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My Wilderness Wanderings

Updated on June 4, 2012

Enjoying Colorado's backcountry off trail and away from the crowd

All my life I've enjoyed getting out and seeing the backcountry, climbing peaks, talking to pikas and marmots as I cross scree fields, lying flat at the edge of sharp, rocky outcrops and watching red-tailed hawks play on the rising air down below me and following high, windswept ridges just to see where they go. The best wanderings have always been those that take me far from established trails and other people.

With the popularity these days of hiking, backpacking and mountain biking, certain areas have become more crowded, but if a person knows where to look, there are still millions of acres of nearly untouched wilderness where one can find solitude.

Over the following paragraphs you can come along on a piece of one of one of these journeys, which took me on a 27 mile loop with elevations ranging from 9,800'-12,400,' through some of the most beautiful and unspoiled country that I know!

Changeable weather...

I took a few days this past summer to wander in the high country here in my Western Colorado back yard--still an awful lot of snow up there between 10-12k' elevation, which explained why our rivers were at high water stage for nearly two months last summer!

After starting the climb down in the valley in bright sunshine and making my way up through snow drifts as I got higher, clouds moved in towards late morning, coming quickly up the valley and turning the sky dark and angry. I could see the rain long before it hit me, which gave me time to get beneath some spruce trees and shelter there during the worse of it.

Ridgetop destination in sight, storm beginning to come in...

Rain coming up the valley behind me...

Fifteen minutes later the storm was clearing, the sun had returned and I was nearing the top of the ridge!

Up on top!

Great reward after all that climbing!

It was sunny again when I reached the ridgetop, traversing to get around the large cornice of snow that still ran along the ridge just below its crest, for a good distance. This break in the weather gave me an opportunity to relax for a while and enjoy the incredible views.

Another storm coming...

Hail on the way!

Shortly after reaching the ridge's crest, I began seeing signs that I was in for more wet weather...

What began as a few scattered clouds developed quickly into a major hail and lightning storm that made things very interesting up on the ridge for a while! It came on very quickly, and had me scrambling down into the top of a draw where there was some shelter. I crouched beside a cluster of small sub-alpine fir trees there in the draw as a wall of white swept up at me, and hail pounded the area for nearly half an hour.

Rain gear - Because it's important to be able to stay dry when the hail starts falling!

First camp...

Shelter after the storm

Fire, night of hailstorm. A welcome sight and a chance to warm up, dry soaked socks, clothing, etc, and have some soup.

Frost at camp in the morning. First of July, 11,400'

No such thing as the heat of summer, in the high country!

Mist rising in the morning as sun hit the frost...

Back up onto the ridge...

After breaking camp in the morning, I climbed back up onto the ridge I'd been driven off of by lightning, the evening before.

On the way up I passed an incredible cornice that remained from the previous winter's snow...

Views from top of the ridge...

Dancing on the rocks at the edge of the's good to be alive!

Watch your step!

Long, undulating ridge (it is well over 20 miles long, in all!) with 14,000' peaks in the distance...

Looking down into the valley...

View of peak, from near the end of the ridge!

Aerial views of the ridge

These photos were taken in April of a previous year--still a good bit of snow!

Here's the ridge, from the air. My camp the second night was over in the rocks on the right of the image, near but not on the ridge's crest:

Another view of the ridge, from the air:

An abundance of wildlife

Elk, bighorn sheep, pikas, red-tailed hawks, coyotes, elk...

A fairly wide variety of wildlife can be spotted up on this ridge and in the high basins nearby. I saw pikas and marmots sunning themselves on the rocks, bighorn sheep feeding on the grass surrounding a small alpine tarn (tiny lake) in a basin below me, elk in the distance and heard coyotes howling at dusk.

Elk grazing above a lingering snowbank...

Colorado wildflowers--brilliance amongst the rocks!

July and early August are the best times to view wildflowers up above treeline

During the short summer season up at high altitude, the hardy, low-growing plants that call the area home take advantage of the sunshine and warmer temperatures to do their growing and blooming, gracing the ridges and meadows with a rainbow of wildflowers. My favorite--and a rare sight in most places, but abundant up on this ridge--has got to be the tiny but brilliant alpine forget-me-not.

Sky pilot (leaves smell like a skunk, but both plant and flowers are a beautiful sight to see!)

