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Sunrise from Humboldt Peak

Sunrise from Humboldt Peak, Sangre de Cristo Wilderness, Colorado

Sunrise from Humboldt Peak, Sangre de Cristo Wilderness, Colorado

For dramatic mountain views in Colorado, it's hard to beat the sight of the Sangre de Cristo Range rising abruptly for over 6,000 vertical feet from either the Wet Mountain Valley to the east, or the San Luis Valley to the west. The Colorado portion of the range is about 120 miles long but only ten or 12 miles wide throughout much of its length. In Colorado, only the view of the Sneffels Range as you drive south from Montrose towards Ridgway is comparable in the way dramatic peaks rise so abruptly from broad, gentle valleys.

In Colorado, the Sangres, as climbers call them, have two climaxes: the Crestone group, centered on Crestone Peak, Crestone Needle, and Kit Carson, and the Sierra Blanca massif, with Blanca Peak, Ellingwood, Little Bear, and Mt. Lindsey as the crown jewels. The two clusters of giant peaks are separated by Medano and Mosca passes and the relatively low peaks that surround them. The Crestone group has some of the most challenging Fourteeners in the state. Crestone Peak and Crestone Needle weren't climbed until 1916, and an adequate topographic map of the area didn't become available until 1967.

Humboldt Peak stands in striking contrast to the sheer cliffs and jagged ridges of the Crestones. This rounded hump of a Fourteener, accessed by an easy, well-constructed trail (again courtesy of the hard work of the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative) sits just to the northeast of the Crestones and provides a spectacular sunrise vantage point. In this image, Crestone Needle is on the left, and Crestone Peak on the right. At the latitude of Colorado, the angle of sunrise varies by more than 60 degrees, from summer solstice to winter solstice. I chose to climb the peak in late September, when the sunrise angle allowed the red light of the rising sun to flood the valley of South Colony Creek and light the Crestones from the base of the steep faces to the summits. If I had done the shoot in midsummer, the sun would have risen much further north, and Humboldt Peak would have cast a blue shadow over much of the most interesting terrain.

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