Ptarmigan Lake Hike

Ptarmigan Lake Trail, San Isabel National Forest, Colorado.

We broke the number one rule for hiking in Colorado today and it bit us, or I should say, hit us in the face in the shape of cold, icy hail. The rule of thumb is that you should never be on a trail in the mountains between 2ish and 6ish during the summer. You can bet on thunderstorms within that timeframe, and high elevation (especially exposed high elevation) is not where you want to be when there’s lightning in the area.

We’ve had our fair share of close calls in the past and because of that fact have tended towards playing it safe in recent years. But the last two weeks have been dry and crystal clear. We’ve gotten away with two gorgeous afternoon hikes and today tried for our third. Two and a half miles in, and only a half mile from our destination of Ptarmigan Lake, the sky started to rumble. I was in denial and wanted to keep going. Luckily my smarter half knew better and suggested we head back. The fact that the sun was still shining was deceiving me but if you looked directly overhead the sky was indeed darkening. We turned around and began our 2.5 mile descent and about 15 minutes later it was obvious that a storm was brewing. The thunder got louder, the temp started to drop and a breeze began to pick up. Moments later it was hailing. Luckily we’re prepared for all kinds of weather and after putting on our hats and rain coats were completely comfortable as we continued back towards the trailhead.

The hail didn’t last long. Just long enough to bring out all the delightful fragrances of the forest. The sun continued to peek in and out of the clouds and the thunder continued to rumble in the distance. Luckily though, we never saw any lightning. We might have been okay continuing on and completing that final .5 mile but I’ve never found it worth it to push your luck in an environment that, quite frankly, doesn’t give a hoot whether you live or die. The mountains demand your respect, as well as your undivided attention. If you give them that, whether you make it to your destination or not, you’ll find that the rewards are endless.

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By Michele


Hi, I'm Michele, a nomadic wedding photographer and lover of the great outdoors. I live on the road full-time and document my adventures daily. This is my personal blog where I share and record my thoughts on living simply and intentionally with less stress and more joy. Check out my wedding and portrait photography at


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