Walking Among San Juan Giants

Wetterhorn Peak, blue moon, Matterhorn Peak

Wetterhorn Moon : Prints Available

 The August "blue moon" sets beyond Wetterhorn Peak (14,015') before dawn. The perspective is from the summit of Matterhorn Peak (13,590').

We have a tradition of taking a long walk – usually with some mountain tops mixed in for our Labor Day break. Winds of change led us to the San Juan Mountains in our home state this year, just about the only place around to escape fire smoke riding the jet stream from Idaho. The San Juans are such a spectacular range; you simply can’t go wrong no matter what area you choose to explore. So after a couple of days in the Sangre De Cristos near Alamosa, we traveled to Creede and on to Lake City to launch a trip into the Uncompahgre Wilderness Area. Click more to see many more images:

north clear creek falls, creede, lake city

North Clear Creek Falls : Prints Available

 One of Colorado's spectacular waterfalls, North Clear Creek is along the scenic highway between Creede and Lake City.

Lake City is known as a little Texas, a place that Texans have visited for generations and a lot of Coloradoans couldn’t find on a map. It’s a cool little town, with restored historic buildings and the San Juan Mountains for a backyard.

We waited out a rainstorm and hiked 900 feet up a vertical ridge for a view of Uncompahgre Peak (14,309′) on our first night.

matterhorn peak, matterhorn creek

Matterhorn Creek : Prints Available

 Matterhorn Creek flows below Matterhorn Peak (13,590') near timberline in the Uncompahgre Wilderness Area. 

The scale of things is enormous – even for Colorado! Here Marla hikes on tundra below hulking Uncompahgre Peak (14,309′)

Cimarron River, Gunnison River

East Fork of The Cimarron : Prints Available

 The Upper East Fork flows into the East Fork of the Cimarron River high in the Uncompahgre Wilderness Area. The Cimarron River is a tributary of the Gunnison River that flows 22 miles from its headwaters below Wetterhorn Peak to the confluence in the Curecanti National Recreation Area near Gunnison.

“Sheep Below Wetterhorn and Matterhorn.” I thought I was losing my grip on reality when rocks started moving across the tundra. On closer inspection, the rocks were domestic sheep that graze the tundra around the high peaks. It’s common to see grazing in National Forests, but this seems like a particularly sensitive area for such intensive grazing.

We eventually met the sheepherder, Mateo from Peru and talked until our Spanish vocabulary was exhausted. Mateo seemed like a gentle soul who told us he’s been here for over a year and really misses his family. He has no horse and covers a vast area following sheep over rugged terrain on foot with his kind and trusty dog Diablo.

Camp below moonlit Wetterhorn Peak (14,015′). The moon was a “blue moon”, the second full moon of the month. Our tent was set up hastily with a storm approaching and is every bit as tilted as it looks!

matterhorn peak, moonlight, uncompahgre peak

Moonlight On Uncompahgre Peak : Prints Available

While climbing Matterhorn Peak under a full moon, we stopped to admire (and photograph) Uncompahgre Peak in moon light. Uncompahgre Peak stands an impressive 14,309 feet and is humongously broad - it's one of the most remarkable peaks in Colorado. 
Matterhorn Peak, Cimarron River

San Juan Thirteeners : Prints Available

 A wall of 13,000 foot peaks catch early morning light from the summit of Matterhorn Peak (13,590'). The view is to the north and slightly northwest to a pass that climbs out of the upper East Fork of the Cimarron River.  Notable mountains in view L to R: Redcliff (13,642'), Heisshorn (just in front of Redcliff 13,411'), Fortress Peak (13,241'), and Precipice Peak (13,144'). 

“Wetterhorn Panorama” Matterhorn Peak’s pointy summit gives one the feeling of standing in the sky, surrounded by San Juan giants. In this image, Matterhorn’s shadow streaks across the northwest flank of Wetterhorn Peak. (14,015′)

That’s me shooting it hot on Matterhorn Peak (13,590′. Thanks to Marla for capturing the photo experience!

Marla and me on Matterhorn Peak. I know it looks like I’m up to something here, but I’m just trying to scoot around on talus before the shutter fires. Our climb started at 3:30 a.m. and the the sun’s warmth made the summit a great place to hang out for a bit after photographing. I’m truly grateful that we can share these great experiences. Thanks to my lovely wife for being such a wonderful adventure partner! And yeah, she’s stronger than me.

Time to go – How does all of this crap fit back into our packs?

We stopped to admire these changing aspen with their perfectly straight boles on the way out. The mountains around Lake City are known to change early, somewhere around mid-September, but late August seems really early! Folks are talking about how drought will affect the aspen fall color spectacle after this unusual summer. I suspect that Ma Nature’s clock will be pretty much on schedule with quite a few leaves turning brown and shriveling up without ever changing to gold. I’m not ready for this epic hiking and fourteener climbing season to end.

18 thoughts on “Walking Among San Juan Giants

  1. Great series… that Wetterhorn moonset shot is KILLER!!! Congrats on getting up Matterhorn Peak – in the dark – we were too scared by the jenga-ish summit rocks even in the daylight!

  2. Thanks for putting all of this together, a great collection of everything that we saw and experienced. You even captured trying to push me off Matterhorn, nice work! I had a ball covering all of this territory with you and can’t wait for the next one!

    1. I totally understand Monte – not too many months ago I questioned whether my tattered left knee would keep going and Steadman Hawkins kept me going. There comes a time for all of us I reckon.

  3. Wow, you keep setting the bar higher with those photos, Dave. Nice work climbing Matterhorn too, it sounds like sketchy is an understatement at best!

    Thanks for sharing as always!

    1. Thanks Mike – It’s a hike until the last 200 feet, which is a pile of loose boulders leading to a pretty small summit. It’s not bad as long as you stay on route. If not, it’s a totally different experience. 🙂

  4. Absolutely gorgeous! I love the Moonlight On Uncompahgre Peak shot. I’ve yet to capture decent stars on my ‘lil Nikon, it’s a work in progress. Thanks for sharing all these wonderful places I will very likely never climb because I’m a wimp!

    ~Love! 🙂

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Kells! The trick with stars and any night shooting is a stable platform for your camera so you can leave the shutter open. Normally, I shoot night shots with a wide open aperture, which is the lowest number, like f4 or f5.6 and the highest ISO I’m comfortable with for whatever camera I’m using. I’ll shoot with a shutter speed up to 30 seconds – after that you get blurry stars. Try this: Go someplace where you have a great view of San Diego at night, preferably with a highway in the foreground. Put your camera on the hood of the car, a fencepost, anything stable. Set the camera on manual, 2 second delay, the lens on infinity, wide open aperture like f5.6, an ISO of 800, and see what the meter tells you is the correct exposure. Try a number of exposures, 5,10,15 seconds and see what you like. With a few tries, you’ll get blurred car lights and a sharp downtown in your image. Another cool thing in SD would be a night reflection shot since you have so much water… Good luck and happy shooting. Get something good and we’ll post it here, ok?

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