Blog - Photography Blog - Anish Patel Photography

Landscape and travel photography blog. Everything from traveling to camera gear.

The San Juan Mountains

Sunset over the Dallas Divide

Ay the San Juan Mountains. I didn’t think fall foliage would look this nice but apparently those yellow and red aspens under a nice mountainous backdrop really can leave your mouth ajar.

The thing about the San Juan Mountains is that it’s pretty remote and not internationally well-known, like say nearby Arches and Canyonland National Parks. This makes it less of a place for Disneyland tourists and more for people coming to hike, climb, off-road or run; my kind of people.

There are easy viewpoints to get to and hard remote ones and bunch in-between.  The ones you’re more than likely to have seen before are from the Dallas Divide, Million Dollar highway, or from the Telluride area. There’re not super easy to access though, as they usually require dirt road driving (probably the reason you see less tourists).

I did plan two hard hikes; one to Wetterhorn Peak and the other to Mount Sneffels. I couldn’t really make either though. Hiking up to Wetterhorn basin, I had only 4 hours of sleep the previous two nights. Add to that, camping at 12,000 ft and another night with even less sleep, I awoke in the morning with some altitude sickness and a massive headache.

 

High camp, at Wetterhorn Basin.

I did get some great astrophotography pictures while up there, in the night though, and massive headache or not I was going to climb something and I settled for Wetterhorn’s neighbor, Matterhorn Peak at 13,590 ft.  I would regret climbing it though, as the climb back down was twice as hard as the climb up and it made me way too tired to do anything the rest of the day or the next morning, so Sneffels was out of the question.

 

Next time I come I’m spending some more time and pacing myself a little better. Heck, I think I’ll leave the heavy ass camping and camera gear and do some running.

Wetterhorn Peak, at the dead of night.

Ruined Trip?

I headed out to Washington State for the North Cascades and Mount Rainier. People warned me about the weather but I was going in mid July so I'll thought I'll be fine. Turns out living in Georgia has kind of spoiled me.

View from the top of Table Mountain, in the Mount Baker Wilderness. You're looking at Mount Shuksan under cloud cover.

View from the top of Table Mountain, in the Mount Baker Wilderness. You're looking at Mount Shuksan under cloud cover.

The weather hasn't been bad per say, it's just been killing me exactly at sunset, sunrise and in the night.

One minute I have clear skies and then wham, clouds everywhere, and not the good kind of clouds either, where're talking about thick heavy clouds that the sun has no hope of shining through.

First there was my easy trips to Artist Point and Table Mountain on the Mount Baker highway. I knew going in, there was going to be a lot of clouds but who cares, my trip just started and it wasn't like it was a long hike.The clouds mostly covered the peak, which is not what I wanted and I got a pretty lame picture.

 

This is as clear as it got at night on the skyline divide trail. The peak of Mount Baker is completely hidden and the prominent peak to the left is Grant Peak, which is east of the true summit.

Then came the skyline divide trail, which gets nice and close to Mount Baker. I wanted to get sunset, the night and then sunrise all while solo camping up there.

While hiking up there things were what I would call partially cloudy. Once I got camp setup, on I think the fifth knoll of the trail, things got decidedly worse. A huge amount of clouds swept in for sunset. Oh well, I thought it should clear up some at 2 am, like the weather report said, so I went to sleep with the alarm set to 2 am. Nope, it turns out the weather on top of mountains is unpredictable - who would have thought? I did manage a decent picture of the clouds sweeping over Grant Peak, along the east ridge of Baker though.

 

Well that was that, hopefully Rainier would turn out better. I headed out to Sunrise at the north entrance, hoping to get some Milky Way shots overlooking Rainier. The weather forecast was for clear skies and when I got there, clear and blue it sure was.

My view from Burroughs Mountain. I could barely see the camera in front of me.

My view from Burroughs Mountain. I could barely see the camera in front of me.

My plan was to hike to a half mile shy of Burroughs Mountain and take a shot on the trail with the almost sheer cliffs overlooking the volcano. I set up both cameras; one for stills and one for a time-lapse with a good 2 hours before sunset. Then I saw the first clouds about half way up the top of Rainier. No big deal, I thought…...

Looking back towards the Sunrise visitors center, a big wave of misty clouds looked to be rolling in. The weather report was for partial cloudy skies at sunset and clear skies at around 1 am, so I was still holding out hope that they would just pass. You can see what the visibility actually looked like on the right.

The weather report for clear skies at around 1 am held water though and I got some pretty good moonlit, milky way and sunrise shots.

This is the kind of view you can expect once the clouds dissipate, or in my case move lower, leaving an amazing bank of clouds below me.

That seemed like the only good weather I got for the whole week. For the next sunset I planned on going to Mount St Helens. Reports were for a partial cloudy sky which would clear up later in the night.

Driving up there I saw a pretty clear St Helens with some clouds. A big bank of clouds rolled in at what seemed like on cue at sunset. I got some OK shots looking at the other direction from the volcano but at that point I was feeling really frustrated and didn’t stick around for the night.

Fogged out Mt Rainier, at Paradise.

Fogged out Mt Rainier, at Paradise.

The final place I planned on going; Paradise, on the south entrance of Mount Rainier National Park, turned out to be the biggest bust. Driving up there I could again see the peak clearly but as you can guess, once I got there it was completely under cloud cover. I waited one hour after sunset to see if would dissipate but once it didn’t, I hiked back down to the trail head parking lot and thought I would wait it out in the car.

As 1 am rolled around, the visibility was even worse. Then 3 am ticked by and still no luck. I decided to pack it in and just drive back at that point, as I doubted sunrise would be clear (I did double check the visitor center webcam to check I made the correct decision - I did - big whoop).

 

So that was the trip, mostly bad, but that’s looking at it right after the Paradise let down. The skyline divide trail, along the ridge line towards Mount Baker was still very cool, even though there were clouds covering most of the peaks. On top of that, I had a very nice night at Sunrise at Mount Rainier, looking at the stars. I guess that’s the pacific northwest; lots of gloomy clouds but amazing once you get lucky enough to peak past them.