4,000 meters is an unrecognized altitude threshold within the United States. However, it is as well known where the metric system is used, as 14,000 feet is known in the US. This page is dedicated to climbing those peaks in Colorado that rise above 4,000 meters (13,123 feet)

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Colorado Mountain Club Centennial Celebration – 100 Years in the Making

This is not a true trip report. Just recognition of the Colorado Mountain Club’s Centennial Celebration and my little part in that. On September 8, 2012 the Colorado Mountain Club (CMC) intended (and indeed succeeded) to put members on every 14er in the state as a way of celebrating its 100 anniversary. Plus, it’s pretty cool to put people on every 14er at the same time and it was a first for Colorado to have a single organization take on such a logistical task.
Our trip leader Beth Hungerford and I had gotten to know each other through teaching Wilderness Trekking School (WTS) for the CMC. We had never hiked together so Beth thought she would remedy that and she asked me to partner with her and co-lead Handies Peak for the CMC Centennial Celebration. I of course excepted. It would be fun to hike with Beth, contribute to the celebration, and to see Handies Peak again.
I had climbed Handies in 2010 and loved it. Handies, like all of the San Juans, is colorful, beautiful, and has all that rugged mountainy stuff a climber expects and relishes in a climb. Its relatively easy and at the same time very rewarding.
And so we did. We traveled down to Lake City on Friday, Sept 7 and rendezvoused in town for some last minute logistics. There was another team also climbing Handies that day from the CMC. We were deciding if we should join up or hike separately. The was a complication in that the person leading the Redcloud and Sunshine hike had cancelled at the last minute and we were trying to find a way to have some of the Handies group tackle Redcloud and Sunshine. These two peaks are literally right across the street from Handies.
Beth’s group was only 4 people so we decided to stick with our original goal of Handies and left the other group to figure out Redcloud and Sunshine. We would wait for them at the Handies trailhead in case they decided to join up.
To (literally) make a longer story short, Beth’s group drove to the Handies trailhead and camped out. We were ready to hike at 7:30 am, the meeting time for the other group to join us, but they did not show.
We set out towards the summit under beautiful blue skies.

Our Group (Linda, Beth, John, and Me) Under Beautiful Skies

The good weather was not to last however as about 9:00 am clouds quickly rolled in and did their best to look threatening. As we ascended the final pitches to the summit we encountered light snow showers. Snow squalls could be seen moving our way from the west.

A Dreary and Dark Sky Hangs Over Handies’ Summit

We captured the summit just after 10 am. Not wanting to tempt fate we did our stuff on the summit quickly and headed back down. Just below the summit we met up with our other team heading up.

The “Summit Shot” For the CMC Record Books (Beth, Linda, John, and Me)


Snow Squalls Moving in While We are on the Summit

On the way down we stopped at the beautiful Sloan Lake for a quick lunch (that we didn’t have time for at the summit) and then headed back to the cars. The San Juan mountains always deliver. We had a great group and put the first team of the day onto Handies’ summit!
Happy 100 years CMC!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Near Perfection! The Olympus OM-D E-M5 Paired with the New Panasonic LUMIX G VARIO 12-35mm/F2.8 X Series Lens



The Olympus E-M5 Combined with the New Lumix 12-35 f2.8 X Lens

Sorry this post has been so long in coming. But I really wanted to get out there and use this camera in the “real” world for my “real” uses. My intent is not to do a technical review of this camera and lens. If you want to read a full-on review of this camera and lens and their capabilities; there are many online. Just Google them.

One review in particular is ironically appropriate and can be found here: http://www.photographyblog.com/articles/head_to_head_review_olympus_om-d_e-m5_v_nikon_d7000/. This review compares the OM-D E-M5 to the Nikon D7000. Both cameras that I currently own and use.

Since purchasing the combination of the Olympus E-M5 and the Lumix 12-35 f2.8 lens I have had a chance to use this camera in many settings from family/friends gatherings to the summit of 14,000 plus Colorado mountains. This camera/lens combo is truly the photographic tool that I have waited for…well…for ever. It gives up very little in terms of image quality (if anything really) and provides the flexibility, customization, and control in a tiny very solid, weather-sealed magnesium-alloy body. This camera and lens are built as well as any camera I have owned including the Nikon D300, D80, D7000. In terms of construction the Olympus and Lumix are equal.

