Had a couple of intense days on the road in the Leadville, Colorado area getting some landscape photos of the Sangree M. Froelicher hut and the large parcel of private land it sits on. The land is being deeded by 10th Mountain Huts over to the Forest Service in a deal that will protect it from development — my job was to get a nice photo showing it.
Since I can’t hike far these days (coming off knee surgery), I opted for the “disabled” style of touring and covered ground in the 2002 Chevy Silverado we just acquired and are building up as another TAV (trailhead approach vehicle). With a long wheelbase, limited slip rear diff and decent crawling gear, our 4×4 pickup was close to perfect vehicle for driving moderate jeep trails in the Leadville area. “Close to perfect” part is caused by the truck having independent front suspension.
Also known as “inferior front suspension,” or IFS, an independent front might be nicer on the highway than a solid axle, and it certainly soaks up bumps better on dirt roads, but when it comes to 4×4 trails where you need clearance, IFS is a drag as it drops your front differential down on the rocks when the suspension works, rather than lifting it up as a solid axle does. Solution is a skidplate that’s tank armor strong — which we didn’t have. We compensated by being ultra careful; but driving the scenic trails around Leadville was still fun, and the truck got us where we needed to go.
|Shooting photos from the top of Prospect Mountain. Our first day up here was brutal. Heavy haze and tripod shaking winds made telephoto images a challenge (haze removed in this photo, see photo below for how it really looked). The next morning we returned to find better conditions; no wind and less haze. But then, the mosquitoes were loving it as well — luckily one of the standard items in our TAVs is bug juice. By the way, that’s 14er Mount of the Holy Cross on the left edge of the photo.
|Same image, without haze removed.
The plan was to get an opposing view of the hut area from highground to the south. East summit of Prospect Mountain fit the bill: 12,529 feet, with a fun 4×4 trail to the top. I’m always amazed by the cool jeep trails we have in this state. While there is constant activism to close more and more of our beautiful backcountry roads, my opinion is that every jeep trail we have should remain open for perpetuity. Not only do these roads provide an incredible recreation amenity, but many of them are nothing less then historical landmarks as valid for preservation as the mining structures and high mountain passes they access. With all this talk about “preserving roadless areas,” how about we preserve a few roads while we’re at it?
|A bit of cairn building to pass the time while dad waits for the light. We wondered if some miner would think this was a claim marker. Probably not…
Take our photo location for example. We reached the top of Prospect by taking a spur off the Mosquito Pass road. Prospect is part of the historic Leadville mining district — the road to the top is a fun jaunt that meanders over scree and follows a moderately exciting knife-ridge for a few hundred yards. It’s the same track that prospectors of the 1800s followed. What’s interesting is that you’re in the midst of where much of Colorado’s mining heritage began. Claim markers (upturned rocks) are everywhere, and you can look down at Leadville and its surrounding mines. The view includes a half dozen 14ers, as well as the infamous mountain that the Climax molybdenum mine nearly completely leveled before going underground.
At any rate, we (my son came along as assistant) had a blast driving around and shooting photos. Haze from California fires made the images a challenge, but by using a polarizer to cut the tinted air I got a few that will probably fit the bill.
|This is somewhat the photo we were after. The amount of land we had to include in the shot makes the hut a small spec (arrow points to hut). In the final 16 x 20 print you’ll be able to see the hut quite well, but it’ll still be tiny. Most hut photos I’ve taken emphasized the building over the property, it was interesting to do one that had to take in so much land. This shot is exciting when you realize the Sangre Hut is open year-around. Look at the vast amount of alpine terrain you can enjoy from the hut. Summer or winter, you can climb Buckeye Peak, or just roam around on the tundra by foot. As for jeep trails, a classic known as the Mount Zion Road passes above the hut through the alpine — a good example of the 4×4 trails that are such an incredible Colorado amenity. This is a showcase of just how fantastic Colorado’s public multi-use lands can be. You can bicycle or 4×4 the trails, hike or ski the peaks, and even build and maintain a hut.
Photo challenges: My orginal plan was to shoot a stunning high resolution panorama that we’d stitch together using computer panoramic software. I didn’t have the correct lens for this, so I borrowed photographer Michael Kennedy’s 135mm F1.2 Canon EF — an amazing hunk of glass that I felt privileged to use, much less even pick up and handle. Michael’s parting words we’re something like “it’s expensive, be careful,” so throughout the trip our catch phrase’s were things like “lock the center console, it’s got Michael’s lens in it,” or “don’t kick the tripod leg, if that thing falls over we’re toast.” As mentioned above, wildfire haze was the problem, polarizing filter the solution, but we didn’t have a polarizer that would fit the huge diameter of Michael’s lens. We still shot the panoramic series in the hope we can Photoshop the haze out.
As a fallback I did have a sharp medium range zoom with a polarizer that fit, so we shot some landscapes with that as well (shown above). High quality landscape photography is an interesting challenge. We used to be set up for it with my film cameras, but since selling all that stuff and converting to digital, I’ve been totally under gunned and not in the mood to lay out cash for expensive gear that we wouldn’t really use that much. On the other hand, I won’t be going out again and doing landscapes without a selection of filters that fit all the lenses I’m carrying. Lesson learned.
WildSnow.com publisher emeritus and founder Lou (Louis Dawson) has a 50+ years career in climbing, backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering. He was the first person in history to ski down all 54 Colorado 14,000-foot peaks, has authored numerous books about about backcountry skiing, and has skied from the summit of Denali in Alaska, North America’s highest mountain.