What an amazing hike this morning! After catching a few ZZZs, I woke up and got out of bed at 1am, hiked up Mt. Sneffels under a brilliant full moon, and topped out on the 14,156′ summit at 4:15am. The air was really calm and not that cold, and I had plenty of time to relax on the summit before the dawn light, enjoying the massive vista of moonlit peaks. Once the sun started rising, the photography was fast and furious, and I got some good large format shots with the 4×5. Now I’m off to Boulder for my friends Santos and Jill’s wedding.
[+] Sunrise alpenglow on the peaks above Yankee Boy Basin, San Juan Mountains, Colorado.
This last Monday I woke up at 2am, drove up to Yankee Boy Basin, and hiked in the dark via headlamp up to the ridgeline of Cirque Mountain, a 13-thousand footer with a nice view of neighboring Mount Sneffels. With a solid overnight freeze, the snowpack was hard as a rock and the hiking was easy with my crampons. Dawn was just starting to break when I got to my destination, so I put on all my layers, put the hand warmers in my gloves, and hunkered down behind a big rock out of the chilly wind while I waited for the sunrise.
Today I hiked and snowboarded down Mt. Sneffels (see the riding photos in the next post). Here’s the classic view looking from the summit into Blue Lakes Basin. Notice all the ugly brown snow?
When it’s windy in the western states, dust blows from the deserts and ends up smothering the mountains. It’s a phenomenon that has probably happened naturally through the ages, but has become much worse in recent decades due in part to large scale grazing which erodes the desert soils. I’ve even heard that some of the dust blows all the way across the Pacific from huge dust storms in China!
In any case, the dust has a terrible effect not only on the snowpack but on the entire watershed. The dark dust absorbs much more solar radiation than pure white snow, causing a rapid meltdown of the snowpack. In heavy snow years like this year, it could cause flooding problems. In light snow years, it can cause premature meltdown, leading to drought conditions during the summer.
This morning my friends Parker and Aimee and I hiked up and snowboarded down Mt. Sneffels, the iconic fourteener above Ridgway and Ouray. Oddly, this was only my second time on this local 14er; the first time was way back in June 2005 when I rode down a different line, also with Parker and Aimee.
Windy and unsettled weather up on the pass today. We did a nice long route that I’ve had in mind for the last few months. The mountains in this area form big broad basins above treeline, offering mellow skinning up above 13,000 feet. We splitboarded up one basin and rode down an entirely different one.
[+] Fortunately the wind was to our backs during the whole hike up.
Jeff and I were pleasantly surprised to find some fresh powder this morning up in Yankee Boy Basin. Not a whole lot of powder, but powder nonetheless. The surface below was fairly soft and the new 4-5 inches of snow was pretty well bonded, providing some great cruisey late season pow turns.
[+] Making progress on plowing Camp Bird Road. It’s almost to the spring trailhead now. What a snowpack!
[+] Jeff Skoloda skis some powder with Mt. Sneffels behind.
On Saturday some friends and I skied/snowboarded down Kismet, a 13,694 foot peak neighboring Mt. Sneffels. A solid overnight freeze, bluebird skies, and perfectly smooth snow made for a dreamy high-speed cruiser descent.
[+] Skinning up Kismet, with Gilpin Peak, also 13,694′, in the background.
I am pleased that the Trust for Public Land recently published a magazine article about Wilson Peak featuring one of my photos of this iconic mountain near Telluride. I am even more pleased that access to Wilson Peak has been secured by the Trust for Public Land after years of being blocked by a Texan developer.
Wilson Peak is one of Colorado’s most beautiful and most recognized peaks, and in 2007 a Texan real estate developer who owned some mining claims below the mountain closed access to the standard hiking route (all other routes involve much more dangerous mountaineering). After negotiations with the National Forest Service made no progress, The Trust for Public Land stepped in and was able to purchase critical portions of the property in order to reopen and protect public access.
Abrams Mountain is the big pyramid-shaped peak that you see towering at the head of the Ouray valley as you drive in from the north. Today we skied/snowboarded a fun 3,000-foot line down this mountain. There’s so much snow up in the high country still; we’ll be skiing into July probably. Here’s some pictures.