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!
I’ve been itching for an adventure lately, so early this morning I hiked up Mt. Sneffels in the moonlight again! I left Ouray at 1:30am (ouch!) and started hiking into Yankee Boy Basin at 2:30am. The “supermoon” – aka, the full moon at its closest orbit to Earth – was incredibly bright, and I had no troubles finding my way without headlamp. I arrived at the summit at about 5:15am, just as the first orange and blue light of dawn illuminated the eastern horizon.
Last week we spent 6 days backpacking around the famous Maroon Bells in the Elk Mountains of Colorado. The photos pretty much tell the story so I won’t say too much else except that it was another great trek in Colorado!
Last week Claudia and I went on a 5-day backpacking loop in the Uncompahgre Wilderness in the San Juan Mountains east of Ouray. Our route circumnavigated the fourteeners Wetterhorn and Uncompahgre Peaks and took us through a paradise of expansive green tundra, wildflowers, and peaks.
I spent four days this week hiking around in the Elk Mountains, where I photographed the rugged and mighty Capitol Peak for three sunsets in a row, from various vantage points. Read more and see LOTS of photos here!
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.
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!
On Sunday I hiked into Wetterhorn Basin, in the Uncompahgre Wilderness east of Ridgway, Colorado. With all the stormy monsoon weather and fantastic sunsets we’ve been having in the San Juans lately, I had hopes of catching another great sunset in the mountains. I arrived in Wetterhorn Basin just in time to hunker down in the forest as the lightning and thunder rolled through. After an hour or so the storm cleared just as the sun began to dip into a gap on the horizon, lighting up the mountains with spectacular alpenglow!
That night I woke up at 1:40am, and under the full moonlight I climbed up Wetterhorn Peak, the rugged 14,015 ft. mountain that dominates the scene. I’d climbed up the peak once before four years ago, so I kind of remembered how to climb the scrambly exposed route to the summit in the dark. I relaxed up there by myself for four hours, enjoying the sunrise, soaking up the views, and looking at all the other places I’ve hiked around there and would like to hike in the future.
After downclimbing the peak later that morning and strolling back to my campsite, I relaxed for the rest of the day, waiting for the afternoon storm which never seemed to materialize. That night, however, the sky finally unleashed and dumped rain for hours, with lightning and cracking thunder trying to keep me awake. But I was pretty exhausted after my hike that morning, so I managed to sleep like a baby through the storm. The next morning I had a leisurely hike out amongst the wildflowers, wrapping up another nice trip in the wilderness.
POSTSCRIPT: When I was on the summit of Wetterhorn, in the early dawn darkness, I could see another headlamp on the high ridgeline to the north. I just KNEW that it must be Jody Grigg, a fellow Colorado photographer, because A) I had seen his name on the trailhead register, B) only a photographer would be on that remote ridgeline for the sunrise, and C) Jody’s one of the few photographers I know who would actually make it up there! Sure enough, a few days after this trip, I got this photo from Jody in my email: