Summer is officially in full swing in Rocky Mountain National Park now. The trails are nearly snow free and almost all the lakes in Rocky have thawed. Wildflowers are out in abundance and the display this year of flowers is by far the best I’ve witnessed in years. It’s a great time to get out into parts of Rocky Mountain National Park that are difficult to access much of the year when covered with snow and ice.
While summer has officially arrived, the dynamic weather that has benefited the streams and wildflowers continues to make conditions for photographers interesting as well. Last week was filled with dramatic sunrises, rain, wind and clouds. All the elements landscape photographers keep their fingers crossed for when planning an outing.
After spending a week in New York visiting with family it was time for me to get out into the backcountry and take advantage of the summer conditions in Rocky’s backcountry. Black and Green Lake deep within Glacier Gorge seemed like the perfect jaunt to check out conditions.
Green Lake has been on my list of locations to photograph for sometime. I’ve photographed Black Lake numerous times before but had not yet made it up to Green Lake. Green Lake requires quite a bit more effort to access than Black Lake as most of the hike above Black Lake is cross country travel without a defined or maintained trail. Green Lake lies at the base of the famous Spearhead formation which I’ve also wanted to photograph close up.
So I started up the Glacier Gorge trailhead at 3:30 AM to give myself ample time to make the 5:40 AM sunrise at Black Lake. While I would have been happy to hike all the way to Green Lake for sunrise, the area around Green Lake proper does not receive the first rays of sun because it resides directly below and behind Longs Peak. Even during the summer months it takes sometime for the sun to get high enough above Longs Peak to illuminate the Spearhead.
When I started my hike up to Black Lake it was raining lightly. The forecast showed the skies would clear and the rain would stop by sunrise. Basically conditions looked promising for both the chance of clouds and possibly some breaks with sun.
The weather as it had most of the week did not disappoint. Sunrise was stunning at Black Lake and the wind held off just long enough so that a reflection was possible, that changed shortly after sunrise however. As the wind picked up and the sun ducked in and out of the cloud cover I left Black Lake and continued on towards Green Lake.
When I arrived at Green Lake I was surprised to find much of the lake still had ice and snowpack on it. While most of the lakes in Rocky Mountain National Park had already thawed, Green Lake still was partially frozen as of July 10th. The wind was howling pretty good and the clouds were whipping over and around the Spearhead. The sun would periodically move in an out of the clouds illuminating the Spearhead in dappled lighting. While it was raw and chilly in the winds at Green Lake the conditions were just about perfect for spotlighting and photographing the Spearhead. Because your not going to get first light on the Spearhead, these kind of dynamic conditions with the clouds and light are about the best one can ask for.
So after spending an hour or so photographing the varying light and clouds at Green Lake I packed up my gear and headed back down towards the parking lot. With the streams running and wildflowers of all varieties to be found it finally felt as if summer, my favorite season in Rocky had indeed arrived.