This last week I hiked the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) through the South San Juan Wilderness with two of my friends. It’s a 60+ mile trek from Cumbres Pass near Chama, New Mexico to Wolf Creek Pass near Pagosa Springs, Colorado. Although we initially planned for 6 days out there, we ended up hiking an average of 13 miles per day, finishing in 5 days.
This hike was the longest distance backpacking trek I’ve ever done, and the first time in a long time that I’ve gone on a trip where the priority for me was the hiking itself, rather than the photography. We had a lot of ground to cover and we spent a good portion of each day just hiking. The photography was mostly unplanned, take-what-you-can-get shots along the way.
It’s pretty amazing to hike so far, basin after basin, each day looking back at distant mountains on the horizon and knowing that you just walked all the way from there, step by step. Although I usually prefer to hike shorter distances each day (to have more time to relax at each camp spot and concentrate more on photography), the South San Juans are well-suited for this style of long multi-day trekking. The mountains are remote with poor access, and the trail is fairly flat and mostly on high tundra with the logical camping spots being few and far between.
Sunset alpenglow light shines on the Amphitheater above the town of Ouray, Colorado. To see the opposite view, looking at the town from the top of the Amphitheater, check out this photo. Goes to show that mountains always feel much bigger when you’re on top of them rather than when you’re looking up at them.
I was up at Ice Lakes Basin today, in the San Juans of Colorado, and saw a boat on the lake at 12,257′! They hauled this inflatable raft almost 2,500 feet up to take this cruise. That is some ambitious leisure.
This weekend I went on a wonderful 25 mile backpacking loop from Ouray. I started at Bear Creek, a few miles up the road from Ouray, hiked up to the rolling green tundra paradise of the Uncompahgre Wilderness, along the Horsethief Trail to the Bridge of Heaven Trail, then back down into Ouray. I camped two nights along the way.
The tundra is so beautiful right now, with lush green grass and wildflowers popping up everywhere. In contrast to last week’s brutal bushwhack, this trip was a stroll through paradise. I was practically ecstatic as I walked through one gorgeous basin after another. This hike easily ranks among the best I’ve done in Colorado, and it’s basically in my backyard!
During the last three days, I bushwhacked through the Cow Creek valley, a rugged and remote mountain valley in the Uncompahgre Wilderness of the San Juan Mountains east of Ridgway. My original plan was to hike through the valley and continue up to the high alpine zone, where I would hike a high loop route around to Wetterhorn Basin and then take a trail back to my truck. However this plan was thwarted by geography – the Cow Creek valley is absolutely impassible six miles up, forcing me to turn around and bushwhack all the way back out the way I came.
This photo shows a sample of the kind of terrain and bushwhacking I was dealing with the entire time. There are many obstacles along the river which forced me to constantly hike up and down through thick bush and forest and along steep, loose, rocky slopes. Over the three days, I spent 23 hours of tough hiking to cover a mere 12 miles round trip, for an average of about 0.5 miles/hour! I can think of a few words to describe this bushwhack; it was brutal, tedious, frustrating, demoralizing, maddening, hellish, unrewarding, exhausting, etc, etc.
Below are some more photos from this fruitless exploration.
[+] Sunset behind Potosi Peak, 13,786 ft., as seen from the Hayden Trail above Ouray, Colorado. Although it’s only the fourth tallest peak in the Sneffels Range, Potosi dominates the southern side of the range, soaring 5,000 vertical feet above Canyon Creek and Camp Bird Road. It’s a forbidding seldom-climbed peak, surrounded by sheer cliffs and rugged canyons. Read more about Potosi Peak on SummitPost.org.
On Saturday I camped up in Blaine Basin, with Mt. Sneffels towering above. That evening, I hiked up to the summit of Peak 12,910, which has an incredible vantage point directly facing the rugged north face of Sneffels. I’ve hiked to many different vantages around Mt. Sneffels, and I think this one is the best!