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Courthouse Mountain

Fall Colors 2014
Saturday & Sunday, September 20-21, 2014

On Saturday, Diane and I headed back down to the San Juan Mountains again so we could climb to the top of Courthouse Mountain in the Cimarron’s . While this mountain is short compared to the surrounding peaks in the area at only 12,152 feet, it is uniquely shaped and has over 1,000 feet of vertical prominence. It’s also a very distinguishable peak near Owl Creek Pass that is often photographed, especially in the fall when the surrounding mountainsides are changing colors. I have seen this mountain in the skyline for many years when I would drive to Ouray and Silverton, and decided it was finally time to climb to the top a few weeks ago when I had a different view of it during our hike into Wetterhorn Basin. While there were afternoon storms predicted after 3:00pm today, we didn’t need to get too early of a start for this hike since it’s a relatively short trail, clocking in at just under 2 miles, but it climbs almost 2,000 feet of elevation in that short distance.

Trailhead sign in the shadows.

Courthouse Trailhead by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Surprisingly, much of the trail was in the trees and offered limited views. However, once we finally broke free of the trees we had outstanding views over Chimney Rock (11,781 feet) and down the Cimarron River Valley towards Silver Jack Reservoir.

Chimney Rock & Silver Jack by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Diane takes in the views on our way up.

Above the West Fork by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

View across the West Fork of the Cimarron of Dunsinane Mountain (12,742 feet) and Precipice Peak (13,144 feet).

Across the Valley by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

After some scrambling through a boulder field we finished hiking up the trail to the summit.

Trail to the Summit by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

The summit.

The Summit by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

View over the West Fork towards Turret Ridge from the summit.

Cimarron Shadow by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Spotlight on Chimney Rock below.

Chimney Rock by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Diane on her way back down after we spent some time relaxing at the summit.

Hiking Down by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Precipice Peak has a very cool profile from this side.

Precipice Peak by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

When we reached the Courthouse Trail Pass again, I climbed a narrow outcrop of rock nearby for some different views above the trees. Looks like there was a storm over the Sneffels Range, so it’s a good thing we were on our way back down. That small rounded peak on the far right at the horizon line is Baldy Peak (10,603 feet) which was the first peak we climbed this summer.

Sneffels Range Storm by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

A different view of the Courthouse Mountain peak from here.

Courthouse Summit by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

After finishing the hike and driving back over Owl Creek Pass to Ouray for dinner, we passed this scene which wasn’t there when we drove by in the morning. Looks like they got a little too close to the edge with the trailer.

Oops by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

While much of the area around Owl Creek Pass was still very green, there were a couple of patches of aspen trees that had changed color already. I stopped for a few photos.

Bend by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Early Fall Aspen by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Lit Up by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Even a little red to be found.

Red & Gold by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

I made sure to stop at Vista Point for another photo of Courthouse Mountain and Chimney Rock. Dark storm clouds had moved in and there were a few bolts of lightning near the mountain after I took this shot.

Courthouse Mountain by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

After dinner in Ouray we took the Million Dollar Highway towards Red Mountain Pass so we could see how the fall colors were coming along and find somewhere to camp for the night.

As we neared Ironton Park we could see that the aspens were already changing pretty nicely around here.

Million Dollar Aspen by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

The storm clouds that moved in allowed for some nice spotlighting.

Ironton Park Colors by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Yellow Patch by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

View over the highway from near the Corkscrew Gulch turnoff.

Million Dollar Highway by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

As we climbed up towards Corkscrew Pass a rainstorm moved in behind us and the sunlight lit up the rain and the colors below.

Fall Rain by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Corkscrew View by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Almost to the pass.

Red Mountain Jeep by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

After crossing over the pass there was some nice light on Hurricane Peak in front of us.

Hurricane Peak by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

We ended up setting up camp in Gray Copper Gulch for the night. Not only is this a very beautiful place to camp, but we were also planning on climbing a peak or two in the morning. This location turned out to be a great choice since we were treated to an amazing sunset!

View from our campsite.

A Little Light by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

The sky reflected in a small tarn with a storm off in the distance.

Rain by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

There must have been a small gap in the clouds on the horizon, because just before sunset the mountains around us lit up!

Light Stripe by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

It was an amazing sight. This is probably my favorite photo from the evening.

Storm Light by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Brown Mountain and Hurricane Peak reflected at sunset.

Reflection by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Sunset by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

End of Light by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Hurricane Light by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

After the sun was down, I took one more long-exposure photo of the subtle glow during dusk.

Dusk by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

We went to bed shortly after sunset…and then the rain started. We woke up around midnight and looked outside of the tent to see the sky filled with stars and the Milky Way was visible, so we thought that the rain was done for the night. Were we wrong! Sometime between 2:00am and 2:30 it started to rain heavily again and didn’t stop. It was still raining when I woke up to see about photographing sunrise. I looked out of the tent and saw that we were in the clouds and there was no hope of them clearing out. We tried to wait for the rain to stop or at least slow, but that didn’t seem to happen, so we ended up having to quickly break down camp in the rain. With the poor weather conditions, the mountains we had planned to climb would have to wait for another day. Instead, we decided to drive down to Silverton for some breakfast.

View from our camp shortly after we woke up for the morning.

Morning Clouds by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Foggy Morning by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Foggy Rain by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Hurricane Peak and some of the other 13ers around us were covered with a little snow.

Hurricane Snow by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

In the Clouds by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

The fall colors along Cement Creek and near Silverton were very nice.

Changing of the Seasons by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Gold & Clouds by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

After breakfast the clouds finally started to clear out a little, so I took the opportunity to photograph the low clouds and fall colors on our drive back over Red Mountain Pass to Ouray.

Clearing by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Clouds on the Mountain by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

South Fork by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

We spotted this moose on our drive back. It’s only the second moose I have come across and my first decent photo of one.

Moose by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Brown Mountain Colors by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

We stopped and hiked into a nice yellow aspen grove in Ironton Park on our way through.

Aspen Sunburst by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

While we may not have been able to climb all the mountains we had wanted to this weekend, the beautiful sunset on Saturday night and clearing clouds on Sunday with plenty of nice fall colors certainly made up for it.

>> Courthouse Mountain Photo Gallery

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