Sunday, October 19, 2008

Sunrise at Blue lake

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Flickr set.

This Saturday morning, I got out of bed before 4am and took off for a hike in the Indian Peaks wilderness area. I had been to this place many years ago and had taken some pictures, one of which is one of my most popular pictures on flickr. The objective this day was to return to the same spot and check out the sunrise. I had checked out Google's awesome Google earth and had seen that contrary to summer, this time of year the rising sun shines straight through the valley. The reason for this gets obvious if you check out the below terrain map from Google maps:

View Larger Map

The object is Blue lake, the lake that is slightly to the left of the middle of the map. The glacial valley leading up to it points slightly south of due east. You reach this point from the Mitchell lake trailhead in the Lake brainard recreation area. From that point it is about a 2.5 mile hike to Blue lake. In summer this trail is spectacular for all its wildflowers. Its also an extremely popular trail because of this and its location right next to the 13er Mount Audubon (strangely called Mt. Autobahn amongst Boulderites). Now I would be doing it in the dark, so I prepared everything the night before and set off at 4 am. At about 5:30 I had reached Lake Brainard. The road from Ward was open just like the lady from the forest service had told me. She had not told me that the road was closed at the lake, adding another 0.6 mile or so to my total hike. Mine was the only car there and I took off hiking. After looking at the "beware of mountain lions" sign (see end of post for a daylight image) at the deserted actual trailhead, I set off on the real trail. The moon was out and I didn't even notice for a long while that the batteries in my headlamp had died. Hiking was easy and following the path too as this is a well-trodden trail. When I started coming up to the moraine that separates the lake from the rest of the valley, I looked back and saw that the sky was an amazing purple and yellow glow from the sun being just below the horizon:

purple haze
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I reached the lake just before civil twilight (about 6.45 am it would start) and started taking some long exposures of the Boulder I had shot so many years ago with Mount Toll in the background. Here is an example:

Twilight at Blue Lake
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These colors are very close to what I saw. The water had a purple appearance, the sky sort of steel with a magenta tinge and the mountain had started glowing. Rocks like this were deposited by a glacier that must have sat in this valley a long time ago. The often look like a giant has put them down in random spots. The lake looks so downy because of the long exposure - a fun effect here making it seem even more ethereal.
A few minutes before actual sunrise, the mountain got a slight magenta glow:

Just before dawn
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After which at dawn, it suddenly turned completely on fire:

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The color was just absolutely amazing and I shot many images all around (which is why the vantage point on the rock and Toll changes all the time): One minute after dawn it looked like this.

One minute in
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The appearance of the mountain was rather incongruous with the feeling in my fingers. Now the colors were changing very rapidly. This image was taken 6 minutes after dawn:

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I shot several panoramas that I'll post some other time. For now, I'll point you to the smugmug gallery from which you can order prints where I put a few of the panoramas already. The flickr set of this trip is here.

I had some breakfast looking into the upcoming sun and noted how quickly the color changed. After just half an hour, the color was very flat and not much was left, so I gave up the plan to go to the upper blue lake and left that plan for next time I go here. My pinching boots (don't know why they suddenly started pinching) might have had something to do with it. Here is an example of the color at that point:

The color has gone

I love the deep blue though.
Going down, I shot some grab shots of the lakes I saw on the way.
Icy lake along the way

Lake Mitchell panorama

At Lake Mitchell, I saw the first other hikers. They were going up to go fishing in Blue Lake. Close to Lake Mitchell is the Mitchell lake trailhead, where I took a picture of the mountain lion sign:


I especially liked advice #1: "Walk in groups and make plenty of noise." Unfortunately, there are not many people I can get to go out this early. The only time I have seen a mountain lion in Colorado was when a few months ago two of them were mating not ten feet from our tents near Durango. The sound they make is like an animal that gets skinned alive. It is absolutely amazing. At the time I had not realized that they were mating and I could not see very well what animal was below, so at time I had thought something was getting killed by the enormous lion on top (it was rather dark and they were in the bushes at the side of the creek we were camping near). One of those experiences you never forget I guess. My daughter and my very young brother and sister had been playing a lot in that creek during the day.

Anyway. After the deserted trailhead, I hiked over the road towards my car and saw Scott, a guy I know from my dayjob as a famous ;-) scientist. He was starting on Mount "Autobahn." At the parking lot, I saw that I now was far from the only car. There must have been over a hundred in the different lots that are at Brainard Lake. Also driving down Brainard Lake road, lots and lots of folks in the ubiquitous (in the Boulder area at least) Toyota SUVs and pickups and Subarus were coming up. Funny that people still had to start while I was done for the day.


  1. Wow, getting up at 4 shows some dedication. No wonder you get such great light in your photos. If I ever get back to Colorado, I'd get up and scare away mountain lions with ya!

  2. Chris,

    you know how to contact me. If you're in the neighborhood, I'd be happy to go shooting!