Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Sunny September

Looking northeast from below Evans' summit - most of what's under the clouds is the north Denver metro area.

Fall's here, and with the end of summer comes the best time to get outside and climb some of Colorado's many mountains. The snow is (mostly) gone, the morning air is again quite cold, and the sun shines most of the time. Last night at about 9pm, I decided today - my Labor Day observed - would be spent in the mountains, hopefully after the throngs of 5-day-a-week workers had left the hills and returned to their jobs. I packed a few things into the Subaru and left town at about 10:30, arriving at the top of Guanella Pass by midnight. The freezing temperatures reminded me about how warm my bed probably was - even without me in it - so I blocked out that image and crawled into the back of my car with warm sleeping bag.

Almost to the summit of Bierstadt, I noticed the undercast over Lake Dillon behind me.

When I woke this morning at 5:30, the sky was clear and the condensation on the inside of my windows had turned to frost. I dressed quickly and ate a bit of breakfast before walking down the trail through the dark. No other cars were in either of the two parking lots. I had the mountain to myself.

Greys and Torreys were just to the west.

By the time I started to ascend Mt Bierstadt's western ridge, the cold wind had reduced my ambition to nearly nothing. It wasn't until I reached a high vantage point and saw that the entire Front Range of Colorado was covered in clouds that I realized how lucky I was to have made the post-holiday trip. The undercast sky wasn't limited to the east, however. Lake Dillon and the surrounding valleys were also under cloud cover. South Park was the only large area below 10,000 feet elevation I could see. As the sun rose over Denver and shone warmly against my freezing face, I wondered what everyone must have been thinking waking up to cool, cloudy skies.

Bierstadt Summit.

I reached the summit just before 8am and opened the register. At least two pages were completely filled out yesterday. I looked down to the parking lot - now in the sun - and noticed two other cars had joined mine. But standing there in the breeze I got cold and had to keep moving. By the time I descended and crossed to Mt Evans' western flank, mysterious clouds were billowing up from the drainage below. I wanted to finish my climb so I hiked faster, but by the time I made it to the summit of Evans, I could no longer see the route I'd just hiked. Only brief glimpses to the north and east revealed a still-undercast Front Range and an empty parking lot at the observatory. Thinking it not wise to spend too much time that high, I ate and headed back down to my car. Not a bad holiday.

Evans summit; here come the clouds and cold wind.

Things looked much better by the time I made it back to the car (Bierstadt is upper right).

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