Ice On Fire

A much needed change in the weather descended over Rocky Mountain National Park last week. After record warm temperatures and the end to the Labor Day weekend, cold air and snow blanketed RMNP for most of last week. On Wednesday the 9th of September, I took advantage of the fresh snow to hike up Flattop Mountain for sunrise. While sunrise was mostly obscured by clouds, by the time I was back down at the Dream Lake overlook, beams of light were shining down on Longs Peak and Glacier Gorge. Mills Lake and Jewell Lake can also be seen in this image below Longs Peak. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 70-200mm F2.8 AF-S VR FL lens

Its been a rollercoaster week in Rocky Mountain National Park. With late summer continuing its trend of hot and dry weather, exacerbated by the Cameron Peak fire which entered Rocky Mountain National Park last week and burned up along the Hagues Creek and Cascade drainage, one could only expect the year of 2020 to continue with oddities and disruptions.

With the park service closing Trail Ridge Road, Old Fall River Road and access to pretty much all of the north eastern and western portions of Rocky Mountain National Park due to the Cameron Peak fire, the weather took a dramatic turn after the Labor Day holiday weekend.

A strong early season cold front dropped in the night of September 7th, plummeting temperatures and kicking off 3 days of unseasonably cold and wet weather which was badly needed over Colorado.

Most of us probably don’t envision waking up the day after Labor Day, the unofficial end to the Summer Season to find temperatures in the 20’s and snow falling hard but thats in fact what we were greeted with.

Snow fell on Rocky Mountain National Park along with the Cameron Peak Fire from the night of Monday the 7th all the way the through the early hours of Friday morning. In total nearly a foot of snow fell over portions of RMNP and the needed moisture helped to at least temporarily stop the explosive growth of the fire.

Early season storms RMNP provide great opportunities for photographers to get into areas that would be very challenging in the middle of winter. Near timberline on Flattop Mountain the pines were coated in ice and snow. In the middle of winter these trees would not only be buried in large drifts, but just getting up here would require technical winter skills along with great stamina. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 24-70mm F4 S lens
The dramatic shift from summer to winter also allowed for the skies to clear of all the smoke and ash that had been falling over the past few weeks and flip the script from summer type photography conditions to winter landscapes.

I took the opportunity to get out the back end of last week and enjoy the snow covered landscapes in Rocky and get into some areas that are usually very difficult in the winter months due to heavy snows and cold conditions. These early season storms in Rocky typically offer photographers a chance to capture the landscape of Rocky covered in fresh snow without the brutally cold temperatures one would find in the middle of winter while also needing only minimal equipment such as micro spikes to access the backcountry and trails.

While I had 3 great mornings out in the park, the morning of September 9th offered the most dramatic conditions and I took advantage of them by hiking up to the top of Flattop Mountain for sunrise. While the sunrise was obscured by clouds, breaks in the cover did happen latter in the morning make for some dramatic lighting over a snow covered Longs Peak.

The reprieve to cooler weather was only temporary as this week looks once again to be warm and dry. Hopefully the moisture from last week can keep a handle on the Cameron Peak fires spread into Rocky and we can get some more moisture over the park by the end of the week. Either way it was a welcome change even if I’m not quite ready for the snow and winter just yet.