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Towering Over Telluride: Ajax Peak

Friday – Saturday, September 13-14, 2019

This weekend Diane and I had another concert to go to on Saturday evening, so just like when I climbed Red Mountain #2 a few weeks ago, I decided to climb another easier peak in the San Juan Mountains on Saturday morning so that I could return home in the early afternoon. I’ve had Ajax Peak (12,785) near Telluride on my to-do list for a while, and that looked like it would be the perfect quick and easy mountain to summit this weekend. Ajax Peak may not be a very high peak by Colorado standards, but it is a prominent sight when you are in the town of Telluride, and I believe it is also a popular hike from town since there is a good trail all the way up to the summit. The peak sits along the ridge separating Ingram Basin from Savage Basin and is down below Telluride Peak (13,509), which I climbed at the end of last summer. Of course, I was not planning on climbing Ajax Peak from Telluride like most people do, instead I planned to drive over Black Bear Pass and spend the night in Ingram Basin where I would start my hike in the morning.

I left after work on Friday, grabbed a quick dinner and headed south to the San Juan Mountains. As I was approaching Ridgway in the early evening I could see that the entire Sneffels Range was almost completely obscured by smoke in the air. I’m not sure where it was coming from, but it looked pretty thick and when I reached Ouray I started to smell the smoke.

On my drive to Red Mountain Pass I stopped for an evening smoky view of the Red Mountains over Crystal Lake.

Red Mountains in Smoke

As I drove up into Mineral Basin I had a very smoky view over to the Uncompahgre Wilderness.

Evening Smoke

There was less smoke looking south to the Weminuche Wilderness over Anvil Mountain.

Weminuche View

Soon I reached Black Bear Pass at 12,840 feet and started driving down into Ingram Basin.

Black Bear Pass Sign

There was a smoky view of the distant mountains including Mount Sneffels (14,150) on the horizon.

Smoky Mountains

As I drove further down into Ingram Basin the sun started to set and the warm light mixing with the smoke made for some very colorful conditions. I stopped frequently to take photos along the way.

Mountain Layers

Ingram Lake

Ingram Lake

Driving down the Black Bear Pass Road with Trico Peak (13,321) in the light behind my Jeep.

Black Bear Pass Road

Ingram Basin Sunset

Ingram Basin Sunset

Ajax Peak, my destination for Saturday morning, is the point in the upper right of this photo. If you look closely you can see the trail switch-backing up the slope.

Ajax Peak Sunset

Golden Smoke

Golden Smoke

The warm light was pretty amazing this evening.

Smokey Sunset Drive

Light & Smoke

Light & Smoke

Smoky Telluride Sunset

Smoky Telluride Sunset

Sunset Through Smoke

Sunset Through Smoke

I found a spot to spend the night shortly before reaching The Steps, which is where the one-way section of the Black Bear Pass Road begins. And since I had no desire to drive down into Telluride on Saturday, I made sure not to go any further. I had a nice view of Telluride from my campsite and watched the full moon rise on a Friday the 13th. Apparently this does not happen very often. As I was trying to get to sleep I could hear music echoing in the canyon below and later learned that this weekend was the annual Telluride Blues & Brews Festival.

I woke up before sunrise on Saturday morning to a brisk 39 degrees outside and it appeared that most of the smoke had cleared out overnight. I started hiking shortly before sunrise and watched the Harvest Moon set on the horizon as I climbed the switchbacks to the summit.

The Earth Shadow over Ballard Mountain (12,804) as I left the road and started up the trail.

Morning Earth Shadow

I watched the full moon set next to Lone Cone and Little Cone as I hiked up the many switchbacks of the trail.

Lone Cone Moonset

As I climbed higher Wilson Peak (14,017) came into view.

Wilson Peak

Looking down to Bridal Veil Falls, the tallest free-falling waterfall in Colorado, and the power plant building that sits above them.

Bridal Veil Falls

As I climbed higher I got a better view of the San Miguel Mountains including Mount Wilson (14,246).

San Miguel Mountains

I liked the warm and cool tones on these cliffs along the ridge above Savage Basin.

Savage Cliffs

Following the ridge to the summit of Ajax Peak. There is a well-used trail visible on the left.

Ajax Peak

After hiking to the high point of the mountain, I continued on to the end of the ridge where there was a much better view.

Ajax Peak Ridge

The pointy shadow of Ajax Peak was pointed right toward the town of Telluride when I arrived.

Towering Over Telluride

A view down into Savage Basin as I hiked along the ridge on my way back. I’ve driven through there many times on the Imogene Pass Road, but it’s been a while…

Savage Basin

Following the trail back down to Black Bear Pass Road.

Trail Descent

After returning to my Jeep I drove back over Black Bear Pass and headed back home. It was another short but sweet visit to the San Juan Mountains!

>> Ajax Peak Photo Gallery

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