This morning Jeff and I went back out to enjoy some more of the early season powder. The last few days of snowstorms dumped a good amount of new snow in the higher San Juans, and the snowpack is now noticeably deeper than last time we went out.
Full-on winter conditions up high, with a cold wind and poor visibility in the foggy/snowy clouds.
Next step: bootpack up the left side of this mountain.
Upon reaching the top of our line, we waited as long as our patience could stand for the clouds to clear, but it seemed that the cloud was stuck on the mountain top. Finally we just had to go for it despite the poor visibility.
The lower we went, the better the visibility and the deeper the powder! Eventually we were arching high speed carves down the open basin.
Not too shabby for the 1st of November! I hope it keeps snowing until June.
Last night I pulled my splitboard out of the attic in anticipation of the first turns of winter. As we drove up the pass this morning everything was covered in frosty snow… what a glorious morning! I had to pull over and take a snapshot of the frosty aspens.
The snowpack looking a bit dubious on this southern slope on the way up.
Fortunately the north facing slopes were filled in with powder and looking good! Here’s Jeff getting in the groove. We just did one line but damn it was satisfying! I’m hoping for a good winter this season here in the San Juans after the last two crappy ones…
Hungry for an adventure, on Tuesday I hiked up to Blue Lakes in the Sneffels Range to camp out in the snow. Late autumn can be a good time for winter camping – kind of like “diet” winter camping since there’s less snow to deal with and usually less avalanche danger (*depending, of course). Also, road access to most trailheads is still possible, and if you time it right the alpine lakes aren’t frozen yet which can offer some nice photo opportunities.
The weather forecast called for a brief but intense snowstorm, with little or no wind! Perfect time to head out into the mountains. Sure enough, in the late afternoon just as I was setting up the tent the storm clouds rolled into the mountains and it started snowing in earnest. I fell asleep to the sound of snowflakes falling on the tent, cozy in my puffy down cocoon. In the middle of the night, around 2:30am, I woke up and saw moonlight shining on the tent. I poked my head out and saw a dreamlike scene as the storm clouds were lifting off the peaks and the fresh snow glistened in the moonlight. Of course I jumped out of the tent as fast as I could to photograph the moment!
Though the clouds still covered the peaks in the morning, eventually they gave way to crystal clear blue skies.
Happy 4th of July, I mean, Oktoberfest! Just like last year, Ouray had leftover fireworks since the 4th of July show was cancelled due to fire danger, so they shot them off for the Oktoberfest party instead.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: there is no place like Ouray to watch (or listen to) fireworks! The booming echoes that reverberate around the mountain walls are incomparable.
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 Friday Claudia and I went backpacking to a lesser-known basin in the Sneffels Range.
Summer is in full swing in the mountains! Except for a few lingering patches, most of the snow is gone and the tundra has come alive with its vibrant green grasses and early summer wildflowers like these Spreading Globeflowers (I think that’s what they are called).
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.
Some friends of ours kindly offered us their backcountry yurt for the weekend, and we gladly accepted! Situated atop a hill above Red Mountain Pass and surrounded by heaps of intermediate ski terrain, the yurt provided a perfect base for two nights and three days of relaxing and skiing.
Claudia skins up the mountain…
…to enjoy some cruisey powder turns.
I apologize in advance for the cheese-factor of this photo, but I couldn’t resist showing how cozy it was in the yurt! After two nights like this, I’ll probably never want to winter camp in my tent again!