The Lumix lens construction is superb. It is rock solid. There is nothing loose or wobbly. The zoom action is (and I have never written this about anything) truly smooth as butter. It is the finest overall lens (construction, image quality) that I have owned. Compared to its optical peer the Nikkor 17-55 f2.8, the Lumix is more solid, better built, better optically and a third the size. Let me state that again. A third the size!

Am I gushing….Sure maybe a little. But credit where credit is due. To have this well a constructed camera/lens with the functionality it delivers is a dream come true. Is this tool perfect? Well no. But almost. The biggest knock I have against the camera is the colossally stupidly engineered on/off switch. What possessed an engineer in Japan to design the switch the way they did, after succeeding so well with the rest of the camera, I may never know.

EM5 Switch_Snapseed

The E-M5 On/Off Switch, Colossally Stupid

I really am a much bigger fan of the on/off switch on or near the shutter release. Oh well. There has also been a lot of bashing of the small size of the controls making it difficult for “people with large hands” or gloved hands to operate the camera. Well here is a news break…the entire camera is SMALL. That’s the idea! You can’t make a small camera with big buttons. I can operate the camera just fine. I guess I must have “normal” sized hands. The controls may be hard to operate with gloves on but uhh…isn't everything harder to do with your hands when you are wearing gloves. Its hard to blow my nose when I am wearing gloves and I have a big nose.

While climbing a mountain at over 14,000 feet last Saturday with gloves on I found the switches hard to operate but all of the control wheels like Exposure Comp, and Program Override easy to use. If you have “big hands” you may be better off with a Hasselblad. If you want something tiny and lightweight get the E-M5 and deal with the controls. Its no big deal. Really. Except for the stupid on/off switch.

Real World

Lets have a look at some real world imaging with this camera. After I buy a new camera I usually look for that first “Whoa” shot. The first picture that you look at from a new camera/lens and it simply has beautiful depth, color, detail etc. and you realize that you have a winner.

The first “Whoa” shot with the E-M5 and the Lumix 12-35 was this image captured high in the La Sal Mountains of Utah.


La Sal Mountains, Utah, July 2012

This small jpg really does not do this picture justice. But it is truly incredible in person. There is a wonderful depth to this image that goes beyond just having sharp detail from foreground to background. The lighting, detail, contrast, color, and rendition all play together to make an image that draws me in and leads my eye from the boulder in front to the high, far-away saddle in the background.


Close-up Of Pine, La Sal Mountains, Utah, July 2012

A little closer up shows the “macro” (not really) performance of this lens. This image really illustrates the silky smooth and pleasant bokeh that the Lumix 12-35 f2.8 can deliver. The depth of field that is reduced in the 4/3rds format (due to the smaller physical sensor size) is still completely acceptable in this close-up.

The hits kept coming with this camera/lens duo.


Edge Of The Forest, Golden Gate Park Colorado, August 2012

Again, the detail, ambiance, and rendition of this image is incredible. This image, when printed (approx.) 13” X 19”, has a depth and dimensionality that pulls the viewer deep into this scene. There is a fine quality to the trees near the right of this image even where the light begins to fall off where and the detail leads the viewer ever further into this forest.


Sunset Near Red Feather Lakes Colorado, September 2012

Dynamic range? The image above shows plenty! The very bright setting sun and the very dark shadows of the pine trees in the left foreground, all captured with plenty of detail. No blown highlights or blocked-up shadows when exposed properly. Again with the rendering that pulls the viewer all the way into this image. The ability to view the histogram “live” is probably my very favorite thing about cameras with electronic view finders. Its seems pretty damn stupid to look at the histogram after you shoot.

For something that isn’t a landscape…


Cessna 195 and Chrome, Rocky Mountain Airport Colorado, August 2012

I like to see how shiny chrome is rendered by a camera/lens combo. Here again the image has a warmth, depth of reality, and quality that makes you believe that you are really looking at, and could even touch, the chrome in the image.

So What This All Mean?

