This last week we went on a 7-day backpacking trek through the Needle Mountains and Grenadier Range, the most rugged portions of the San Juan Mountains in southwest Colorado. Here are some snapshots from the trip. See my gallery of photos from the trip here.
The route we took passes through four rugged valleys and over three high passes. This is a strenuous wilderness route, seldom travelled, with slight unmarked trails for only about half the way. The rest of the way requires good map reading, terrain intuition, some bushwhacking, and lots of trial and error. This is the third time I’ve done a long high route in the Needle Mountains, and every time I get a bit lost at some point(s)!
After over a week of nonstop rainy weather, we finally got out for two nights of camping at Blue Lakes, in the Sneffels Range of Colorado. Though still rainy, the weather broke enough to get out for some nice hikes, including a killer sunrise at the middle Blue Lake.
On Sunday I hiked into Wetterhorn Basin, in the Uncompahgre Wilderness east of Ridgway, Colorado. With all the stormy monsoon weather and fantastic sunsets we’ve been having in the San Juans lately, I had hopes of catching another great sunset in the mountains. I arrived in Wetterhorn Basin just in time to hunker down in the forest as the lightning and thunder rolled through. After an hour or so the storm cleared just as the sun began to dip into a gap on the horizon, lighting up the mountains with spectacular alpenglow!
That night I woke up at 1:40am, and under the full moonlight I climbed up Wetterhorn Peak, the rugged 14,015 ft. mountain that dominates the scene. I’d climbed up the peak once before four years ago, so I kind of remembered how to climb the scrambly exposed route to the summit in the dark. I relaxed up there by myself for four hours, enjoying the sunrise, soaking up the views, and looking at all the other places I’ve hiked around there and would like to hike in the future.
After downclimbing the peak later that morning and strolling back to my campsite, I relaxed for the rest of the day, waiting for the afternoon storm which never seemed to materialize. That night, however, the sky finally unleashed and dumped rain for hours, with lightning and cracking thunder trying to keep me awake. But I was pretty exhausted after my hike that morning, so I managed to sleep like a baby through the storm. The next morning I had a leisurely hike out amongst the wildflowers, wrapping up another nice trip in the wilderness.
POSTSCRIPT: When I was on the summit of Wetterhorn, in the early dawn darkness, I could see another headlamp on the high ridgeline to the north. I just KNEW that it must be Jody Grigg, a fellow Colorado photographer, because A) I had seen his name on the trailhead register, B) only a photographer would be on that remote ridgeline for the sunrise, and C) Jody’s one of the few photographers I know who would actually make it up there! Sure enough, a few days after this trip, I got this photo from Jody in my email:
This weekend I went on an overnight backpacking trip to Ice Lakes Basin, in the San Juans of Colorado, along with fellow photographer Aleks Kozakowski and about 200-300 other hikers. I’ve never seen so many people in the San Juans! I guess this is the “go to” place around here now. Anyhow, no problem, the basin is big enough for everyone. The wildflowers were great, and the clouds kept rolling through offering nice lighting conditions most of the time.
I just “found” this photo from back in July 2006, when some friends and I hiked a circumnavigational route around Wetterhorn Peak, a 14er in the Uncompahgre Wilderness of the San Juans in southwest Colorado. For a portion of this day, smoke from a nearby forest fire filled the high alpine basin, obscuring the view of Wetterhorn in a blue haze.
Last week I went on a five day backpacking loop hike in a remote area of the Weminuche Wilderness. Some highlights of the trip: hiking up an unknown knife-ridge in the pre-dawn darkness, enduring a lightning storm from a dubious treeline campsite near Rock Lake, being frightened by a possible (probably not) bigfoot footprint in the mud, seeing a group of horse riders dressed in full retro Daniel-Boone-style gear with muskets, and generally getting used to the monkishness of solo backpacking again.
This morning Parker, Lily, and I went for a hike up into Weehawken Basin, out of Ouray, Colorado. It felt great to get up into the lush, green, forested mountains of the San Juans again. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: there may be bigger, taller, and more impressive mountains than in Colorado, but nowhere do I know of a paradise like here! In a couple weeks I’d imagine that this scene will be plump full of wildflowers.
Upon reaching the gorgeous Weehawken basin, we felt energized and ready for more hiking, so we decided to go ahead and climb a peak. We headed up the tundra grass towards Mt. Ridgway.
Lily scouts the view, with Potosi Peak (13,786 ft.) behind. By the way, that big couloir on Potosi is #1 on my snowboard descent wish list.
Lily stands on the summit of Mt. Ridgway (13,468 ft.)
There was a plethora of these purple wildflowers on the rocky summit.