2 Months of Backpacking and Camping in Colorado

For all of August and September 2017, my wife and I lived out of our truck and tent while traveling around and backpacking in our great state of Colorado. We did over a dozen backpacking trips in various mountain ranges throughout the state, including the Flat Tops, Gore Range, Sawatch Range, San Juans, Sangre de Cristos, and Indian Peaks. I’ve posted my various photo journals from each trek on the Trip Reports page of my gallery site; here links to all those journals, in chronological order.

You can also see a gallery of all my favorite photos from the 2 months here!

Colorado, Flat Tops, columbine, wildflowers
Flat Tops Wilderness – July

In late July we did a quick one-nighter backpack trip in the Flat Tops Wilderness of Colorado, from Trappers Lake up towards Trappers Peak. We camped near one of hundreds of lakes that dot the high alpine plateau and enjoyed a sunset at the top of Trappers Peak.

» See the photos here «

Colorado, Gore Range, Peak C, Eagles Nest Wilderness
Mount Powell, Gore Range – August

In early August we backpacked into the rugged north end of the Gore Range and Eagles Nest Wilderness for three nights. We hiked the Upper Piney River Trail for while, branched off on a faint boot trail then camped the first night in the high basin below Mount Powell and Kneeknocker Pass. On day two we crossed over the pass and hiked to the summit of Mount Powell, the highest peak in the Gore Range. I’ve wanted to hike Mount Powell for about 20 years but never got around to it, so it was quite satisfying to finally stand on the summit! After some rough off trail routefinding we spent the next two nights at a remote alpine lake before hiking all the way back out the way we came.

» See the photos here «

Colorado, Gore Range, Willow Lakes, Eagles Nest Wilderness, reflection, Zodiac Ridge, sunrise
Willow Lakes, Gore Range – August

After our backpack trip in the northern Gore Range, we drove over to the east side and backpacked into the Eagles Nest Wilderness again, this time to Willow Lakes. I’d backpacked here 12 years ago and I was excited to show Claudia this place and hopefully to photographic some nice light too! We spent a couple nights up there, generally relaxing and exploring this beautiful basin. I was fortunate to photograph some of the best sunrise light of the summer here!

» See the photos here «

Colorado, Holy Cross Wilderness, Sawatch Range, reflection
Exploring the Holy Cross Wilderness, Sawatch Range – August

In early August we set out into the Holy Cross Wilderness (in the Sawatch Range of Colorado generally between Vail and Leadville) for a 3-night backpack trek. We spent our first night at the super popular Missouri Lakes then explored an off trail route over a high ridgeline to a remote and pristine lake where we spent the second day and night. We spent our third night near Blodgett Lake before hiking back via Fancy Pass and Holy Cross City, completing an irregular loop through this beautiful wilderness area.

» See the photos here «

Collegiate Peaks Wilderness, Colorado, Ice Mountain, Lake Ann, Sawatch Range, The Three Apostles
Hanging Around Huron Peak, Sawatch Range – August

In mid-August we backpacked around the headwaters of the South Fork Clear Creek near Huron Peak in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness and Sawatch Range of Colorado. The last time I hiked in this area was back in 2008, but this time we hiked the long way in here from the south from Taylor Park and Texas Creek, via the Continental Divide Trail and a high pass above Lake Ann. Though we spent three days out here, most of my photos below were from one fantastic evening watching sunset atop an unnamed peak above Lake Ann.

» See the photos here «

Colorado, San Juan Mountains, Sunshine Peak, 14er
Tour Through the San Juans – August

After spending my birthday with some friends in Ouray, we drove up some of the jeep roads above Red Mountain Pass and car camped a few nights up there. We drove rough high elevation old mining roads eastward through the San Juans over Corkscrew Pass, Hurricane Pass, California Pass, and Cinnamon Pass, then did a one night backpack trip into Cataract Gulch near the 14er Sunshine Peak.

» See the photos here «

Colorado, Ellingwood Point, Sangre de Cristos, South Zapata Lake, reflection, 14er, Sangre de Cristo Wilderness
South Zapata Lake, Sangre de Cristo Range – August

A quick one-night backpacking trip to South Zapata Lake on the west side of the Sangre de Cristo Range

» See the photos here «

Colorado, Great Sand Dunes, wildflowers, sunflowers, sunset
Sunflowers in the Great Sand Dunes – August

While hiking to South Zapata Lake the day before, we got a good view of the Great Sand Dunes, and I could see vast fields of sunflowers all around and in the dunes. I took a mental note of where the largest sunflower fields were and the next day we hiked into the dunes towards these areas. Though we intended to camp in the dunes for the night, enormous thunderclouds rolled in and scared us out of there! Fortunately I was able to photograph the sunflowers without getting struck by lightning!