Second camp

Seclusion in the rocks, on top of the world!

The second night I camped just below the ridge's crest, in a quiet, secluded little area protected on both sides by low walls of red sandstone. This prevented the winds, which can be quite high out on the open expanse of the ridge, from reaching me, and gave my fire something to reflect off of for extra warmth.

View from second camp, just before sunset. You can see that the camp is nearly as high as that 14,000' peak off in the distance!

Incredible cloud display over the mountains, just before sunset...

On its way down, time to settle in for a quiet night...

Morning in the high country

It's an incredible experience to greet the new day up there in the high, thin air, and one I never get tired of!

First light on the peaks, a soft and brilliant glow heralding the coming of day...

Lighting up the still-snowy cliffs...

Colorful lichen on the rocks, just after sunrise

My camp, shortly after the sun came provided shelter from the wind, there was a convenient snowbank for water, and wood had to be hauled up from a little tree island far down below

When building fires above treeline, one needs to be careful not to damage or disturb the often-fragile alpine tundra and its delicate vegetation. The spot where I built my little fire didn't have any ground cover on it to begin with, as the ground had been worn down to the red sand there by years' worth of water dripping from the rock overhang above and pooling there. Was no pool when I made my fire, but the ground was somewhat damp, so I put down a flat little sandstone slab as a base for the fire. You can see the sandpit where I built the fire a bit more clearly in this photo...

Gear Carried - Sometimes I venture up into the high country with very little in my pack, in order to provide myself an opportunity to practice and improve upon

These are the items I took along on this particular wilderness wander. The list varies from time to time, depending on the intended length of my journey, purpose of the trip and the time of year, but most of the things on this particular list are basics which I always make sure to include.

My load was right around 23 pounds, all things included. I didn't carry a stove or tent, sometimes do, sometimes don't. It does get cold up there at night, don't know what the temperature got down to, exactly, but there was frost the first morning. I had my little super-lightweight sleeping bag (rated for 30 degrees) and was fine, with a reflective tarp wrapped around it, and me.

  • ¾ length Ridgerest pad

  • Sleeping bag (1.5lbs, rated to 30deg.)

  • Reflective tarp/ground cloth (Space Sportsman Hooded Blanket with grommets)

  • Contractor's grade 50 gal. trash bag

  • Tent fly/tarp

  • Stocking cap, wool

  • Spare socks

  • Fleece top and bottoms

  • Medical kit

  • Rain gear (Red Ledge)

  • Klean Kanteen & Sierra cup

  • Knife

  • Gloves

  • Multitool (Leatherman Wave, ferro rod, lighter and jute twine also in pouch)

  • 30' paracord

  • Katadyn Pocket Filter (has been in constant use for 12 years, and has never failed me)

  • Food (not much in picture, ate most of it on the trip...)

  • Notepad/pen/paperback

  • Snares

  • Map

  • Flashlight, CMG Infinity

  • Fire Kit

Klean Kanteen Wide-mouth Bottle

Klean Kanteen Wide Mouth Stainless Steel Water Bottle (27-Ounce)
Klean Kanteen Wide Mouth Stainless Steel Water Bottle (27-Ounce)

I find a stainless steel bottle like this one good to carry for so many reasons--it provides a lightweight and sturdy water carrier which can't easily be split or damaged and doesn't leach chemicals into your drinking water, allows for boiling water for purification, cooking and melting snow over the fire.

Mine has been a valued part of many expeditions, and the addition of a simple wire handle makes it easy to place on and off the fire for cooking.


Sources for some of the other outdoor gear that I carry...

When choosing gear to take with you into the backcountry, don't forget the "Rule of Threes"

A human being can, depending on environmental conditions and personal conditioning, survive for...

-- 3 hours without shelter

-- 3 days without water

-- 3 weeks without food

These rules can really help when it comes to keeping our priorities straight and choosing what we might need to take with us.

Shelter/warmth (tarp, rain gear, warm clothes, hat and socks) must be a top priority when venturing into the high country where temperatures can easily drop below freezing even in the summer and the weather changes on a dime, with the ability to collect and purify water being a close second.

What gear do you consider essential when traveling in the backcountry?