This is not a gear review at all but perhaps more of a description of the Gestalt of the camera/ lens tool and its photographic products. As I said a above, there are tons of excellent detailed reviews of both the Olympus OM-D E-M5 and the Lumix 12-35 f2.8 X lens. This duo is not the best photographic tool ever made. But it is pretty damn good. Real damn good actually. Also considering the magnesium alloy, weather sealed body/weather sealed lens and the completely and satisfyingly solid and mostly well laid out controls, this camera kit is astoundingly well balanced and truly great.

I really don’t like to haul big heavy gear around. In town it’s a hassle and uncomfortable. While mountain climbing its actually quite logistically and physically challenging…at least for me. One can not go light into the mountains when they are starting with 5 or 6 pounds of camera gear.

The logic here is quite simple. I can now get insane image quality, control, flexibility, ruggedness, and photographic fun in a package that is less than half the weight and size of my Nikon (or similar non-4/3rds camera). Additionally, I get:

  • Live histogram-check
  • Electronic viewfinder that can display tons of additional info-check
  • A really pleasingly styled camera-check
  • Access to a huge array of very high quality lenses from multiple manufacturers-check
  • A tool that finally fits my needs nearly perfectly-check
  • The only camera with in-body 5-axis image stabilization-check
  • Tiltable rear screen-check
  • Touch screen control-check
  • Fast response 4.5 – 9 frames per second depending on modes-check
  • It does hi-def movies but I don’t care-check
  • A blast to use-check

Unless you are wedded to a larger system format, or even if you are, but still need some added flexibility from 4/3rds, then this camera/lens combination will give you astounding results. It is not perfect. Nothing is. But it is one of the best designs and balanced compromises of technology, usability, and quality out there today.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

a common experience

scenes, stories, and lessons from an unlikely hiker

a common experience is a collection of autobiographical short stories that took place between 1998 and the present. a common experience started out as a "fine art" photography book. The text was merely to provide some quick background and context on each image.
However, as the book progressed, the text became as, or even more, important than the images. As the details of each image were elaborated into words, the intention of my book morphed from an art book, to a collection of scenes describing how my life was changed by the stories accompanying each image. The story behind each image, I realized as the book progressed, was the essence of each picture and the thing that made each image so visually powerful and important.
a common experience is not a hiking book, or a guide book. It is an autobiographical journey set in the Colorado landscape. Hiking and climbing in a common experience provide only the context and subject matter for my photographic interests, and the classroom where I was able to face fears, meet challenges, share experiences, and create a record that will hopefully be read by many.

The Quartzville Triple Play - Starting The Season With a Three-Way (LincCamBro)


I sure get tired of writing reviews and such in the off season. Reviews seem fun in January but by May I really want to be writing trip reports…of hikes that I have successfully completed.

In the 2010 season I completed my goal of 40 14er summits by age 50 (the 40 X 50). Therefore, 2011 was the first season that I really could just sort of climb whatever the hell I wanted. 2011 was a was a little chaotic as I had no plan or goals and just sort of picked up a hike here and there. I completed Elbert and Antero, “just for fun” along with a few 13ers.

This year is really no different as I have sort of accepted that I don’t really have that goal driven drive to climb 14ers. My goal now is to summit peaks, have fun, and take pictures. It does not really matter which mountain that happens on. As long as its fun, and above 13,123 feet.

So as this season starts I have some vague peaks “goals.” I really want to climb Baldy near Boreas Pass (new), South Arapahoe Peak (new), and Handies (repeat). I’ll probably climb others if the opportunity knocks. And so, such an opportunity knocked for Tuesday June, 19.

Joe Leahy is a Colorado Mountain Club (CMC) Senior Master Instructor for the Wilderness Trekking School (WTS). (http://www.hikingdenver.net/) I don’t know Joe that well but he has consistently won extremely high praise from his students and instructors and he always seemed funny at instructor meetings. So in my constant search to meet and annoy new people I sought out the CMC trip schedule and found Joe leading a trip up Mt. Lincoln (14,286 feet). The route started at the Quartzville USLM site. I had climbed Lincoln before in 2003 from the standard Kite Lake route. The Quartzville hike looked straight forward and logistically easy so I signed up for the trip. I was not disappointed.

I hate waking up early. Its typically an unpleasant necessity when climbing high peaks in order to beat bad weather and such. So I decided to camp at the Quartzville Site and meet the other hikers when they drove in at morning. Then I could sleep in a little.

