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!
Here’s a view of Ouray early on Wednesday morning. Be sure to click on the photo to go to the page where you can view this larger!
On Tuesday it was absolutely dumping snow around here, and with a nearly full moon and a forecast of clearing skies overnight I was up half the night thinking about where I should go for a sunrise shoot. Well, I ended up just going to the “Switzerland of America” overlook, just a minute drive up the road from my house. I’ve shot photos here many times before (as have millions of tourists), but this time I wanted to capture a more panoramic winter view of the valley. This here is a panoramic stitch of 6 vertical overlapping frames shot with a 24mm wideangle lens. That should give you a sense of the grand scale of the landscape here!
The snowplow drivers were in full attack mode since about 2:00 in the morning, and I thought about how it would have made for a cool time lapse video to see them zipping up and down all the streets. But I don’t have the patience for shooting time lapses, so I’ll leave that to somebody else…
After shooting the sunrise, I went back home for another couple hours of sleep, drove a little ways up the road for a lap on the splitboard, got a bit of work done, watched the sunset over Ridgway with Claudia and a thermos of gluwein, and enjoyed excellent pizza and beer at the Colorado Boy Brewery. What a day! I love it here…
For all my bitching and moaning about the lack of snow earlier this season, I must say that the snow has been pretty much fantastic around the San Juans this February! The last series of storms dumped another 1-3 feet of powder around here, and I’ve been doing my best to get after it. Here’s some more shots from the last three days of frolicking in the powder (while staying wary of the lurking snowpack instabilities, of course).
I’ve been happy to be out riding powder the last four days here in the San Juans – with a full-on powder day at Telluride ski resort on Sunday, followed by three superb days of splitboarding up on the pass.
The skier above is Dan, a local Ouray ice farmer. All the rest of the photos below are Jake, who timed his trip from Vermont perfectly!
Below are a bunch of pictures from the last three days in the backcountry.
Last week a series of storms dumped a much-needed 2-4 feet of snow in the San Juans! On Monday we enjoyed a day of knee-to-waist-deep snow at Durango Mountain ski area. On Thursday the storm broke and Claudia and I went up to the pass for a couple laps under the gorgeous bluebird sky.
Unfortunately the avy danger is still so bad that we can’t really do much with all that fresh powder… We’re still sticking to the low angle safer stuff for now.