Mount Bierstadt to Owl Creek Pass

Friday & Saturday, September 30 – October 1, 2016

Owl Creek Sunset
Ending the long day with a spectacular sunset above Owl Creek Pass in the San Juan Mountains.

I left right after work on Friday afternoon to begin my annual week-long October trip. Typically, I spend the entire week on the Colorado Plateau in southern Utah or northern Arizona, but this year I decided to spend the first couple of days in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado to try and make up for my lack of climbing mountains over the summer and maybe photograph some of the leftover fall colors. I wanted to try and get one more 14er in this year and Mount Bierstadt (14,060) in the Front Range sounded like a good easy option to start with. After leaving work I made my way over to Dillon for dinner and then finished the drive on I-70 to Georgetown where I followed the road up to Guanella Pass. I found a spot to camp and pretty much fell right asleep so I could get an early start the following morning.

I actually slept very well that night and had no problems waking up at 3:30am. I got my gear together and headed over to the trailhead where I started hiking around 4:00am. My goal was to reach the summit before the sunrise and I had no problems getting to the top with plenty of time to spare. As I expected, this is definitely one of the easier 14ers I’ve hiked and it’s no surprise that it’s so popular, especially since it’s pretty close to Denver. It’s been awhile since I was on a summit for the sunrise, so it was nice to watch the sun come up this morning. There were only about a dozen people on the summit with me, which is more than I’m used to, but it sure was a lot less than the 100-200 people I passed going up the trail during my descent!

Entering the Mount Evans Wilderness by headlamp.

Mount Evans Wilderness by Headlamp

There were about a dozen people on the summit of this popular peak for sunrise this morning.

Busy Summit

Watching the sun rise above the horizon.

The Sun

From the top I could see that there was distant fog at the southern end of South Park.

Distant Fog

First light on Grays and Torreys.

Grays & Torreys

Warm morning light on Mount Bierstadt.

Mount Bierstadt Sunrise

I had to take a photo of the benchmark on the summit.

Bierstadt Benchmark

Mountains all around…

Morning Peaks

Hiking back down on the trail that cuts through the thick willows.

Trail Through Willows

Crossing the boardwalk across the swampy area near Guanella Pass with Mount Spalding (13,842), The Sawtooth (13,780) and Mount Bierstadt under the sun.

Boardwalk

When I returned to my Jeep at the now-full parking lot (cars were lined up along the road in both directions), I finished driving over Guanella Pass and headed down the other side along Geneva Creek to Grant. When I reached the highway I turned right so I could make it to the San Juan Mountains for sunset. I quickly reached Kenosha Pass and was surprised at how packed this area was with people checking out the fall colors. I was glad that I had no plans to stick around this area and continued on to Buena Vista. At this point I debated whether to stick to the highway or to head over Cottonwood Pass. In the end I chose to go over Cottonwood Pass into Taylor Park since it’s going to be closed next year so they can pave the Gunnison side. I figured it would be nice to drive it one last time before they did that…

Fall colors along the Cottonwood Pass Road.

Cottonwood Pass Colors

View from the pass over a small tarn towards Taylor Park.

Cottonwood Pass View

One final shot of the gravel road before it gets paved next year…

Cottonwood Pass Road

After following the road through Taylor Canyon I stopped in Gunnison for a late lunch before continuing on to The Cimarron’s for the evening. It was still too early for sunset, so I decided to check out the fall colors along the Little Cimarron Road and then I wanted to check out the road that climbed up onto High Mesa that I noticed a few weeks ago when we were in the area.

There were some nice colors along the Little Cimarron Road and High Mesa Road.

Little Cimarron Road

Cimarron Color

Aspen Stand

Color Below

Just a little camera movement.

Ghosts of Autumn

Lean

Dark clouds and spotlight.

Clouds & Color

The colors along the road to Silver Jack Reservoir were pretty nice, too.

Cimarron Road

When it was getting a little closer to sunset I made my way over to Owl Creek Pass and started hiking to a nearby high point that would give me a nice view of Chimney Rock (11,781), Courthouse Mountain (12,152) and the rest of the peaks surrounding the West Fork of the Cimarron River. While I was in the area I ran into a couple of other photographers from around the country, including Jerry Dodrill from California.

My first view of Chimney Rock and Courthouse Mountain after climbing out of the trees.

Courthouse Mountain

Shortly before sunset the sun dipped below the layer of clouds above with Mount Sneffels (14,150) and the rest of the Sneffels Range on the horizon.

Rolling Color

This turned out to be one of the best sunsets I’ve photographed in quite a while.

Owl Creek Pass Sunset

A closeup of Chimney Rock and Courthouse Mountain.

Chimney Rock Light

Chimney Rock Sunset

When the light was gone I headed back down to my Jeep at Owl Creek Pass and ended up giving a ride to a guy from Denver back to his vehicle who had parked about three miles away and climbed a much steeper route to the location we were at. Then I headed back over the pass to Vista Point and found a place to camp for the night. It had been a long day and I was pretty tired, so I went right to sleep again.

>> Mount Bierstadt to Owl Creek Pass Photo Gallery


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