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    • MarilynImanse profile image

      MarilynImanse 5 years ago

      A nice piece of safety gear that is worthwhile having is something called a SPOT Satellite GPS Messenger. It is a tracking device that, once set up, sends a message to your loved ones that you are ok, or you might be needing some help. You activate it online and set up your messages to whomever might want to know your progress or if you get hurt and need help. A lot of times you can be in areas where there is no cell coverage and if you get hurt you could be stuck there for days. The SPOT tells people where you are and can send help if needed. I have one on my sailboat and send a message about every 12 hours while doing passages or if I move the boat from one bay to another. That way, the people on my list know where I am at almost any given time. They get an email or text message that takes them to a Google Maps page and they can see exactly where I am. Love it! And so do they.

    • Einar A profile image

      Einar A 5 years ago

      @MarilynImanse: That is a useful technology for those who are so inclined, and I can see why you would find it beneficial when sailing. Carrying things of that nature is not a path I would choose for myself, though. When I spend time in the backcountry I do it for the freedom and solitude and often to challenge myself in some way as well, and being tracked, plotted, watched and retrieved if a day or two late is not part of the picture for me, nor do I believe it ought to be. Thanks for reading!

    • Grandma-Marilyn profile image

      Grandma-Marilyn 5 years ago

      I haven't the faintest idea. I am one of those that camps easy whenever possible. I loved reading about your trip though. The pictures were fantastic. Thank you for taking me on your trip with you through the backcountry.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Nice to meet you of the RocketSquid quest. I love your images

    • earthybirthymum profile image

      earthybirthymum 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Wow, what an awesome Lense! The pictures are stunning, and your description of your journey inspires.

    • profile image

      getmoreinfo 5 years ago

      I absolutely love the photographs, they are gorgeous, very nice!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I really love the photos! :)

    • Loganor profile image

      Loganor 5 years ago

      Totally awesome trip dude, thanks for taking us along. One of these days I'll take you up the Continental Divide here in New Mexico. Here the one thing you MUST take is water! So any kind of good, sturdy, lightweight water bottle is key gear.

    • Diana Wenzel profile image

      Renaissance Woman 5 years ago from Colorado

      Thank you for immersing me in your glorious wilderness. I love the world of wandering and you have found the paradise that exists out there off the beaten path. My kind of place. My kind of moments. Loved the photos and opportunity to enjoy this virtual hiking and camping experience (without the hail and lightning). Appreciated your reminder about the true priorities when out in nature. Very nicely done.

    • Wednesday-Elf profile image

      Wednesday-Elf 5 years ago from Savannah, Georgia

      So delighted tol share your interesting wilderness wanderings through your fabulous photos and descriptions from the comfort of my warm, comfortable (if boring) home. Admire you for what I could not do. :)

    • Einar A profile image

      Einar A 5 years ago

      @Diana Wenzel: Thanks for coming along--glad you enjoyed the journey!

    • Mickie Gee profile image

      Mickie Goad 5 years ago

      Bear Bells. I never hiked as far as you, but when I lived in CO, my hiking friend and I never went into the foothills without those bells. Our neighborhood was on the edge of the Pike National Forest and we encountered bears in our yards on a regular basis. Learned to respect and admire them from afar!

    • designsbyharriet profile image

      Harriet 5 years ago from Indiana

      Great lens and pictures. I have never gone hiking, but if it is anything like your lens, I am very tempted even though I am so into creature comforts. I will vicariously enjoy the hike while reading your lens.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      The lens is really wonderful and I love your use of photos it explained everything that you wrote about

    • mbgphoto profile image

      Mary Beth Granger 5 years ago from O'Fallon, Missouri, USA

      I love your photos. Well done!

    • artbyrodriguez profile image

      Beverly Rodriguez 5 years ago from Albany New York

      How beautiful...and wonderful photos. So nice to meet you through this lens.

    • dahlia369 profile image

      dahlia369 5 years ago

      Breathtaking beauty and the kind peace that can only be found high up in the mountains. Your beautiful photos remind me of Slovenian Alps.

    • Scriber1 LM profile image

      Scriber1 LM 5 years ago

      This hike looks beautiful. I've found that a good pair of boots are essential whenever I go hiking...although I've never done any hiking as extensive as this. It sounds absolutely wonderful though.

    • BlueTrane profile image

      BlueTrane 5 years ago

      I love living in Colorado! So much to see, do and enjoy! And, so much of it is easily accessed. Great lens!

