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Sunrise from Mt. Sneffels

Sunrise from Mt. Sneffels, Mt. Sneffels Wilderness, Colorado

Sunrise from Mt. Sneffels, Mt. Sneffels Wilderness, Colorado

A long battle with sciatica caused by a herniated disk in my lumbar spine consumed the fall and winter of 2007-2008. By spring, however, the pain had receded, and I was able to become more active again. By August, I was symptom-free, and felt like I had fully regained my strength. Thoughts of the Fourteener project began to resurface. After a few days of shooting in the furnace heat of Moab, I was ready for some cool mountain air, so I headed for Ouray, gateway to Yankee Boy Basin and the trailhead for Mt. Sneffels, which sits at the center of a semi-circle of dramatic peaks called the Sneffels Range.

As with so many Colorado peaks, the first recorded ascent of Mt. Sneffels was accomplished by the intrepid members of the Hayden Survey in 1874, who reported finding evidence that a grizzly bear had beaten them to the top! By most accounts, the Hayden Survey also gave the peak its name. As they examined the great gulf of the Blue Lakes Basin, which lies southwest of the summit, one member of the survey compared it to a similar abyss described in Jules Verne's book Journey to the Center of the Earth. Another member, Dr. Endlich, then pointed to the peak and exclaimed, "There's Snaefell!" a reference to the dramatic Icelandic peak near the abyss described in Verne's book.

I can't claim to have spotted any grizzly bear scat when I climbed the peak, but I did find the usual evidence of homo sapiens slobus ‒ a few discarded candy wrappers. However, such minor annoyances were the farthest thing from my mind when I summited the peak an hour and a half before sunrise on a marvelously calm and starry night. My rapid progress had been aided by the solidly constructed trail up the initial scree and talus built by the dedicated volunteers of the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative. Gradually the stars faded, and I saw the new moon rising over a slowly brightening band of orange light along the eastern horizon. As spectacular as that view was, the most memorable image of the shoot came at the moment of sunrise, when Dallas Peak (on the left) and the equally dramatic but unnamed peaks ringing the rest of the Blue Lake cirque lit up orange while the summit of Mt. Sneffels cast a triangular shadow on the bright sky near the horizon.

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