Elk Mountains Topo View

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Elk Mountains Aerial View – from a commercial flight from Denver to LA

Thanks to my friend Todd Caudle, this is too cool not to share. I love studying the land from the air and the flight from Denver to LA is such a rare treat – Front range, Swatch Range, Elk Mountains, Colorado Plateau, Monument Valley, Grand Canyon…all in a couple of hours western tour. So, I sent Todd this photo, converted to black and white because of the overwhelming blue from so high in the sky, and asked if he could help me identify the main peaks. I knew Todd would work his annotated magic, and so this photo is much more meaningful. To see the hallowed ground of the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness that we’ve trekked a week at a time, the high passes, towering peaks, deep valleys – all condensed into a rectangular frame is pure magic. All witnessed through a tiny window.

Autumn Coming On

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Aspen Sunstar : Prints Available

Just before dipping behind Gothic Mountain, the setting sun illuminates a stand of red-tipped autumn aspen. Aspen trees are colonial and colors vary greatly, from typical gold to oranges, reds, even purple. The range of color and contrast is on full display in Colorado’s high country, beginning in mid-September, with the transition moving south into early October. 

Hiking with my friend/web guru/mountain photographer Jack Brauer, Jack asks “what do you think it is that makes aspens so brilliant in fall?” Jack has studied aspens as much as anyone I know, so I figured his query was rhetorical. But we launched into a discussion about leaves, mountain light, and complimentary colors that lasted about a half mile, everything leading to the same place – translucence holds light while letting it pass through, giving aspens a luminescence unlike anything else in our part of the natural world. Autumn is an ephemeral miracle. While we’re still gobbling up the last of Palisade peaches, aspen trees are changing to gold, orange, and deep red. Some aspen colonies (aspens are a colonial species sprouting from the same source) are withering with fungus, their leaves dropping early by our human calendar, adding a smell of pungent loam to forest walks. Songbirds are gone and we await the arrival of winter raptors and diving ducks. I look up each day, hoping for a glimpse of sandhill cranes headed south on a migration course, riding thermals to their southern home at Bosque Del Apache NWR in New Mexico. It’s a remarkable time of year alright; so predictable, yet each day holds a promise to awaken our senses, all of them. Continue reading “Autumn Coming On”

Wildflower Walk

wildflowers, Capitol Peak
Wildflower Walk : Prints Available

Our path to Silver Creek Pass leads through a verdant green alpine meadow of blooming Indian paintbrush and cinquefoil wildflowers. The pass is the patch of snow in the low point between the mountains (a 1,500′ climb), where a staggering view of (14,130′) Capitol Peak awaits.

The pass ahead is a window to a new world, one of the great gifts of exploring on foot. We ascended 1,500′ to a low point on the flank of Meadow Mountain, where Capitol Peak shone in afternoon light while clouds swirled ominously around the basin. Runoff from both sides of the pass feed the Crystal River, a tributary of the mighty Colorado. Snowfall from the spring monsoon is finally melting off, opening the mountains for a few short months of exploration, before the cycle of seasons starts anew. The brilliant green tundra and blooming wildflowers are almost an illusion, a fleeting moment of alpine rhythm.

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Spotlight on Capitol Peak (14,130′) as a storm builds in the Elk Mountains. Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Area, Colorado

Peek At Longs – Independence Day

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Longs Peak (14,255′) and Mount Meeker (13,911′) catch morning light from Estes Cone, casting a long shadow on Longs’ flank. Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado.

Alarm and coffee pot spring to life at 1:30 a.m., an uncivil time of day by any measure. Grumbling and light-headedness aside, backpacks are tossed in the car for a drive amongst folks just trying to get home. It’s exhilarating to reach the trailhead a few hours before dawn, before birds wake, and set out to follow a cone of light through a black forest. Our destination is Estes Cone, an 11,002′ bump on the Estes Park skyline with a commanding view of Longs and Meeker. A nearly full moon barely penetrated the dense forest as we trekked on good trail that split from Longs’ standard climbing route. The finishing ascent rose 1,000 feet to lichen-covered stone just above the forest canopy, revealing Longs’ eastern face. Rising above a low cloud bank, the sun graced Longs and Meeker in warm light, showing features of the main climbing route, The Trough still clogged with deep snow, guarding the highest peak in Rocky Mountain National Park. First climbed by John Wesley Powell’s group in an 1868 expedition, Longs is a sentinel in stone that can be viewed from many angles and worthy of a photographic study – and an alpine start or two.

Summer Transition at 13,000′

Quandary Peak, Lenawee Mountain
Loveland Pass Sunset : Prints Available

As the setting sun dipped below a drifting storm cloud, the high tundra and 13,000 foot giants of the Front Range and Tenmile Range are painted in cinammon light. Lenawee Mountain (13,205′) is on the left top of the frame and distant Quandary Peak (14,265′), in the Tenmile Range, is on the upper right side. This image was made from Point 12,915′ above Loveland Pass and there are two climber’s tents perched on the ridge, just before it falls off. 

Just a week after the last post, we spent an evening at 13,000 feet on the high ridge that towers over Loveland past on the east side. We trekked to Mount Sniktau (13,234′) for the first time and hoped for golden light to break beneath a thick cloud bank, lingering after a passing storm. With temps hovering in the 50s, the sun dipped and the landscape took on a new glow, with forms and layers of mountains in all directions. A small group of climbers set up tents on the edge of the ridgeline, later telling us of their plan to climb Grizzly Peak and two fourteener’s – Torreys and Grays the next day. Camping close to 13k is often a very bad idea, but not on this evening. I liked this image best for the snowfield clinging to the ridgeline, and together with our trail, leading the eye to an unending vista of the Rocky Mountains at sunset. It seems winter will depart at last.

Winter Lingers

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Patterns of snow fill every couloir while stoney ridges protrude like ribs on (L to R) Torreys Peak (14,267′), Grays Peak (14,270′), and Grizzly Peak (13,428′). Colorado’s wet spring raised the late winter snowpack on the Front Range from around 50% in April to 300% in some areas. We hope it predicts an amazing wildflower season.

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We have so much snow! The south and east facing slopes are holding deep snowpack that supplies all of thirsty Denver’s water supply for the season. This view is to the northwest across Loveland Pass to Mount of The Holy Cross (14,009′) named for the cross couloir on the rock face. Will Denver residents become complacent and forget the recent decade of drought? My brief prediction is an unfortunate yes.

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Loveland Sunrise – warm morning light paints the high ridge above Loveland Pass from Point 12,915′ where a lingering snow cornice leads to Lenawee Mountain (13,204′). Marla says the mountains will “officially open on July 4 ~ just like they always do”. 🙂