    • profile image

      AlleyCatLane 5 years ago

      Wow! Fantastic photography. I am not an outdoorsy person but admire those who are. Thanks for sharing the beauty of your excursion. Blessed!

    • Paul Ward profile image

      Paul 5 years ago from Liverpool, England

      Excellent lens: Angel Blessed

    • mary lighthouse15 profile image

      mary lighthouse15 5 years ago

      You have a great camera! I love your photos! Great lens as well!

    • DelightfulDanie profile image

      DelightfulDanie 5 years ago

      The pictures are beautiful! What a great lens!

    • LouisaDembul profile image

      LouisaDembul 5 years ago

      Beautiful pictures! For wilderness wanderings....good shoes, backpack and a hat! Oh, and mosquito repellant, a lot of it!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      mine would be stuff for my safety aside from food.

    • Anthony Altorenna profile image

      Anthony Altorenna 5 years ago from Connecticut

      Amazing. Your photography is extraordinary, and the vistas are awe-inspiring. Thank you for sharing your journey and your tips for wandering safely in the wilderness.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I enjoyed your climb and the pictures you took.

    • CNelson01 profile image

      Chuck Nelson 5 years ago from California

      Excellent adventure!

    • Sonia DB profile image

      Sonia DB 5 years ago

      This is a well thought out lens, I love the photos.

    • Brandi Bush profile image

      Brandi 5 years ago from Maryland

      "High Five!" for amazing photos! :)

    • profile image

      Auntie-M LM 5 years ago

      Wow, what a trip! what photos!

    • profile image

      pawpaw911 5 years ago

      Very well done. Many years ago, I backpacked a full week on two different occasions. I would highly recommend it to anyone. You will see things that will stay with you the rest of your life. Sitting alone on the side of a mountain in the dark, and watching the sun come up, can be an almost spiritual experience.

      You photos are very nice.

      As far as essential gear, I think a fanny pack with survival gear to wear on short excursions away from camp is very important.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I loved traveling with you on your 27 mile trek...the easy way, I know I'd never be able to keep up. I was just reading the comment below and that is a good idea to have the essentials in a fanny pack for folks going out, people do get off trails and could be very grateful for that small pack. Your expertise and the way you share it is just so matter of fact that I can picture what you are doing, like that small fire built in the clear drip area and you take the opportunity to share about the fragile tundra...just a matter of you knowing a lot of facts of wilderness survival and sharing them so well. That list of supplies you had, man wight adds up quick!

    There for the finding...

    Seek your own solitude

    The purpose of this trip wasn't so much to reach any particular destination, scale a peak or cover a certain number of miles as it was to enjoy some time on a high, quiet ridge where I've never once met another human in all my years of wandering there, and only once seen sign of one.

    There really are still quite a few places around here--and in most areas of the country--where one can go and be entirely alone, if one chooses--especially if willing to avoid established trails, and make your own way through the wilderness!

    Colorado wilderness guidebooks and maps

    All photos taken by and property of the author, unless otherwise noted.

    Do you enjoy getting off the trail and finding solitude? - Tell us about your experiences!

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      • flicker lm profile image

        flicker lm 5 years ago

        I enjoy being in the woods by myself. Something special about that. Thanks for the sharing your journey into the back country. Spectacular photos!

      • profile image

        JoshK47 5 years ago

        I'm not going to lie, these pictures are so beautiful I felt a little bit misty looking at them. Absolutely stunning. And a wonderful read to accompany them. Blessed by a SquidAngel!

      • TheBaseballCoach profile image

        TheBaseballCoach 5 years ago

        Beautiful scenery thanks for sharing

      • GabStar profile image

        GabStar 5 years ago

        Spectacular pictures, wonderful lens!

      • profile image

        anonymous 5 years ago

        Well done. I've been to Colorado twice. Now, I really really want to go back.

      • profile image

        fullofshoes 5 years ago

        Great lens. I vacationed in Colorado many, many years ago. Your photos are beautiful and a great reminder of my time there.

      • profile image

        bdkz 5 years ago

        Wow, wow, wow! Your photos are amazing!

      • RedHillGeneralS profile image

        RedHillGeneralS 5 years ago

        These photos are just breathtaking!

      • Coreena Jolene profile image

        Coreena Jolene 5 years ago

        Beautiful photos. You really get to see things that many people never get to see. Thanks for sharing.

