Sundance Mountain in Rocky Mountain National Park does not have the cache and name recognition of many of the other iconic high peaks in Rocky. Ironically, most visitors to Rocky Mountain National Park drive right on past it on Trail Ridge Road.
It’s not that Sundance Mountain isn’t a beautiful peak. It’s granite face, pyramid like summit and beautiful cirque high rising high above Hanging Valley is impressive. The reason why most visitors to RMNP don’t get a chance to admire Sundance Mountain like many of the others is it’s location along Trail Ridge Road.
Just above Rainbow Curve, Trail Ridge Road really starts to test the faint of heart or those for whom fear of heights and exposure to heights is difficult. Winding past Rainbow Curve, Trail Ridge Road quickly continues it’s climb towards timberline. Here, high above Hanging Valley Trail Ridge clings to the side of the mountain with a thousand foot plus drop below with only a rock wall between the road and the drop.
This spot on Trail Ridge Road is exactly the spot where many visitors simply freak out. The exposure and height and is just too much for many and their reaction is to close their eyes or turn away from the drop off. At this location, I’ve encountered many other visitors to Rocky who will literally be driving in the middle of Trail Ridge Road to avoid the edge. Of course a collision with an oncoming vehicle is just as dangerous as sliding off the edge but to many, the fear of heights outweighs rational thought.
What does this have to do with the beauty of Sundance Mountain you might ask?. Well its at this very spot along Trail Ridge Road where one gets the best view of Sundance Mountain rising high above the very valley and drop off that frightens drivers along Trail Ridge Road. Many drivers at this spot are too busy concentrating on the road to take in the view of Sundance Mountain and it’s beauty. So for many, admiring Sundance is secondary to keeping the car on the road.
While driving past Sundance can be difficult, photographing it can be a challenge as well. For one, there’s not many good locations on Trail Ridge Road to stop and get out to take and image. The road is narrow here with no shoulder and only a small pull off. Secondly, there is no lake, stream or tarn here to frame Sundance in. Essentially, one needs some dramatic lighting and conditions on aptly named Sundance Mountain to make her shine.
With our wild spring weather continuing in Rocky Mountain National Park, Sundance Mountain was bathed in just the right kind of light as a late June snow squall cleared timberline. With fresh snow on her summit on June 19th, and some beautiful dappled sunlight coming through the clouds. Sundance Mountain showed why you should take a minute to admire and photograph her beauty, even if it means getting over one’s fear of heights for a few short moments.