» See the photos here «

Broken Hand Peak, Colorado, Crestone Needle, Sangre de Cristos, 14er, sunrise, Sangre de Cristo Wilderness
South Colony Lakes, Sangre de Cristo Range – September

In late August/early September, we spent five days camped at South Colony Lakes in the Sangre de Cristo range in Colorado. Surrounded by three 14ers, including the rugged Crestone Needle towering directly overhead, this basin is supremely awesome — one of the classic gems of Colorado. During our stay here we summited Crestone Needle and Humboldt Peak, along with lots of chilling out around the lake in between.

» See the photos here «

Colorado, Mount Elbert, Mount Massive Wilderness, North Halfmoon Lakes, Sawatch Range, 14er
Below Mount Massive, Sawatch Range – September

In early September we spent a night up at North Halfmoon Lakes below Mount Massive. Though our plans to hike the peak were thwarted by high winds and hazy skies from the wildfires in the northwestern US, we still enjoyed an evening and morning at the lake.

» See the photos here «

Colorado, Gore Lake, Gore Range, Eagles Nest Wilderness
Gore Lake, Gore Range – September

In mid September we returned to the Gore Range again, this time spending a night at the beautiful Gore Lake towards the south end of the range.

» See the photos here «

Colorado, Indian Peaks, sunset, reflection
Indian Peaks Wilderness – September

From the Gore Range we drove further north to Indian Peaks, were we backpacked to a remote and beautiful basin where we spent two nights. Indian Peaks was where I did most of my first backpacking trips back in my college days at CU Boulder, and I quickly became a backpacking fanatic after that! It’s been over a decade since I’ve returned, and it felt like seeing an old friend again.

» See the photos here «

Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park, elk, Moraine Park
Camping in Rocky Mountain National Park – September

After our backpacking trip in Indian Peaks it was about time for a rest, so we spent a few nights camping at the Moraine Park campground in Rocky Mountain National Park. I must say it was quite magical to fall asleep each night listening to the elk bugling in the big meadow below us during their autumn rut.

» See the photos here «

Colorado, Indian Peaks, Lone Eagle Peak, Indian Peaks Wilderness
Lone Eagle Peak, Indian Peaks – September

In late September with a forecast for a quick but powerful autumn snowstorm, we returned to Indian Peaks to one of my favorite spots – Mirror Lake and its incredible view of Lone Eagle Peak. After spending the night in an intense blizzard we awoke to bluebird skies and a glorious snow-smothered scene. This was our final backpacking trip of our two months on the road in Colorado, and it was fitting that my favorite photo of the whole trip came that morning!

» See the photos here «

Green River, Utah
Escape to the Desert, Green River, Utah – September

After some our snowy backpacking trip in Indian Peaks, Claudia had had enough of the cold, so we escaped to the desert of Utah for dry land and warmer weather. We spent a couple nights relaxing and hiking at one of our favorite spots on a remote plateau high above the Green River, then spent a night at Swaseys Beach just north of the town of Green River. This was a relaxing end to our two months on the road!

» See the photos here «

Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Cedar Point, moonlight, Gunnison River
Black Canyon – September

On the way back home from Utah we spent one last night camping at the South Rim of the Black Canyon. The next day we drove back to Crested Butte and started moving back into our condo, and our big summer trip was official over.

Summertime in the Sangres

Colorado,Sangre de Cristos
Sangres Sunset Pond : Prints Available

Sunset over the Crestone group, as seen from the south.

With our San Juans still covered in quite a bit of snow up high, earlier this week we drove east for 3 nights of backpacking in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains where the snow is mostly gone and summer backpacking season is well underway.

Blanca Peak,Colorado,Sangre de Cristos, fourteener
Blanca Peak Dawn : Prints Available

The first light of dawn illuminates Blanca Peak (14,345 ft.), the fourth highest fourteener in Colorado.

We camped the first night up near treeline below Mt. Lindsey, a fourteener I have not yet climbed. Feeling motivated, I set my alarm for 3:00am in order to hike up to the 13,400 foot summit of the “Iron Nipple” (seriously) for sunrise. This rugged peak offered a great vantage point to watch the sunrise light on Blanca Peak, the monarch of this mountain range.

See lots more photos from the rest of our trip below! Continue reading “Summertime in the Sangres”

Dunes and Sangres

Great Sand Dunes, Colorado, June, clouds

Stormy Dunes : Prints Available

Ominous clouds brew over the dunes - June.

This last weekend we went on a little road trip to the Great Sand Dunes, followed by a couple nights of camping and hiking in the Sangre de Cristos. We arrived at the dunes in the afternoon on Friday and started the hike into the dunes under a sky full of wild ominous clouds, along with sandblasting winds.

Great Sand Dunes, sunset, Colorado, fiery, Sangre de Cristo

Fiery Dunes Sunset : Prints Available

A fiery sunset over the Great Sand Dunes with the Sangre de Cristo mountains behind - June.

