Bluebird Lake Trail, Wild Basin, RMNP, Colorado

So there it is; I’ve spoiled it.  Went straight to the pinnacle of the trip and showed you sunrise from Bluebird Lake.  Or have I?  Could there be more to it?  Read for a bit and see!  Either way, I’ve got just a few shots from the trail itself to show you, which is as splendid as it is strenuous (read: very).

bluebird lake from hillside
Simulated vantage prior to actual trip (courtesy of Google Earth)

So the trail to Bluebird Lake is some 6.3 miles long and 2400+/-‘ in elevation gain.  As a day hike at the height of summer, it would quite a feat to get to the lake before sunrise (my sensory-centric goal).  I was lucky enough to find a date in the Rocky Mountain National Park backcountry camping reservation list that locked in with the kind of lighting I’d enjoy upon the peaks (see picture above).  It isn’t just Google Earth that I use, however – in fact, I don’t much trust the lighting representation it gives in comparison to what my mind’s eye visualizes when using The Photographer’s Ephemeris – but, rather, it is indispensable for discovering perspectives not found in other photographs available for perusal on Google Images (when you’ve not visited the place already to do so in person, that is).  And find one, I did.

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Calypso Cascades, morning light

This is the first really vertical waterfall you come across on the trail up and out.  Copeland Falls is happened upon firstly, but is more of a boulder-rushing river scene.  It’s a nice spot, but it is open to the daylight and dazzling in its contrast, hence the lack of photo before this one.  In contrast (redundancy intended), this waterfall tends to stay in dappled light to the tall and lush forest canopy above.  The shot here was taken at around noon, and needed no ND filter to get that silky effect on the water (a product of very slow shutter speed), though a VR lens was still a must (or a tripod, but meh).  I love the sound this waterway makes.  I took a break for a bit from my back-crunching 2-day load of clothes, food, and camera gear that I’ve not been used to for years for a variety of reasons.  So glad to get back on it!

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Halfway there!

This view is, well, one that is seen from quite near the halfway point.  Ouzel Falls is actually in between Calypso Cascades and this vantage, but it is a bit hard to get a fulfilling photograph of it (for one who chooses not to tramp off the trail and erode the riverside soil any more than has already been done), so I carried on.  You can still hear the water rushing even from a quarter mile beyond it.  Ouzel Peak is the seemingly small one in the middle of the basin up ahead.  And the Indian Paintbrush (wildflower in foreground) is just everywhere along the middle third of the trail!  It helps to keep you looking in the opposite direction of the sun – a good thing for those who tend to forget putting sunscreen on their faces (a wide brimmed hat only does so much).

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Waterfall and Flowers

Moving along, perhaps at this point around the beginning of the final third of the trail, there are many streams to step over and around.  This one provides a comforting scene right from the path.  The marshiness to the ground on which the various wildflowers are found here is a sign that you are entering the land which nourishes all lower climes.  The smell is fresh, the air cooler, and the human population lessened.  Go further.

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Glacier Lilies, Everywhere
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I repeat: Glacier Lilies, Everywhere!

Here you get a sense of the trail’s steepness.  It is the first and last thirds of it that really work you and push you to find a rhythm.  But the last third feeds you eyecandy while doing so.  There was quite a breeze at this elevation, helping to cool me off in the warm summer sun; though, I couldn’t help but wonder if the night would be a frigid one because of that (mostly because I had some beta, about said frigidity on the trail, from a friend who went out just a week before me on a day hike here and didn’t get back ’til the early morning because of a rolled ankle).  But the cumbersome weight on my back reminded me that I had enough layers to laugh in the face of mountain weather.

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Bug-proofed evening reading time

See the gloves and the face net?  Mosquitos.  Not at lower elevations, but at higher ones.  Why?!  Anywho, these two things are key to finding peace at camp when such pests abound.

Reading is one of my favorite things to do at camp when I’m not up for hiking about or having a drink with friends over campfire-lit palaver.  It also really helps to pass the time in the evening if you have interest in staying awake for a starry photo or two.

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Stars over the Upper Ouzel campsite

Astronomical Twilight – that’s what it’s called when golden hour and blue hour have both passed and stars are bright, but you can still see purple in the sky.  This was just about 20 minutes before it would fade to cosmic black, and about an hour before I might have spotted the Milky Way (which you can barely see in the upper left of the photo).  I had a 4:45am wake-up call coming along in just 6.5 hours, though, with the following hike back down and drive from Estes Park to Fort Collins, so waiting for that was not on my agenda.  When I go again and stay for a couple of days, it will be.

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Morning Glory!: Alpenglow on Ouzel Mountain over Bluebird Lake

AH!  After my wake-up, devoid of vitamin C (coffee), I pushed the last vertical 500′ and 0.5 miles to the lake, just in time for the end of Blue Hour, when all lighting is even and the skies aren’t silver yet from the light scatter of daytime.  I had plenty of light to hike by at this point, and made my way to the vantage point I’d plotted out in Google Earth (and actually visited the evening before).  What a sight when the sunshine hit this peak.  Even Isolation Peak in the background was alight (again, something I knew would happen because of my use of The Photographer’s Ephemeris).  I certainly got what I came for!

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Sunrise over the Front Range from Bluebird Lake

I hadn’t really though of what my view back towards the Front Range would be like from here until I’d stopped shooting the mountains and started casually gawking about, snacking on breakfast bits.  Looking straight back, I was caught in awe of the scenic perfection and made haste at readjusting my silly lightweight tripod (oh how I’d wanted my versatile but hefty Manfrotto on this trip).  It wouldn’t seem possible, but in just a few more minutes the sun was a hand higher on the horizon, with such brilliant gold turned a blinding white.  I was lucky, indeed.

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Isolation Mountain, beyond
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Cliffside Krumholtz
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Looking Back

After sunrise had come and gone, and I’d eaten breakfast while enjoying the views, I headed down to camp for some coffee and cleanup.  I had actually planned on staying for two nights, so that I could explore the upper lakes (Lark Lake and Pipit Lake specifically – Isolation Lake is one higher but a bit too tucked up slopeside for my sensory driven purposes), but it looked like that would be a whole lot of scrambling through boulder fields, across streams, and through snow banks.  My backpacking-unaccustomed legs and arse weren’t having that idea, so I decided to put it off for another time.  After all, it’s always best to preserve the mystique of a place by saving some for later…


*Brendan Bombaci holds the Creative Commons Copyrights to all images on this blog. See his Flickr portfolio @ to see exact licensures.


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