Smoky Sunrise on Mount Wilson

Colorado, Gladstone Peak, Lizard Head Wilderness, Mount Wilson, San Juan Mountains, Wilson Peak, wildfire, smoke, smoky, sunrise
Smoky San Juan Sunrise : Prints Available

A smoky sunrise as seen from the summit of Mount Wilson (14,246 ft) in the San Juan Mountains, Colorado. Wilson Peak is on the left, Gladstone Peak near the center, and the Sneffels Range barely visible through the smoke in the distance.

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!

This NOAA satellite image from Monday 7/30/18 shows the Bull Draw wildfire smoke blowing south into the San Juans in southwest Colorado (just above and to the right of the Four Corners). Notice numerous other wildfires above in Colorado and Utah.

Grenadier Loop

Colorado, Grenadier Range, San Juan Mountains, Trinity Peaks, Weminuche Wilderness, panorama
Trinity Peak Sunrise : Prints Available

Sunrise as seen from the summit of West Trinity Peak in the Grenadier Range, San Juan Mountains, Colorado.

In late July we went on a 6-day backpack trek in and around the rugged Grenadier Range in the Weminuche Wilderness of the central San Juan Mountains of Colorado. Along the way we scrambled up several 13ers, hiked over numerous high passes, and visited some gorgeous remote alpine lakes. Continue reading >>

Wetterhorn Moonrise

Colorado, San Juan Mountains, Uncompahgre Wilderness, Wetterhorn Peak, moon, 14er
Wetterhorn Sunset Moonrise : Prints Available

Full moon rises behind Wetterhorn Peak, a 14er in the Uncompahgre Wilderness, Colorado.

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!

Colorado, San Juan Mountains, Uncompahgre Wilderness, Wetterhorn Peak, moon, 14er
Moon on Wetterhorn : Prints Available

Full moon behind the 14015 ft / 4272 m summit of Wetterhorn Peak.

2 Months of Backpacking and Camping in Colorado

For all of August and September 2017, my wife and I lived out of our truck and tent while traveling around and backpacking in our great state of Colorado. We did over a dozen backpacking trips in various mountain ranges throughout the state, including the Flat Tops, Gore Range, Sawatch Range, San Juans, Sangre de Cristos, and Indian Peaks. I’ve posted my various photo journals from each trek on the Trip Reports page of my gallery site; here links to all those journals, in chronological order.

You can also see a gallery of all my favorite photos from the 2 months here!

Colorado, Flat Tops, columbine, wildflowers
Flat Tops Wilderness – July

In late July we did a quick one-nighter backpack trip in the Flat Tops Wilderness of Colorado, from Trappers Lake up towards Trappers Peak. We camped near one of hundreds of lakes that dot the high alpine plateau and enjoyed a sunset at the top of Trappers Peak.

» See the photos here «

Colorado, Gore Range, Peak C, Eagles Nest Wilderness
Mount Powell, Gore Range – August

In early August we backpacked into the rugged north end of the Gore Range and Eagles Nest Wilderness for three nights. We hiked the Upper Piney River Trail for while, branched off on a faint boot trail then camped the first night in the high basin below Mount Powell and Kneeknocker Pass. On day two we crossed over the pass and hiked to the summit of Mount Powell, the highest peak in the Gore Range. I’ve wanted to hike Mount Powell for about 20 years but never got around to it, so it was quite satisfying to finally stand on the summit! After some rough off trail routefinding we spent the next two nights at a remote alpine lake before hiking all the way back out the way we came.

» See the photos here «

Colorado, Gore Range, Willow Lakes, Eagles Nest Wilderness, reflection, Zodiac Ridge, sunrise
Willow Lakes, Gore Range – August

After our backpack trip in the northern Gore Range, we drove over to the east side and backpacked into the Eagles Nest Wilderness again, this time to Willow Lakes. I’d backpacked here 12 years ago and I was excited to show Claudia this place and hopefully to photographic some nice light too! We spent a couple nights up there, generally relaxing and exploring this beautiful basin. I was fortunate to photograph some of the best sunrise light of the summer here!

» See the photos here «

Colorado, Holy Cross Wilderness, Sawatch Range, reflection
Exploring the Holy Cross Wilderness, Sawatch Range – August

In early August we set out into the Holy Cross Wilderness (in the Sawatch Range of Colorado generally between Vail and Leadville) for a 3-night backpack trek. We spent our first night at the super popular Missouri Lakes then explored an off trail route over a high ridgeline to a remote and pristine lake where we spent the second day and night. We spent our third night near Blodgett Lake before hiking back via Fancy Pass and Holy Cross City, completing an irregular loop through this beautiful wilderness area.