      • Ann Hinds profile image

        Ann Hinds 5 years ago from So Cal

        Because I will never get there and am not in good enough shape to try, I found this to be a wonderful adventure. I love it when you can watch the storms roll in and as a camper, I am also savvy about the weather. Great job on the lens and the pictures are amazing. Thanks for taking me along.

      • BuckHawkcenter profile image

        BuckHawkcenter 5 years ago

        Wonderful to share your backpacking with you. Reminded me so much of my year in Colorado and all the great hikes just to see those beautiful Rockies.

      • case1worker lm profile image

        case1worker lm 5 years ago

        A wonderful lens with some beautiful and inspiring photographs- that is the nearest I would get as i hate heights- but thanks so much for sharing these and details of your adventures.

      • DIY Mary profile image

        DIY Mary 5 years ago

        What magnificent photos! Although it has been awhile, I do enjoy day hikes when I can spare the time. It's nice to get outside and get some fresh air.

      • micheleburke profile image

        Michele Marie Burke 5 years ago

        Fabulous photography! Very interesting facts about getting off the trial. Thanks for sharing!

      • Grandma-Marilyn profile image

        Grandma-Marilyn 5 years ago

        I love seeing nature but for short periods of time. I wouldn't be able to handle the solitude for very long.

      • lyttlehalfpint profile image

        lyttlehalfpint 5 years ago from Canada

        I love getting off the trail, but don't often get to ... The photos utterly grabbed my attention ... enjoyed this lens and living vicariously through your trip

      • profile image

        Deutschbutcher 5 years ago

        Wow those photos look awesome!

      • safereview profile image

        Bob 5 years ago from Kansas City

        I really enjoyed this lens. It's very nicely done...informative and entertaining. Chock full of amazing photographs this lens makes me miss Colorado even more!

      • Mickie Gee profile image

        Mickie Goad 5 years ago

        Oh, yes, I enjoyed this vicarious journey back to the state that I love and miss every day of my life. I miss the solitude I used to have as well. Thank you for the gift.

      • Roze LM profile image

        Roze LM 5 years ago

        I love going outdoors, and basically carry only my camera. Inspiring to look at your photo's, really nicely done!

      • rob-hemphill profile image

        Rob Hemphill 5 years ago from Ireland

        I love your photos, and you've documented your journey so well, great lens!

      • profile image

        anonymous 5 years ago

        Getting off the trail and finding solitude is great for clearing the mind and soul searching. I find that a solitary fishing spot by the seaside with the sound the the waves against the rocks is great for that. Thanks for transporting me to your solitary place.

      • profile image

        anonymous 5 years ago

        i love it to the max! i enjoyed your lens and you have really great pictures here. more power einar;

      • profile image

        anonymous 5 years ago

        great lens with beautiful pictures

      • lclchors profile image

        lclchors 5 years ago

        yes but never this secluded. how beautiful. I envy you, great lens

      • Brandi Bush profile image

        Brandi 5 years ago from Maryland

        We love to hike, but we don't have scenery like you do! :) Gorgeous pics!

      • profile image

        SteveKaye 5 years ago

        I live at about 250 feet above sea level. Nevertheless, I truly enjoy going out into parks where I can be close to nature.

      • JoanieMRuppel54 profile image

        Joanie Ruppel 5 years ago from Keller, Texas

        Awesome photography! My favs were the clouds and the wildflowers. I am a big Dan Fogelberg fan and his music was floating through my head as a background to your lens. His album High Country Snow would fit perfect!

      • Country-Sunshine profile image

        Country Sunshine 5 years ago from Texas

        I used to go backpacking every weekend. I never went to the mountains in Colorado, tho. Mostly Texas and Arkansas. Your photos are lovely. Great tips on how to what to take and how to survive.

      • Lady Lorelei profile image

        Lorelei Cohen 5 years ago from Canada

        Really enjoyed your images of your wilderness Colorado trek but many of the pictures are coming up blank for some reason...not sure why. Have a wonderful weekend.

      • Einar A profile image

        Einar A 5 years ago

        @Lady Lorelei: Thanks, glad you enjoyed coming along! The picture issue has been ongoing for a couple of weeks now, not just on my lenses but on others. This will be the second time I've gone through and fixed this particular one... Thanks for letting me know.

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