Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Sunrise from Marble Mountain

Peak: Marble Mountain
Elevation: 13,266'
RT distance: 12.5 miles
Date: April 6, 2015
Partner: Brad

The Crestone Peak and Needle at sunrise from Marble Mountain in early Spring photography by Aaron Spong
Colorado 14ers Crestone Needle and Crestone Peak with Kit Carson on the right - Prints available 

Brad and I drove down to Westcliffe planning on hiking two lower 13ers, Marble Mountain and Horn Peak.  We thought it would be cool to do a full moon hike to take pictures of the Crestones in the sunrise light.  This would give me an opportunity to try out my new D7100!  We arrived just in time to watch a spectacular sunset on the Sangre de Cristo Range.

sangre de cristo sunset landscape with shavano and antero at left
Sunset looking north. Shavano and Antero are at left  -  Prints available

Sunset over the Sangre de Cristo Range near Westcliffe Colorado panorama
Sangre de Cristo Range Sunset - Prints available

I had photographed this area before last spring. This time I wanted to get the view from high up on the mountain.

Sunrise panorama of Colorado 14ers Marble mountain Crestone Peak Crestone Needle and Humboldt Peak
The Crestone Group from last year taken near Wescliffe.  Marble Mountain is on the left 

The forecast said 30 mph winds with gusts as high as 50.  When we pitched our tent at the trailhead, the winds were as predicted.  We tried to use our truck to block the wind, but there was no way we were going to be able to sleep with the tent flapping around like it was.  Plan B…sleep in the truck.  It was about 10:00 when we turned in.  The wind beat against the truck and shook it while we tried to sleep.  At 1:00 Brad's phone alarm went off.  

"Did you get any sleep"


"Me neither"

"Lets go!"

We started up the trail in the dark.  The light from the full moon was so bright we didn't really even need our headlights.  The road to South Colony Lakes was dry until about .6 miles, then it turned to snow.  We used our microspikes the entire way up as the snow was firm in the cold night.  There is no path once you leave the Rainbow Trail, but the route is somewhat straightforward in the trees along the ridge line.  We reached what we considered to be the ideal location for photos of the crestones above 12,000 ft. and waited here about an hour for the sun to come up.  The cold wind was relentless.  I was worried that I would not be able to keep my camera steady even while mounted on the tripod.  As the sun began to rise, clouds behind the peaks rose as well creating a perfect pink pastel colored light right above the these dramatic mountains. 

sunrise over the Crestone Group with Humboldt peak broken hand peak from marble mountain sangre de cristo range colorado
Wide angle view of the Crestone Group - Crestone Needle, Crestone Peak, Kit Carson, and Humboldt - Prints available

The moon set just as the sun rose. 

The full moon sets over Marble Mountain as the sun rises to the east
Moon setting behind a sub peak of Marble Mountain  -  Prints available

These were rare sunrise conditions on a rarely viewed angle of these peaks.  We were very happy that all our hard work and discomfort of the night was rewarded with an awesome light show.  The golden hour light did not last long.  With frozen hands from taking pictures, we started up to finish the last 1000 ft. or so to the summit.  We had to battle against the wind on our way up the mountain.  A couple times it literally pushed us over onto our knees. 

Wind swept ridge  (Photo credit: Brad)

Fatigue (photo credit: Brad)

A combination of challenging conditions (strong wind, snow, cold, not sleeping) made this summit difficult to reach.  I considered turning back multiple times, even once when I was only about ten feet from the top.  Sometimes I think it's good to just tell your body to shut up…you know, let it know it doesn't always make the decisions. 

On the summit we took a break and ate a snack.  I'm not an apple fan, but that was the best tasting apple I've ever eaten.

Summit views
Broken Hand peak Crestones Kit Carson and Humboldt Peak from the summit of Marble Mountain
Crestone Group and South Colony Lakes

The view south

The return trip dragged on.  I can remember the never ending ridge in the trees and feeling like I was dreaming even though I was awake.  Brad described it as almost being separated from your body…like your body is doing one thing while your mind is doing another.  I do not recommend climbing a mountain on zero hours of sleep.  My brother once climbed Longs Peak with us without sleeping the night before.  I remember at the end of the trip he looked like a zombie.  I'm sure that Brad and I looked the same on this trip.

Taking a break.   (Photo credit: Brad)

At this point, Horn Peak was not very enticing and we decided to pass on our second day of hiking.  We also both agreed that we were not in a safe state to drive in once we reached the truck.  So, we took a quick power nap for about an hour and a half before driving home.  It's amazing what a little REM will do for you!  We stopped at Rudy's BBQ in Colorado Springs on our way home.  We thanked the Lord for a good trip and for keeping us safe.  It was an awesome adventure, but I think full moon hikes are a good one time per year activity.


  1. Awesome job, Aaron! Your photos are gorgeous. I agree, it was well worth it through that bit of torture for that amazing sunrise. Great work!

  2. Wow! Thank you for sharing this beautiful adventure! As I believe this is a "never in my life" trip.