Nature, Landscape, and Night Sky Photography by Zach Schierl

The View from Above: Panoramas from Colorado’s Peaks

Why do we climb mountains? For the sheer physical challenge. For the adrenaline rush. For the smell of danger that accompanies looking over the edge into 2,000 feet of nothing but thin air. For the mental high that comes from conquering a summit. To temporarily escape from the chaos of humanity stewing below. “Because it is there”. Your answers may vary. I climb mountains for all of these reasons, with different ones taking priority depending on my mood (although I have a limit to how much danger I am willing to smell…). Ultimately though, as a photographer, I climb mountains for the view.

With the highest average elevation of any state, Colorado has no shortage of mountains, and thus no shortage of views. Some of the best come from the summits of Colorado’s famous 14ers, a group of 53 peaks whose crests reach to more that 14,000 feet above sea level. At this altitude, other than birds and oncoming thunderheads, there is nothing left to look UP at. No mightier peaks obstruct your gaze and if you’re lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of a plane flying a few thousand feet below.

However there is not a direct correlation between higher elevation and better views. Far from it. After all, the 14ers have done nothing special to earn their fame, they have simply been the recipient of enough geologic good fortune that their summits exceed the ultimately meaningless and arbitrary 14,000′ mark. As a result, the Mount of the Holy Cross, topping out at 14,009′, is one of Colorado’s most famous mountains, in large part due to those uppermost nine feet. Meanwhile, Grizzly Peak, just 14 feet lower (13,995′), lies nearly forgotten just a few dozen miles away (lost in the shuffle of six—that’s right six—different Grizzly Peak’s in the state) yet provides an equally majestic vantage point.

Below I’ve put together a collection of panoramas shot from different summits around the state in an attempt to present the diversity of Colorado’s mountain peaks. Every summit, no matter how high, has a distinct atmosphere and feel, from suburban hills where you can down onto sprawling subdivisions and strip malls, to remote wilderness peaks where the only sign of mankind might just be the jet contrail 15,000 feet above you.  Seeing summit panoramas always encourages me to get outside and fight Earth’s gravity once again. So go find any good chunk of rock that sticks up a bit above its surroundings, walk, hike, bike, climb, or crawl up it, and you are sure to be rewarded. My only specific advice is to find a peak without a road to the top. Views are best enjoyed in solitude and few things as demoralizing than spending hours trudging up a mountain only to find a gift shop, parking lot, or a family of six enjoying a three course meal in the back of their hummer at the top…or worse, a combination of all three.

Panorama from the summit of Mt Sneffels

Mt Sneffels, San Juan Mountains, 14,158′

Panorama from the summit of Mt. McConnel

Mt. McConnel, Poudre Canyon, 8,008′

Panorama from the summit of Twin Peaks, Ouray, CO

Twin Peaks, San Juan Mountains, 10,798′

Panorama from the summit of North Baldy Peak

North Baldy Peak, West Elk Mountains, 12,850′

Panorama from summit of Mt Shavano

Mt. Shavano, Sawatch Range, 14,236′

Panorama from Crag Crest, Grand Mesa, Colorado

Crag Crest, Grand Mesa, 11,189′

Panorama from the summit of Courthouse Mountain

Courthouse Mountain, San Juan Mountains, 12,152′

Panorama from the summit of Mt. Elbert

Mt. Elbert, Sawatch Range, 14,440′ (highest point in Rocky Mountains)

 Larger versions of all panoramas available

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4 responses

  1. You are so lucky to be able to go to so many beautiful spots; thank you for the great pictures! I think the most recent one is very exotic with the brilliant lakes and curved peaks. Mt. Sneffels reminds me of the name of the mountain in Iceland in “The Voyage to the Center of the Earth” 🙂

    November 2, 2014 at 9:56 pm

    • Mt. Sneffels is indeed named for the mountains Snæfell in Jules Verne, which also happens to be a real volcano and glacier (Snæfellsjökull) in Iceland!

      November 4, 2014 at 2:00 pm

  2. Thank you so much for stopping by my blog! You’re photos are stunning! You have a wonderful eye for photography 🙂

    November 3, 2014 at 2:58 pm

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