Well it happened. Mark it down, yesterday was the first snow of the season in Rocky Mountain National Park. While its actual not that early or even that unusual as we can pretty much see snow almost anytime of year at the highest of elevations, late summer and early fall snow brings with it a different feeling.
Late spring snows can be annoying. Your ready for summer, warm weather and snow free trails only to get a foot of heavy, wet powder dropped on you. While its annoying, you know its going to melt fast and warmer days are right around the corner.
With the first snow of the season in the late summer or early fall, that feeling is a little more somber, at least to those of use who no longer look forward to ski season (blasphemy I know!). That first snow brings with it a feeling of finality, a stoppage to summer and a signaling that a long cold winter will soon be blanketing Rocky Mountain National Park.
The first snow of the seasons is a reminder, that summer and fall seasons in Rocky are short and sweet. You have to get out and photograph them as much as you can and bask in each and every warm, and beautiful summer sunrise and or sunset. Even when you are holed up in your tent cursing the skies as you wait out a summer monsoon thunderstorm, you know sooner than later, the pad you have your tent sent up on will soon be covered in feet of snow.
Even with all these changes occurring, the first snow of the season still elects excitement. It’s something new and different and it affords the landscape photographer a chance to make images of snow covered landscapes that might be difficult or near impossible during the winter season.
Yesterday morning, i was taken off-guard by the new snow that had fallen. It had been raining hard the night before and when I checked the radar I could see some blue(snow) mixed in with the green(rain) on the weather map. Nothing unusual, even for summer months but I casually though that maybe the summit of Longs Peak would see its first dusting of the season.
When I arrived in RMNP about 4:00 AM to scout out the conditions on a dark night, I could make out what looked like snow on Longs Peak. Looks like we had a little more than a dusting so I headed up Trail Ridge Road to see if I could get myself in a good spot to photograph Longs Peak covered in fresh snow. Just below Rainbow Curve I was surprised to see what looked like some light accumulation of snow around 10,000 ft. Rounding out over Hanging Valley, we now had plenty.
Snow quickly appeared on Trail Ridge and I slowly made my way up the icy road that would have certainly been closed by Park Rangers if the snow had not fallen in the middle of the night. As soon as Rangers got on duty and saw the conditions, they did indeed close Trail Ridge Road down for a few hours until conditions improved. I made my way up to the Rock Cut knowing this was not only a good place for a near 360 degree view for photography, but also one that if the NPS closed the road I would not get stuck on the west side of the park for.
Clouds rolled back in over the divide and Longs Peak but the aptly named Never Summer Mountains stayed cloud free and even got a few brief minutes of sunshine at sunrise. I was able to photograph Mount Cumulus and Nimbus with a little bit of dappled light as well as the top of Mount Richtofen and Static Peak before the sun backed under the cloud cover again.
An exciting morning it proved to be as Park Rangers raced up Trail Ridge Road while I was heading down so they could get the road closed down before anymore people tried to challenge the icy conditions. Even though it was and exciting and productive morning, there was a tinge or sorrow knowing my beloved high country summer was being extinguished slowly by old man winter.