Trip Reports: Lightning Disco At Blue Lakes - September 2009

On Saturday I hiked up to Blue Lakes for a quick overnight backpacking trip in the Sneffels Range of southwest Colorado's San Juan Mountains.  The alpine tundra has turned a beautiful array of autumn colors, and even a few aspens are starting to change.  My pleasant evening of photography turned into a restless night as I endured one of the most tremendous lightning and thunderstorms I've yet experienced!
aspen, autumn, yellow, Sneffels Range, Colorado, photo

First Yellow of Autumn

Sneffels Range, Colorado

Fall is in the air!  The first yellow aspens of autumn signal the changing seasons. Photo © copyright by Jack Brauer.

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autumn, flower, Colorado, photo

Death of Summer

San Juan Mountains, Colorado

Summer's gone, Autumn in the air, Winter right around the corner.  This withered flower waits to be buried under snow for the rest of the year. Photo © copyright by Jack Brauer.

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autumn, tundra, Blue Lake, Sneffels Range, Colorado, photo

Autumn Tundra

Sneffels Range, Colorado

Brilliant red autumn tundra, looking down at Lower Blue Lake, September. Photo © copyright by Jack Brauer.

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Mt. Sneffels, fourteener, Blue Lake, San Juan Mountains, Colorado, photo

Sneffels and Blue Lake

San Juan Mountains, Colorado

The fourteener Mt. Sneffels rises over Lower Blue Lake and colorful autumn tundra. Photo © copyright by Jack Brauer.

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Mt. Sneffels, September, sunset, San Juan Mountains, Colorado, photo

Sneffels Autumn Dusk

San Juan Mountains, Colorado

Colorful Mt. Sneffels, 14,156', illuminated by the post-sunset glow, September. Photo © copyright by Jack Brauer.

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lightning, thunderstorm, Montrose, Colorado, Sneffels Range, photo

Lightning near Montrose

Montrose, Colorado

Lightning strikes repeatedly in a big thunderstorm somewhere in the vicinity of Montrose, as seen from treeline in the Sneffels Range.  This is a stacked exposure, showing six separate strikes within 5 minutes altogether (some of the strikes were double-strikes).  

This storm continued full-blast for over 5 hours, and as I lay in my tent I could hear the lightning slowly moving closer towards the mountains until it eventually moved right up into the basins around me.  Though I've had a few scarier lightning moments in the past, I've never before experienced such a long lighting storm with so many bolts.  Lighting would flash every 2-10 seconds, and this lasted half the night! Photo © copyright by Jack Brauer.

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lightning, tent, photo

Lightning Disco

The constant flashes of lighting, along with the terrifying booming of thunder and racket of hail and rain, kept me awake for most of the night.  Here's a picture of me cowering in my sleeping bag with the lightning outside illuminating the tent.  Several times the bolts were close enough to actually see through the tent!

Even when I did finally fall asleep just before morning, I slept a fitful sleep and dreamed of plane crashes. My plans to get up for a sunrise shoot were thwarted by howling winds, so I slept in and then packed my stuff and got out of there! Photo © copyright by Jack Brauer.

Despite the weather and lack of sleep, this quick trip was a hell of an experience.  It was the backcountry equivalent of watching a good horror movie!