Ice Lakes Basin - 1st Snow Climb
July 8-10, 2014
Vermillion - 13,894 feet (failed)
Fuller - 13,761 feet
"V2" - 13,309 feet
Brad (Mountain Ninja)
I'd been looking forward to the Ice Lakes Basin trip since last year. After seeing so many beautiful pictures of the area, I was excited to go do some fun hikes and capture some of the breathtaking beauty. My friend Zach insisted that this was the most beautiful place all of Colorado. I'm inclined to agree with his statement after witnessing it myself.
After a wet night camping in a tent I bought from Wal-mart which leaked along the seems, (1st lesson: don't buy tents from Wal-mart) we started up to Ice Lake before dawn. I was able to catch one of the most stunning sunsets I've ever seen. The sun came out between some clouds and turned the peaks super red!
Time-lapse of sunrise on Ice Lake
After shooting a bit we headed up to the Vermillion/Fuller saddle. This would be my first real snow climb. Brad was a great teacher/leader who patiently showed me how to correctly use my snow gear. The snow climbing went slow and was quite steep, but never exceeded my comfort level. Actually, it was a blast! I am looking forward to doing more next season.
Once we reached the saddle, we stashed our gear thinking the rest of the route up Centennial 13er Vermillion Peak would be dry (2nd lesson: always bring your snow gear if there's a chance you'll need it). We hiked up the loose trail toward the summit. A few spots had some exposure, but nothing too bad until we came to a traverse with steep terrain just below the summit. At this spot, there was a key step or two that was covered with ice. I didn't feel comfortable crossing here. We searched for a way around, but couldn't find any that didn't involve loose dangerous exposed climbing. We decided we would have to descend back down to the saddle, grab our gear to give better traction, and come all the way back up again.
Back down at the saddle, we decided to quickly run up unranked Fuller Peak before trying for Vermillion again. This didn't take long and the views were incredible!
Summit pano from Fuller Peak
Back down at the saddle again. By this point clouds were building and I decided to bail back down the snow as not to get caught in a bad weather situation. Brad, being the determined karate master that he is, went back up solo to get Vermillion. Once down on the trail, I sat and waited for him to race the clouds. He summited and radioed me to let me know he was on his way back down. Once he returned, we started hearing thunder and moved briskly back down to Ice Lake, then down to our tent. Just before we reached our tent it started hailing. The hail turned to rain just in time for us to seek shelter. YES! Oh...wait....my tent leaks. The rain poured down for the next 3 hours making conditions in my tent quite miserable. My dog Molly was soaked and shivering and smelly. I shared my sleeping bag with her to warm her up. The rain finally stopped enough to get out of the tent and eat some food before dark.
Can you spot Brad? He's the dot on the snow toward the top.
The next morning, my boots were still soaked from the previous day. This area of the state is pretty wet I think. I'm sure that's why it's so green. We started hiking again pre-dawn toward Island Lake.
Once we reached the lake, Brad went up "V4" and I went up "V2". We each reached our summits at about the same time. The scene from "V2" has to be hands down the best summit view I've ever seen. You can spot about all the San Juan 14ers from this area.
Summit pano from "V2"
The hike down was uneventful and took about twice as long as it should because I had to stop like every couple minutes to take pictures of all the wildflowers and waterfalls. This is up there as one of my favorite places. Lord willing, I will return someday soon and bring the family.
If you want to see more Ice Lake Basin photography, check out the Ice Lakes gallery on my artist website:
Ice Lakes Basin Gallery
Thanks for reading!
Wednesday, July 16, 2014
July 1, 2014
I decided to try and climb my first peak, Kelso Mountain, in the dark to watch the sunrise from the summit. I had climbed a couple other mountains in the dark before at night, including one Halloween full moon hike in which my friend and I dressed up like werewolves and howled at the moon at the top, but this was my first time going solo and on a mountain without a trail. I knew this time I would be going alone as it's quite difficult to convince a friend to wake up at 2am.
I was inspired by a photographer named Glenn Randall who made it his goal to summit all of the Colorado 14ers (many of them multiple times if the clouds obstructed his summit view) for his "Sunrise from the Summit" series. A friend and I met him one wintery day in the mountains as we were returning to our truck after a long day of hiking with our snowshoes. We started a conversation with him and soon found out that he was about to sleep in his SUV, and he was planing on hiking up around midnight to climb the mountain we had just attempted. I could only imagine how physically/emotionally exhausting this would be. I returned home late that evening about the time he was probably starting up the trail. I later found his website which showed that he was only a few peaks away from completing his list. His photos were outstanding! Each sunrise was so unique. I still look them over from time to time for inspiration.
The first part of the hike was fairly straightforward. As I walked along the Grays Peak trail, I could see the stars and Milky Way so vividly. Every so often I would turn my headlamp off and just stand there staring at the sky wondering about the infinite size of this creation and how great and unthinkable the Lord's work is. I had read in a route description online that you are to go straight to the saddle between Kelso Mountain and the Kelso Ridge on 14er Torreys Peak. This is not correct. I reached this saddle and started up toward Kelso Mountain and quickly ran into an exposed 3rd class wall. Being alone and in the dark and having my dog Molly with me, I decided this was a no-go. I quickly descended back down to the standard Grays Peak trail. At this point, I had no idea where the route was because any details on the mountainside were still pitch black. Route finding is much harder in the dark. So I decided to just walk farther down/east and pick a spot to leave the trail and head up in the general direction of the peak. I soon found a steep grassy slope that seemed more like trip reports had described. This lead all the way to the summit. I reached the top with 20 minutes to spare - plenty of time to get my camera set up and give the dog some food and water. I set up my video camera to take a time-lapse video of the sunrise:
The clouds were lingering right at the top of the peaks. At first, I was frustrated that these popular 14ers weren't totally visible, but once the sun came over the clouds, the beautiful show of light that appeared was more than worth the effort. I think the clouds actually helped create interest to the scene. Right as the sun came up, I could hear a few people over on Torreys peak shouting a victory "WAHOOO!" Apparently I wasn't the only one out here this early. Once the sun was up, I lingered on the summit (took a nap) for a couple hours until the clouds cleared to get a shot of the peaks in full view.
Though Kelso is an easier mountain, I can start to appreciate the amount of commitment and effort that goes into climbing peaks in the dark. I'm still recuperating two days later. I may want to try and do this again sometime on a different peak, but that won't happen anytime soon.
See more art and mountain photography at: aaronspong.com