With the heavy clouds above and a clear horizon to the west, I knew that we were in store for a special sunset. I was not disappointed! We found a high west facing dune with a nice vista over the ocean of sand, and waited in the wind until the sun dipped below the clouds and illuminated the scene with intense sunset light. Pretty freaking amazing…

camping, Great Sand Dunes, Colorado, June

After sunset the clouds cleared and the wind calmed down enough for us to stroll around under the moonlight and enjoy our bottle of wine! Not the best night of sleep, though, with sand blowing in our sleeping bags for most of the night. But it’s hard to beat waking up in the middle of the dunes on a glorious bluebird morning!

Great Sand Dunes, Colorado, hiking

Hiking out in the morning. I was excited to show Claudia the Great Sand Dunes, one of my favorite places on the planet. She was impressed, and is already looking forward to our next visit.

More photos below! Continue reading “Dunes and Sangres”

North Crestone

Sangre de Cristo, Colorado, North Crestone, sunset, June

After I left the Great Sand Dunes in the morning on Tuesday, on a whim I headed to nearby Crestone and went backpacking up the North Crestone Trail in the Sangre de Cristo Range. Unlike the San Juans, which are still smothered in snow, the Sangres are almost totally dry already. Although I was planning on camping up at North Crestone Lake, when I finally arrived there [six fairly grueling miles later] I was disappointed to find no suitable spot to camp near the lake. Besides, it was very windy up there… too windy. So I retreated back to the next meadow down where I spotted a nice established camp spot in the forest next to the creek. Exhausted from my lack of sleep the night before in the Dunes, I took a nap, shot the sunset, lit a small campfire for a while, then fell fast asleep in my tent for nearly 12 hours!

The valley where I camped was not particularly photogenic, imo, and the boring blue sky was not inspiring either. After wandering around for a while the most interesting thing that caught my eye was a bunch of dead trees up on the mountainside. So I hiked up there and shot the setting sun beaming through the bare tree skeletons. Certainly not my best photo ever but I like it and I was proud of myself for putting in the effort to find one intriguing scene to shoot when normally I probably would have just not even bothered.

Sangre de Cristo, Colorado, aspens, North Crestone, June

The lower/middle portion of North Crestone Creek is special because the valley is chock-full of aspens. This would be a spectacular hike to do in the fall when the trees are golden yellow!

A Night in the Dunes

Medano Creek, Great Sand Dunes, Colorado, clouds

Medano Twilight : Prints Available

Spooky clouds hang over Medano Creek and the Great Sand Dunes after sunset. 

On Monday I headed to the Great Sand Dunes for a quick overnighter. I hiked in at about 10pm, slept on a dune for about 4 hours, then woke up around 3:30am to shoot the setting (nearly full) moon, followed by sunrise.

I had a blast out there with the camera… so much fun! And the hike out with Pink Floyd Meddle playing on my iPod was pretty groovy too! Here are some photos from the trip.

Continue reading “A Night in the Dunes”

Stormy Sangres

Crestone Needle

This weekend I went on a little road trip to the Sangre de Cristo Mountains near Westcliffe, Colorado, to meet up with a friend for some camping and hiking around South Colony Lakes. The lakes are situated at the foot of three 14ers, making them a perfect basecamp for several days worth of hiking.

The weather was grim during our first two days, with rain, hail, lightning, thunder, and relentless Patagonia-esque winds. On the third day, however, I woke up at 2:30am to clear starry skies, so I jumped out my sleeping bag, got my stuff together, and started hiking via headlamp up to Broken Hand Peak, hoping to get a sunrise shot of the Crestone Needle fourteener from the neighboring summit. After some tricky routefinding around some cliffs and up some snowfields, I made it to the summit at about 5:00, and witnessed a spectacular sunrise from the top.

Humboldt Peak

After the Broken Hand Peak hike, I made my way back down to the lake where my friend was hanging out, and since the morning was still showing great blue-sky weather, we decided to hike up Humboldt Peak, another nearby 14er. Having just climbed one mountain, I wasn’t expecting to immediately go do another one, but I was feeling good and perhaps still had some more pent-up energy after the two previous stormy days. The weather held out, and we got to the summit around 11:30am along with about 20 other happy hikers.

See some more photos from the South Colony Lakes trip here.

I’m Covered in Sand!

Self Portrait in the Great Sand Dunes

After three completely sedentary weeks at the computer, this last weekend I was desperate for some wilderness action, so I headed out on a backpacking trip in the Great Sand Dunes. My initial plan was to do a simple three day hike up and back the Sand Ramp Trail along the eastern side of the dunes. But on the first night I was feeling ambitious and decided to hike all the way around the dunes! Read more about the trip below, and be sure to check out my gallery of photos from the trip.

Continue reading “I’m Covered in Sand!”

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