» See the photos here «

Collegiate Peaks Wilderness, Colorado, Ice Mountain, Lake Ann, Sawatch Range, The Three Apostles
Hanging Around Huron Peak, Sawatch Range – August

In mid-August we backpacked around the headwaters of the South Fork Clear Creek near Huron Peak in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness and Sawatch Range of Colorado. The last time I hiked in this area was back in 2008, but this time we hiked the long way in here from the south from Taylor Park and Texas Creek, via the Continental Divide Trail and a high pass above Lake Ann. Though we spent three days out here, most of my photos below were from one fantastic evening watching sunset atop an unnamed peak above Lake Ann.

» See the photos here «

Colorado, San Juan Mountains, Sunshine Peak, 14er
Tour Through the San Juans – August

After spending my birthday with some friends in Ouray, we drove up some of the jeep roads above Red Mountain Pass and car camped a few nights up there. We drove rough high elevation old mining roads eastward through the San Juans over Corkscrew Pass, Hurricane Pass, California Pass, and Cinnamon Pass, then did a one night backpack trip into Cataract Gulch near the 14er Sunshine Peak.

» See the photos here «

Colorado, Ellingwood Point, Sangre de Cristos, South Zapata Lake, reflection, 14er, Sangre de Cristo Wilderness
South Zapata Lake, Sangre de Cristo Range – August

A quick one-night backpacking trip to South Zapata Lake on the west side of the Sangre de Cristo Range

» See the photos here «

Colorado, Great Sand Dunes, wildflowers, sunflowers, sunset
Sunflowers in the Great Sand Dunes – August

While hiking to South Zapata Lake the day before, we got a good view of the Great Sand Dunes, and I could see vast fields of sunflowers all around and in the dunes. I took a mental note of where the largest sunflower fields were and the next day we hiked into the dunes towards these areas. Though we intended to camp in the dunes for the night, enormous thunderclouds rolled in and scared us out of there! Fortunately I was able to photograph the sunflowers without getting struck by lightning!

» See the photos here «

Broken Hand Peak, Colorado, Crestone Needle, Sangre de Cristos, 14er, sunrise, Sangre de Cristo Wilderness
South Colony Lakes, Sangre de Cristo Range – September

In late August/early September, we spent five days camped at South Colony Lakes in the Sangre de Cristo range in Colorado. Surrounded by three 14ers, including the rugged Crestone Needle towering directly overhead, this basin is supremely awesome — one of the classic gems of Colorado. During our stay here we summited Crestone Needle and Humboldt Peak, along with lots of chilling out around the lake in between.

» See the photos here «

Colorado, Mount Elbert, Mount Massive Wilderness, North Halfmoon Lakes, Sawatch Range, 14er
Below Mount Massive, Sawatch Range – September

In early September we spent a night up at North Halfmoon Lakes below Mount Massive. Though our plans to hike the peak were thwarted by high winds and hazy skies from the wildfires in the northwestern US, we still enjoyed an evening and morning at the lake.

» See the photos here «

Colorado, Gore Lake, Gore Range, Eagles Nest Wilderness
Gore Lake, Gore Range – September

In mid September we returned to the Gore Range again, this time spending a night at the beautiful Gore Lake towards the south end of the range.

» See the photos here «

Colorado, Indian Peaks, sunset, reflection
Indian Peaks Wilderness – September

From the Gore Range we drove further north to Indian Peaks, were we backpacked to a remote and beautiful basin where we spent two nights. Indian Peaks was where I did most of my first backpacking trips back in my college days at CU Boulder, and I quickly became a backpacking fanatic after that! It’s been over a decade since I’ve returned, and it felt like seeing an old friend again.

» See the photos here «

Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park, elk, Moraine Park
Camping in Rocky Mountain National Park – September

After our backpacking trip in Indian Peaks it was about time for a rest, so we spent a few nights camping at the Moraine Park campground in Rocky Mountain National Park. I must say it was quite magical to fall asleep each night listening to the elk bugling in the big meadow below us during their autumn rut.