I left home around 5:30 pm on Monday evening and drove via 285 down to Rt. 9 and to the trailhead through a bewildering tangle of dirt roads for which my GPS guided me perfectly. The road to the trailhead gets rougher as you approach the large, flat parking area but it is really just the last 100 yards or so that are rough. I made it easily with a Ford Escape.

The wind was really howling when I arrived and would continue to do so right up through the next morning. It was blowing easily 15 to 30 mph all night long. So much for sleeping. I set up my tent and prepped my gear for the next morning. It was a little chilly but not cold. Just windy.


My New Nemo Tent on a Windy Plateau Just Shy of 11,800 Feet at the Quartzville USLM Site

Having some time after the tent was up I did a little site exploration. I found the actual USLM marker just about 20 feet from my camp site. The inscription, which can sort-of be seen below says, “Quartzville USLM.” I did not know what USLM stood for so I looked it up and apparently it means US Lime and Minerals.


The Official Quartzville USLM Marker

After exploring I finally tucked in around 9:30 pm. The wind was blowing so strong I woke up in the middle of the night (I actually woke up many many times all night long) and pulled my truck around to help block my tent from the wind.

I woke up around 6 am with the wind still blowing hard. I waited for Joe and the team who I expected to arrive around 7 – 8 am. It was so windy that I nearly bailed and headed for home. I assumed that if it was this windy at 11,800ish it would be howling on the ridge to Lincoln.

However, the wind subsided to a manageable speed as I waited for the rest of the crew. The remainder of the team arrived at about 8:30 am. A late start for me but the weather was forecast to be blue-bird all day long.

We had a very diverse group of 12 people plus the leader, Joe. There was a guy who had summited Denali and some folks in their 70s. Typically this would be a hard group to herd dealing with such diverse skill and fitness levels. But somehow, throughout the entire day, Joe managed to keep everyone working at their peak with no one becoming exhausted or complaining of the pace.


The Group Heads Up the Obvious Mining Road. Mount Lincoln is Visible in the Right Background

The herd started up the mining road at 8:45 am. This road winds up and around the eastern shoulder of Lincoln into the Cameron Amphitheater where around 13,000 feet it cuts sharply to the right (NE) and finally winds back on a NW heading directly toward the summit. Around 13,100 feet we came to a chained gate across the road that said NO TRESPASSING. I believe that this applied only to motorized vehicles as this is a relatively common hiking route. So we carefully crossed the gate and continued up.


The Gate Across the Mining Road Near 13,100 Feet



Pondering the Final Approach to Lincoln’s Summit

At around 13,500 feet the well defined trail turns into…well…many well defined trails. I am guessing, but have not proven, that all, or most of them, or some of them, eventually arrive at the summit. I mean, we could see the summit so it was not really critical how we got there as long as we were going up. We wound around and then ended up crossing below a small snow field just below the summit.


The Group Heads Up the Final Pitch to the Summit of Mt. Lincoln

Immediately below the summit Joe stopped the group for some last minute instructions as we had some first 14er summiteers. I volunteered to head up to the summit first if everybody wanted so I could get pictures of the first-timers ascending their first 14er.


Bill Robinson (1st), and Bill Peterson (4th) Step Onto the Summit Of Their 1st 14er, Mount Lincoln, 14,286 Feet

The entire group of 13 happily piled onto Mt. Lincoln’s summit around 11:40 am. The weather was absolutely perfect, even a little warm. I was down to a t-shirt on the summit. Well…pants and other stuff too. The entire group was happy, strong, and ready for more fun on Cameron and Bross. We all grabbed some eats and water and headed south west to Cameron.


My Forehead, Teeth, and the Rest of Me on the Summit of Mt. Lincoln

Let me state here that Mt. Cameron is not an “official” 14er because of a de facto rule. The rule states that to be an “official” Colorado 14er, a peak must be at least .5 miles from an adjoining 14er, and must have an elevation difference between the connecting saddle and its summit of at least 300 feet. If that is difficult to digest, then don’t fret. Its not all that important. But, this de facto rule is accepted by the Colorado Mt. Club and most other peak baggers.

