Gladstone High Camp

June 2020  |  San Juan Mountains, Colorado

Situated in the center of the San Miguel Range near Telluride, Colorado, Gladstone Peak (13,913 ft.) is overshadowed by its two popular neighboring fourteeners Wilson Peak and Mount Wilson. But Gladstone is an awesome peak with a dramatic pyramid shape, and in my opinion one of the more photogenic mountains of the San Juans.

With a clear and calm weather forecast and a rock solid snowpack from previous sub-freezing nights, I knew I had an opportunity for a high camp to photograph a portrait of Gladstone Peak. Donning my crampons, I headed over the pass by Wilson Peak then up a steep snowfield to a high ridge of Mount Wilson directly facing Gladstone from across a saddle.

Tent perched on a 13,400 foot ridge of Mount Wilson
13,400-foot tent platform.
Snow platform on a rocky ridge

The precipitous ridge I intended to camp on was nothing but jagged boulders, but after scrambling around for a while I finally found one spot that was flat enough to camp on – after a bit of work! I started by filling in the larger holes with big rocks, then filled in the gaps with snow harvested from a nearby snowdrift. After two hours of work I had a flat platform between boulders to put my tent on, except for one problem – my tent was longer than the platform! No problem, I just let the tent hang off of the edge by about a foot and tied off all the guylines. While laying down on my air mattress, my feet were hanging off the edge! Still safe enough, but a bit strange.

I spent the afternoon just relaxing and soaking in the views from my 13,400-foot high perch, then enjoyed photographing Gladstone at sunset, and once again in the middle of the night when the moon rose.

Colorado, Gladstone Peak, Lizard Head Wilderness, San Juan Mountains, San Miguel Range, tent, earthshadow, panorama, photo

Gladstone Earthshadow Panorama

A spectacular panoramic view of Gladstone Peak (13,913 ft.) with Wilson Peak (14,017 ft.) behind, and earthshadow to the right above the western San Juan Mountains.

It's kind of an oddball thing to do, to go and camp high up on some random mountain ridge, but for me this is life at its grandest! Aside from the spectacular views to photograph, there's something satisfying about being able to safely camp on such a precipitous spot in the heart of a rugged alpine landscape like this, epecially on such a beautiful calm evening.

Colorado, Gladstone Peak, Lizard Head Wilderness, San Juan Mountains, San Miguel Range, stars, tent, moonrise, photo

Gladstone Lunar Light

Moonrise light on Gladstone Peak, as seen from a high camp on a 13,400 foot ridge of Mount Wilson.

Since this Black Diamond HiLight tent is featured in almost all these photos, I'll say that I'm becoming more and more stoked with it after the last few high camps I've done. It's perfect for this kind of thing, with its small footprint area and sturdy poles. Plus the huge side door is sweet for hanging out and enjoying the big views.

Colorado, Gladstone Peak, Lizard Head Wilderness, San Juan Mountains, San Miguel Range, tent, photo

Morning coffee time in the tent at a high camp near Gladstone Peak.

Worn out and a bit sunburned, in the morning I packed up and headed back to the truck before the snow got too soft. As much as I've been loving these high altitude camps this spring, I think it's time to put away the crampons and ice axe and enjoy more "normal" backpack trips from here on out!