A few days ago, while the daily afternoon clouds were beginning to gather atop the Flatirons, I decided to head up to the hills to hike. Now, heading up a mountain is not a good idea when you know a storm is on the way; as the Rocky Mountain National Park hiking page says, “People are more likely to be struck by lightning than attacked by a mountain lion.” But the clouds looked less than menacing, so up I went.
I parked at the Green Mountain trailhead on Flagstaff Road and headed in. The hillside was rich with wildflowers.
My favorites, as usual, were the harebells (Campanula rotundifolia), now at their peak, and dense throughout the meadows. I can never resist lavender. And why should I?
As I headed up the hill toward the peak, I met groups of hikers hurrying toward the exit. The clouds continued gathering, and everyone else was doing the smart thing—avoiding an electrical storm near the summit of an 8,000-foot mountain.
I looked up at the clouds, calculating; they seemed less dense than usual and fairly light. No doubt there would be a storm, but it would probably be short. I checked in with my body: no danger signals in my belly, no wanting to turn around in my feet. All signals go.
Up I headed.
Thunder started rolling in the distance, one peal then another and another. It was still far away, with no lightning visible. I checked the trees. If it started to rain, I wanted to dive under a good overhang of branches. And if the lightning grew closer, I wanted to get lost in a crowd, taking refuge in a group of trees. Apparently standing near a solitary rock or tree is a more dangerous than huddling with a group.
The rain began, tiny droplets more like drizzle. In my hiking shirt and pants, I wasn’t likely to get more than damp. Oops, famous last words. The drops grew suddenly larger. I dived under a group of small pines, one of which had snapped over in early the spring, bent under the weight of a deep snowfall followed immediately by wind. The overhang provided a perfect shelter. So far I had more pine pitch than rain on me. Huddled on my side on the ground, I peered out from my enclosure and snapped a picture of the trail.
The sound of rain in the trees above me turned slowly into the sound of water dripping from pine needles. I might be getting wet, but I had the place to myself. Aside from the dripping, the only sound was thunder, now rolling almost continuously. A little nervous now, I wondered: had I underestimated the storm? Just then I saw a single flash of lightning—good news, it was far away, and the thunder that followed was more than ten seconds off. Nowhere near.
The rain continued. Ten minutes passed, then fifteen. Now I was restless. Just when I thought I could lie still no longer, I parted the branches again to check the sky. A spot of blue! The patter of rain lessened. I crawled out happily into the sprinkles and headed on up the hill. The sun broke through. In five minutes I was dry; in ten so was the trail.
Today I didn’t have time or energy to press for the top and instead turned back downhill. In the fresh light, rain-kissed flowers sparkled, especially this Mariposa lily (Calochortus gunnisonii).
I hiked fast, reveling in solitude. No hikers, no humans anywhere! A few chickadees scrounged overhead, but no human voices broke the silence. The calm was refreshing.
I stopped to touch the round, seeded head of this blanketflower (Gaillardia aristata). Expecting bristles, my fingertips found only velvet.
A break in the trees provided a glimpse of the city below. Soon I would arrive at the car and head back to my noisy town. But how lucky I am, living so close to forests and silence!