However, geographically speaking, Cameron and any other peak that is physically 14,000 feet or higher are certainly 14ers as far as organizations like the USGS is concerned. The de facto rules have been accepted by most climbers and organizations, because…you know…we all needs some rules. But in the end, anything that depends on rules instead of physical geography is somewhat arbitrary.

So off we all troddled for the unofficial 14er named Cameron (14,238 ft). The sky was totally clear and the breezes welcome. A rare day in the high altitudes of Colorado.


The Group Heads Over a Sub-Peak Just Below Lincoln’s Summit Towards the Broad Rounded Peak of Cameron Left of Center

We were on top of Mt. Cameron at about 12:40 pm after a short easy walk across the very broad saddle connecting Lincoln to Cameron. I love this saddle. Its is a vast interesting feature that is all above 14,000 feet. (That’s why Cameron isn't an “official” 14er) Its easy and quick to transit across and the final pitch to Cameron is short and subtle.


Our Hikers On Top of Mt. Cameron. A Mining Pit is Visible in Front (and to the right) of the Group.

The exact summit of Cameron is somewhat difficult to pinpoint, when you are there. There are at least two spots that are good candidates, so we walked across both of them. Cameron has a large gently undulating summit with a couple of high points and mining pits scattered here and there. We stuck around on Cameron for a short while taking pictures until Joe rounded us up to head off towards Mt. Bross.

Our gaggle then headed back down the shoulder of Cameron with a turn to the south towards Mt. Bross (14,172 ft). The saddle connecting Lincoln to Bross is also gentle like that to Cameron although a little longer and having the requisite elevation change and distance to make Bross count…”officially” as a 14er.

It’s a pretty straight shot over to Bross over the gently rolling and pleasant saddle/ridge. We all made our way towards Bross talking and telling stories and jokes. Let me point out here that Mt. Bross is “official” (officially in a legal private property sense) off limits. If you climb beyond the signs that say, “Private Property” and other similar strong words then you are indeed breaking the law by entering the land claims of those who actually own the peak. Property boundaries are well marked. Cross these boundaries at your own risk.


The Long Easy Hike to Mt. Bross (14,172 ft) from Mt. Cameron

There are a bunch of mining roads/trails to the summit from the saddle and its pretty obvious how to get all the way to the top. The final pitch is quite gentle and the summit is even broader than that of Cameron. It’s huge!


Broad Summit on Mt. Bross?…You Betcha!



The Group on its 3rd Summit of the Day. The Cloud Seen in this Image May Be the Only One We Saw That Day

We all arrived at the summit of Bross at around 1:44 pm. The third summit of the day. We were all feeling really great albeit somewhat fatigued, hungry, and thirsty. We took our pictures, shook hands, ate, drank, and kicked back looking at the surrounding mountains and other scenery. Joe took us on a visual tour of the surrounding peaks pointing out all the 14ers and other significant peaks and features. The High Park fire was easily visible. The Waldo and Flagstaff fires had yet to ignite.

Three peaks in one day! That’s the most I have ever climbed. I felt great. It was my first climb of the season and I tagged three 14ers in one hike! That might be old hat for others. But for me its pretty damn cool. I have to think its pretty cool for anyone who loves the mountains.

After a short stay on Bross, Joe gathered up his charges and we headed north west down the saddle towards Lincoln. At the lowest point on the saddle we headed down the face of the saddle to the east and into Cameron Amphitheater to rejoin the jeep road that we had ascended earlier that morning. Well, a little earlier.

We travelled down the solid face of the the amphitheater being sure to spread out the group to minimize impact to the tundra. We descended from 13,750 on the saddle to 12,760 where we again picked up the mining road. It’s a quick and easy way down if you are going back to Quartzville.

Most people do this hike from Kite Lake. Kite Lake is beautiful and makes picking up all four 14ers, including Mt. Democrat, a little easier. You could get Democrat from Quartzville as well, but the hike would be a little longer.

We descended the mining road back to the Quartzville site and to our cars. The last mile or so of this hike went on, as it always seems to, forever. We arrived back at the cars at around 3:45 pm.

I had climbed all these peaks before so I was not looking on climbing anything new. Just having a great hike with some new folks. If you are looking for a logistically easy, pleasant hike of up to four peaks, then Quartzville is a great and underused alternative. Everyone does Kite Lake. Try Quartzville. Its worth it.