» See the photos here «

Colorado, Indian Peaks, Lone Eagle Peak, Indian Peaks Wilderness
Lone Eagle Peak, Indian Peaks – September

In late September with a forecast for a quick but powerful autumn snowstorm, we returned to Indian Peaks to one of my favorite spots – Mirror Lake and its incredible view of Lone Eagle Peak. After spending the night in an intense blizzard we awoke to bluebird skies and a glorious snow-smothered scene. This was our final backpacking trip of our two months on the road in Colorado, and it was fitting that my favorite photo of the whole trip came that morning!

» See the photos here «

Green River, Utah
Escape to the Desert, Green River, Utah – September

After some our snowy backpacking trip in Indian Peaks, Claudia had had enough of the cold, so we escaped to the desert of Utah for dry land and warmer weather. We spent a couple nights relaxing and hiking at one of our favorite spots on a remote plateau high above the Green River, then spent a night at Swaseys Beach just north of the town of Green River. This was a relaxing end to our two months on the road!

» See the photos here «

Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Cedar Point, moonlight, Gunnison River
Black Canyon – September

On the way back home from Utah we spent one last night camping at the South Rim of the Black Canyon. The next day we drove back to Crested Butte and started moving back into our condo, and our big summer trip was official over.

From the Vault: Weminuche Dreams

If you follow this blog, you might have noticed that I haven’t posted any new photos in over two months! Recently I have started getting emails from people wondering if I’m alright, or if I’ve given up on my website or photography in general. Well, let me assure you I’m still alive and kicking. The thing is, back at the end of December when I was longboarding a ditch in Albuquerque, I slipped on a slick spot where someone had poured paint and I badly sprained my wrist. I didn’t think much of it at the time and even did another run, but later on I realized something was seriously messed up. X-rays, an MRI, numerous doctor and therapy visits, three months, and thousands of dollars later, my wrist is still messed up but slowly healing. It wasn’t broken but it was pretty much as badly sprained as can be without needing surgery. Unfortunately it killed any prospect for backcountry adventures this winter/spring since I can’t hold a pole, rip skins, or use a shovel if I had to. Fortunately I’ve still been able to snowboard at the ski area, which has kept me sane enough. But since pretty much all my winter photography is done while hiking or splitboarding, I haven’t had hardly any new photos to share all winter. So… bummer.

On a brighter note, I have lots of adventures in store for the summer! We will be homeless again all summer and will spend five weeks in Germany and Austria, followed by two months of backpacking around in Colorado, which I’m super excited about since we’ve been elsewhere for the last two summers. I still love Colorado the best! With that in mind, here are some new old photos I dug out of my archives from a solo trek I did through the Needle Mountains in the Weminuche Wilderness back in 2008. Yes, I am dreaming about summer and long to get back into the wilds of the Weminuche, my happy place!

Colorado, Needle Mountains, San Juan Mountains, Weminuche Wilderness, mountain goat
Sunlight Goat : Prints Available

Mountain goat in the Weminuche Wilderness.

Colorado, Needle Mountains, San Juan Mountains, Weminuche Wilderness,, 14er
Weminuche Sunset 2 : Prints Available

A colorful cotton candy Colorado sunset above Windom and Sunlight Peaks, two 14ers deep in the Weminuche Wilderness.

Colorado, Needle Mountains, San Juan Mountains, Weminuche Wilderness, 14er
Windom Peak Vista : Prints Available

Looking north at the Needle Mountains and Grenadier Range from the summit of Windom Peak, 14,083 feet.

Colorado, Needle Mountains, San Juan Mountains, Weminuche Wilderness, mountain goat, Chicago Basin
Weminuche Goat : Prints Available

Mountain goat high above Chicago Basin in the Weminuche Wilderness.

Colorado, Needle Mountains, San Juan Mountains, Weminuche Wilderness, mountain goat
Mountain Goat in the Clouds : Prints Available

Mountain goat in the Weminuche Wilderness.

Check out all my photos from the Weminuche Wilderness here.

Ouray Powder

Colorado,San Juan Mountains,skiing, aspens, powder, January, Don Moden

Skiing deep powder in an aspen forest – January.  Skier: Don Moden.

Colorado, and most of the west for that matter, has been getting pounded by a powerful winter storm these last few days. This last weekend we did a quick trip to Ouray to catch up with some friends and get out for some backcountry powder turns.

Backcountry skiing in the San Juans, Colorado
Skier: Claudia Brauer.
Backcountry skiing in the San Juans, Colorado
Skier: Don Moden.

Although we were both a bit sad to leave, after two great days of skiing we hightailed it through the blizzard back to Crested Butte, where two feet of powder blanketed the Butte by Monday!

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