After six months of working and dreaming, it’s finally time to shut down the computer and hit the road! Where we’re going, I do not know. With much of the western US up in smoke, so are my original backpacking plans and most of my other ideas. All I know is that I need to unplug, to get away, to completely obliterate my daily routine. This will surely involve some long backpacking treks in some mountains someplace. Someplace that’s not on fire or smothered with smoke or dried to a crisp. Somewhere blue.
Taken last night at about 1:30am. So, today I posted this photo on Google+, and another photographer pointed out something cool that I totally missed – that there is actually a faint aurora visible in the image! Apparently there have been a couple strong solar wind streams the last few days, causing auroras at lower-than-usual latitudes. The high-ISO exposure here reveals an aurora that was undetectable to the naked eye, but noticeable in the photo as faint green bands of color in the sky above the cliffs. Certainly not a polar-worthy display, but pretty cool nonetheless!
With clear blue skies and dry weather, we spent the weekend car camping and peak bagging in and around the West Fork of the Cimarrons, on the northern end of the San Juan Mountains in southwest Colorado. Towering over the West Fork valley are a number of rugged mountains, including the thirteeners Redcliff and Precipice Peak. I’ve passed these two peaks many times during backpacking treks in the Uncompahgre Wilderness and always wondered what it would be like to hike up them. This weekend would be a good opportunity to find out!
Here’s a snapshot pano from an utterly relaxing hike on a gorgeous June Sunday on my favorite trail of all around here – the Bridge of Heaven, high above Ouray, Colorado, with the Sneffels Range in the background.
While I’m in the snapshot posting mood, here’s another one from a couple weeks ago, atop Twin Peaks, a rocky pinnacle on the opposite side of the Ouray valley from the first photo above. I gaze at the rocky pinnacle of Twin Peaks from my office window every day, often wishing I was up there looking down rather than down here looking up!
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!
Jake and I went back up to Yankee Boy Basin here in the San Juans this morning. The 1-inch of fresh snow from a day ago has softened into a perfectly buttery topping on the smooth spring corn snow, and we savored some sweet high speed carves on the descent.
I’ve never seen so little snow in YBB for this time of year. All the south faces are basically dry and unskiable. Nevertheless, the north facing slopes are still holding snow and it’s clean and smooth… for now!
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.
On Saturday I tried snowkiting for the first time! Notice I said “tried”. I more or less got my ass handed to me! My friends were ripping it up though… I can see how this sport could get addicting. I can’t say I got the hang of it yet, but I was on the verge of the cusp of starting to ride a little bit with the little trainer kite. Then I tried the 9 meter kite and almost got blown to the Front Range. I need a massage. And more practice.