The lazy melancholy atmosphere of autumn has arrived in the high country… the tundra is golden brown, the air has a crisp edge, and the marmots have either burrowed into their holes or retreated to lower elevations. Yesterday we went out for a quick overnighter at Columbine Lake, in the San Juans of Colorado, to savor some time up high before the winter snows cover the tundra for another nine months.
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!
Earlier this week Claudia and I backpacked for 5 days in the mountains west of Silverton, Colorado, following an improvised route that took us through numerous high alpine basins filled with endless fields of wildflowers. With a weather forecast calling for lots of rain, we almost decided against this trip – but then I considered that bad weather usually equals good photos, so at the last minute we decided to go for it anyways. Although we did have our fair share of rain, we also witnessed some of the most spectacular scenes of the summer so far!
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.
The Great Sand Dunes in southern Colorado are perhaps the most unique landscape in the Rockies, with 700-foot tall sand dunes nestled at the foot of 13,000-foot mountains. Winds that blow across the vast San Luis Valley carry sand grains which become trapped by the towering Sangre de Cristo Mountains, and the streams that flow out of the mountains keep the sand in one place, resulting in the tallest dunes of North America.
Last week we spent 3 days trekking around and through the Great Sand Dunes. Similar to a trek I did back in March 2009, in which I circumnavigated the entire dunefield, we hiked up the Sand Ramp Trail along the east side of the dunes, then this time instead of circling around the entire dunes we cut directly through the dunes from north to south back to our starting point.