San Sophia High Camp - San Juans, Colorado - May 2020

It's pretty rare to be able to camp up high in Colorado. In the summer the threat of thunderstorms above treeline is too terrifying, and in the winter it's just too damn cold. But in mid-May I had a perfect window of opportunity to hike up and camp at 13,200 feet up on a high ridgeline here in the Sneffels Range of the San Juan Mountains in Colorado.

Colorado, San Juan Mountains, Uncompahgre Peak, Uncompahgre Wilderness, Wetterhorn Peak, photo

Uncompahgre Shadow

Wetterhorn and Uncompahgre Peaks loom above the top of the Amphitheater above Ouray as seen from afar – May.

With a consolidated springtime snowpack that had been getting solid freezes the previous 3-4 nights, I knew that with an early morning start I'd be able to safely hike [with crampons] up the snow before the avalanche danger rose in the afternoon. I got up to my high ridge destination at 10am and spent an hour or so carving out a flat campsite on the narrow ridgeline. I was able to dig out one side of a snowdrift and build up a base of snow on the downhill side, complete with a little windbreak wall. Although my campsite was objectively safe, it still felt pretty wild to be camped so high up with precipitous drops on both sides! My inner mountain goat was quite pleased.

Colorado, San Juan Mountains, Sneffels Range, tent, panorama, Mount Sneffels, photo

San Sophia Sunset

Sunset at a 13,200 ft. high camp with a panoramic view of the Sneffels Range. From left to right, the prominent peaks are Dallas Peak, Mount Emma, Gilpin Peak, Mount Sneffels, Cirque Mountain, Teakettle Mountain, and Potosi Peak.

After doing my "chores" of setting up my tent, melting snow for water, and cooking lunch, I then had all day to relax and soak up the incredible views of the Sneffels Range to my north, the San Miguel Range to the southwest, and the expanse of the rest of the San Juans stretching out as far as the eye could see to the southeast. Though this spring has been relentlessly windy in the San Juans for pretty much all of April and May, fortunately it was only just a bit breezy this entire day, and not too chilly either. Still I had lots of warm down clothing to bundle up in.

Colorado, San Juan Mountains, Sneffels Range, moonlight, tent, stars, Mount Sneffels, photo

Moonrise light and stars at a 13,200 ft. high camp in the Sneffels Range.

A stiff wind picked up and blew steady all night long, preventing me from sleeping soundly, which is pretty much the norm for me when snow camping! I woke up at 2:30am to take the obligatory illuminated tent photo with moonrise light shining on the peaks.

Colorado, San Juan Mountains, Sneffels Range, panorama, Mount Sneffels, sunrise, photo

San Sophia Sunrise

A panoramic view of the San Sophia ridge and the Sneffels Range. From left to right, the prominent peaks are Dallas Peak, Mount Emma, Gilpin Peak, Mount Sneffels, Cirque Mountain, and Teakettle Mountain.

I woke up again at 5:30am to shoot sunrise light on the jagged spires of St. Sophia ridge which connects to Mount Ema. Although I had not expected it at all, I was delighted to see that the sun was rising directly behind Wetterhorn Peak way off in the distance to the northeast. I quickly switched to my telephoto lens and snapped some photos of the sun cresting over Wetterhorn's south ridge!

Colorado, San Juan Mountains, Uncompahgre Peak, Uncompahgre Wilderness, Wetterhorn Peak, 14ers, sunrise, photo

Sunrise Behind Wetterhorn Peak

The sun rises behind Wetterhorn Peak and Uncompahgre Peak, two 14ers in the San Juan Mountains.

After a few more hours of rest in the sleeping bag I woke up again for the third time at 7:30am, packed my stuff, and headed back down, sleep deprived but satisfied with my evening amongst the high mountains!