Following the first day’s acclimatization hike to Ouzel Falls, the weather forecast was slightly ominous but not prohibitive. With only six days of hiking in my schedule, skipping a day for anything but the most serious circumstances is frowned upon and is to be avoided at all costs. Accepting the risk of hiking through heavy rain, my parents and I opted for the trail to Mitchell and Blue Lakes.
Starting outside the Rocky Mountain National Park in Roosevelt National Forest, the trail follows a series of creek-connected lakes culminating with Blue Lake, hidden in the high walls of the Continental Divide. As Blue Lake is above treeline, we started early to avoid any unhealthy exposure to the impending weather. After all, hiking in the rain is usually an inconvenience at worst. Hiking in a lightning storm without the relative protection of the tree canopy can be disastrous.
We initially pushed past Mitchell Lake which is only about a mile in from the trailhead. Mitchell is well forested and offers reasonable protection from the elements. In Colorado, the risk of thunderstorms grows exponentially in the afternoons so we wanted to be returning from our destination at Blue Lake by late morning.
As our elevation increased, the trees became smaller and farther apart while the views became breathtaking.
As the trail continued, intermittent cloud cover partially obscured the surrounding peaks.
Once above treeline, passing wisps of cloud provided a contrast of light and shadow on the exposed rock.
Hiking up a final incline, the mountain bowl containing Blue Lake appeared in the distance.
With the threat of rain momentarily avoided, we enjoyed a rest and a meal as the rippling lake and floating vapor danced upon a background of rock, snow, and sky.
As we prepared to decend back to Mitchell, denser fog rolled into the high valley as menacingly grey clouds appeared on the Southwestern horizon.
Returning to the safety of the forest, the diffused light of the now cloud-filtered sun softly illuminated the lush greenery of creek connecting Mitchell and Blue.
As we reached Mitchell Lake, the temperature had dropped dramatically and the once-blue sky had changed to an ominous mix of gray and brown. The perceived energy in the atmosphere left us grateful to be somewhat close to the trailhead.
What started as a gentle mist quickly became more a substantial rain and then a surprising amount of small hail. Driving back from the parking area confirmed that we had indeed timed our hike well.