In late May during this spring of unusually stormy weather here in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado, I finally had a clear weather window to go for a more ambitious high-altitude photo mission. I've had a particular photo idea of Wilson Peak in mind for several years and now would be a good time to go for that!
Sunrise on Wilson Peak
With the trailhead still inaccessible due to lingering snowpack and downed trees, I knew I needed to do a high camp in order to position myself for a sunrise photo opportunity. So I backpacked into Silver Pick basin and set up my tent on a melted tundra meadow next to a gurgling stream, then spent the rest of the day relaxing and doing a bit of scouting for my planned route.
Unfortunately I discovered that my intended route for my morning shot was not doable after all; it was totally melted out and just a horrid wall of steep talus and crumbly cliffs. So, what to do? I had already spent a lot of effort to get up there and didn't want to just bail. I considered some other possible photo ideas which weren't super exciting to me, but then I thought - what the hell, why not go for the summit for sunrise?
So after only about 3 hours of light sleep, I woke up at 2am and started the long trudge up in the dark. Gaining the first saddle was straightforward enough via starlight and headlamp, but from then on the route was quite a mental challenge in the dark! The relentless steepness of the slope was daunting, but the snowfields were totally firm and frozen providing much assurance with my crampons and ice axe. Dawn light had emerged on the horizon by the time I reached the upper ridge, though the challenges only ratcheted up with the spicy mixed-scrambling required to surmount several rugged sections of the ridge.
I finally reached the summit with just enough time to spare to put my warm jackets on and find a decent perspective. I had my camera set up just moments before the sun rose over the distant Sneffels Range, and was soon bathed in golden light!
I'm not really a peak-bagger and though I've done many hikes and camps all around Wilson Peak and throughout the San Miguel Range, it's been about 23 or 24 years since I've summited Wilson Peak! Saying that makes me feel old, but at least I'm still able to haul myself up here!
After about fifteen minutes of shooting photos I packed up and headed back down, eager to get off of the peak while the snow was still frozen and solid. Instead of retracing my steps over the rugged southwest ridge I had came up, I opted to head straight down the first snow-filled couloir and snowfield, which was in fact much easier (and would have been a better way to hike up too).
Many hours later I finally made it back down to my truck 4,000 feet below, and drove back home where I promptly crashed out for a 3 hour nap!
The next day Claudia and I did a more reasonable hike across the valley from Wilson Peak, through vast forests of freshly-budded aspens with a nice view of the peak I had just been standing on the day before.
There's something quite satisfying and cathartic about doing a challenging and ass-kicking adventure; it has a way of cleaning out pent-up physical energy as well as mental clutter and accumulated ambitions. So on our pleasant hike through the aspens I felt especially calm and open to the beauty of the forest and the landscape, just completely soaking it all in with awe and gratitude. This is surely a life to be treasured.