn’t a bad place to hang out for a while!
On a side note, earlier this summer in July, Adam Campbell, a runner in the infamous Hardrock 100 endurance race, was nearly struck by lightning high on Handies. He and his pacer were both knocked off their feet, but otherwise uninjured, and he continued on to finish third place!
With our San Juans still covered in quite a bit of snow up high, earlier this week we drove east for 3 nights of backpacking in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains where the snow is mostly gone and summer backpacking season is well underway.
We camped the first night up near treeline below Mt. Lindsey, a fourteener I have not yet climbed. Feeling motivated, I set my alarm for 3:00am in order to hike up to the 13,400 foot summit of the “Iron Nipple” (seriously) for sunrise. This rugged peak offered a great vantage point to watch the sunrise light on Blanca Peak, the monarch of this mountain range.
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”→
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.
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”→
On Saturday we ventured into the Sneffels Range for a quick overnighter backpack trip. Summer is in gear, and the aspens have their freshly sprung brilliant green color. We were surprised at how much snow has already melted away up high, and how green the tundra has already become! Though we brought crampons and gaiters with us, we never even needed to use them.
Taking advantage of a clear weather forecast, we camped all the way up at 12,900 feet on a high sub-peak of Sneffels. It’s a rare treat in Colorado to be able to camp up high like this without fear of thunderstorms! We brought the winter tent in case it was windy, and hauled up extra water in a dromedary bag.
Of course, the main reason I wanted to camp up so high was for the killer view of Mt. Sneffels! I’ve shot sunset from this high point once before, five years back, but I was excited to come back and actually spend a night up here.
This last weekend we went on a little road trip to the Great Sand Dunes, followed by a couple nights of camping and hiking in the Sangre de Cristos. We arrived at the dunes in the afternoon on Friday and started the hike into the dunes under a sky full of wild ominous clouds, along with sandblasting winds.
With the heavy clouds above and a clear horizon to the west, I knew that we were in store for a special sunset. I was not disappointed! We found a high west facing dune with a nice vista over the ocean of sand, and waited in the wind until the sun dipped below the clouds and illuminated the scene with intense sunset light. Pretty freaking amazing…
After sunset the clouds cleared and the wind calmed down enough for us to stroll around under the moonlight and enjoy our bottle of wine! Not the best night of sleep, though, with sand blowing in our sleeping bags for most of the night. But it’s hard to beat waking up in the middle of the dunes on a glorious bluebird morning!
Hiking out in the morning. I was excited to show Claudia the Great Sand Dunes, one of my favorite places on the planet. She was impressed, and is already looking forward to our next visit.
On Sunday, Claudia and I hiked up a mountain here in the San Juans to get a view of the solar eclipse! This eclipse was particularly exciting for us photographers in the western US because it occurred right around sunset time. After some research with Stephen Trainor’s indispensable sunrise/sunset tool, The Photographer’s Ephemeris, I decided to hike up Hayden Mountain near Ouray in order to hopefully get a shot of the eclipse over Mt. Sneffels and Potosi Peak, two of the biggest and most rugged mountains in the San Juans. 3600 feet and several hours later, we were atop Hayden North at 13,139 feet just in time to eat our sandwich and wait a few minutes for the eclipse to begin.
While I was shooting the eclipse with my 70-200mm lens, I was surprised and thrilled to see that the eclipse was clearly visible as colored refractions in the lens flare! Normally I go to great pains to minimize or eliminate all lens flare, but this time I quickly experimented with different focal lengths, angles, apertures, and shutter speeds in order to fully maximize the lens flare and the eclipse refractions.
I’m stoked to have lucked out with clear weather to witness this rare astrological event in my favorite mountains!