Cub Lake is a popular 2.3 mile hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s a fairly easy hike to get to Cub Lake, and the lakes elevation of roughly 8600 ft above sea level makes ideal for early summer photography. Typically, Cub Lake is one of the first lakes in Rocky Mountain National Park to melt out from a long Colorado winter. The hike to Cub Lake begins in Moraine Park and you gradually wind your way through the meadow, past a few beaver ponds, in and out of an Aspen grove to the shelf above the Moraine where Cub Lake can be found.
Not only does Cub Lake melt out earlier than some of the other popular lakes of Rocky Mountain National Park, but its an easy hike to get your ‘Park’ legs back under you. With this in mind, I made a second attempt to photograph Cub Lake last week. I had planned on hiking to Cub Lake a few weeks back, but when I arrived in Moraine Park that morning at 4:30 AM, it was windy and snowing. I’m a glutton for punishment, but I decided to forgo the hike in the wind and snow that morning as the prospect for a decent sunrise appeared to be nil. A decent sunrise never materialized on that morning and I spent that time photographing in and around Moraine Park instead.
Fast forward to last week and here I am arriving at the Cub Lake trailhead at 4:15 AM. The longer days of summer are upon us and sunrise was 5:35 AM this particular morning. The conditions on this morning were not much better when I first arrived at the trailhead then they had been a week prior. This time there was a light rain coming down on my truck and fog floating through Moraine Park. My first reaction was to bail on the hike. It’s a reaction all photographers feel when things are not going as planned. Why not stay in the comfort of my warm truck and wait for dark valley to light up. Many times I’ve had unforeseen circumstances ruin shots I thought were slam dunks. At the same time I’ll admit that I’ve bailed on potential epic shots thinking the light was gone only to be headed down the road or trail to see a spectacular light show unfolding without me photographing it. I could see the moon peaking through the clouds in a few areas and some stars. I figured, I’m either going to get one heck of a sunrise, or I’m going to have a nice hike in the rain.
My typical approach now is to fight off that inner voice, and just move forward with the itinerary regardless of the conditions. That’s not to say I wont make adjustments to my to my plan, but I find it best to ignore the conditions and head out into the field. The one thing I’ve learned is your never going to know what’s going to happen unless you try. The plan for this day was to photograph Cub Lake with Stones Peak in the distance. When I arrived at Cub Lake it was shrouded in fog. I could still see some breaks in the fog off to the east but I could not see any of the peaks west of me, including Stones Peak as the were in the clouds. I figured my best chance for something decent would be to hightail it to the west end of the lake and photograph the scene looking east. The scene changed rapidly and eventually the entire lake was covered in fog. I was able to make 6-7 exposures of the sunrise illuminating the clouds above Cub Lake. I was not only able to photograph this scene, but I also got some great photographs of the fog moving through the trees around Cub Lake. Mission accomplished, and I hiked back to my truck that morning a bit damp, but very content.