If you liked this trip report and photographs please check out my book at:


LincCamBro June 2012

GPS Route of Our LincCamBro Loop Hike. The Hike Total was Approximately 9 miles and 3,100 feet Elevation Gain

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Its Here! The New Olympus OM-D E-M5

After months and months of waiting the Olympus OM-D E-M5 has finally started to ship into the US and I have finally gotten my hands on this camera. Coincidently on the very same day that my camera arrived, Adobe updated Lightroom 4.0 to 4.1 adding, among other things, the ability to process EM-5 .raw files.


The OM-4T Film Camera (circa 1991) and the recently released Digital E-M5

I can’t say much yet as I have only had the EM-5 for less than a day. I will say that this camera is exquisitely constructed and solid. It brings with it all the charm, quality, and tiny-ness that made the original OM series so well thought of. The family resemblance is obvious and appears to be more than skin deep. Also, the ergonomics beat the hell out of any other Micro 4/3rds camera out there.

I will begin real-world testing of the E-M5 and report back here.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

A Revolution is Coming!


The Newly Announced Olympus OM-D EM-5

Photo courtesy of Olympus

And boy does it look great. I don’t mean to hijack this site and turn it into another photography blog. But there really is some exciting stuff going on in photography gear that pertains to hiking and climbing. Specifically, Olympus Imaging is releasing it’s retro-styled OM-D EM-5 (yes it’s a dumb name. It should have just been the OM-D5 or OM-5D or whatever…), which is housed within a rugged magnesium alloy chassis and is dust and splash sealed. It’s also tiny and relatively light compared to a trad DSLR.

Currently I shoot with both the Nikon D7000 and the Lumix G3. They are both excellent tools. See story below, A Sea Change in Photography Gear. I Hope Its Everything I Wish For.

As noted, the D7000 is rugged but rather large and heavy. The Lumix G3 is very small and light but it is not built for abuse and harsh environments. The G3 also lacks a decent set of buttons and dials to quickly make camera adjustments.

Just weeks after I wrote the article below rumors started appearing regarding a new higher-end Micro 4/3rds mount camera from Olympus; the OM-D. The OM series started in the 70s with beautifully built and tiny 35mm film cameras. At the time they were a revolution in diminutive size, high quality, and style. Olympus now appears to want to leverage that reminiscent and nostalgic love of the OM series and resurrect it in a new digital line of 4/3rds cameras. That new line will be called the OM-D line. The EM-5 would seem to be but the first camera in that line.


The New OM-D EM-5 has the “Retro-Nostalgia” Great looks of its Pedigree OM Lineage

Photo courtesy of Olympus

The EM-5 as mentioned is built on a magnesium alloy chassis. This is de rigor today for any camera that is expected to be used by “serious” amateurs and pros. Mag alloy is light and very strong. Olympus has also water and dust sealed the camera thus giving it even more of a beefy constitution for field use in the often rugged environs of 14,000 feet.


The Magnesium Alloy Chassis of the Olympus OM-D EM-5

Photo courtesy of http://gakuranman.com

There are several other things that make this camera a real “shooter’s” camera. The addition of dedicated dials, buttons, and programmable functions. These controls give the photographer rapid direct access to manipulate camera settings such as shutter speed, aperture, and my personal favorite, exposure compensation. Programmable functions help to customize the tool to the particular photographer. All these add up to, hopefully, make this camera much less “fiddly” and more responsive in use. There are not many things as frustrating to a photographer as having to futz around with a bunch of menus, buttons, and sequences just to set something like exposure compensation. By using dedicated dials the photographer can directly interact with the camera quickly and positively.

So, in closing it appears that after years of market testing, technical improvements, and competition that there will soon (April release) be a rugged, well built and highly specified mirrorless camera. It is small. It is light and built to take a bit of abuse. You know…like you get when climbing a 14er.

I’ve preordered my EM-5 from Amazon. I should be able to directly mount my existing Lumix 4/3 to Micro 4/3rds adapter and Olympus 14-54 lens. I can’t wait. More later after I get the camera and do a little testing. But I think I know what I will be carrying into the hills this climbing season!