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Mt. Wuh Sunrise

Mt. Wuh Sunrise, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Mt. Wuh Sunrise, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Mt. Wuh is an insignificant, 10,000-foot bump of a mountain in Rocky Mountain National Park. It's well off any trail. I was intrigued with it, however, because I thought it might allow me to put Longs Peak and the rising sun into the same photograph. As I envisioned it, I would shoot just as the sun burst over the horizon and threw a golden glow on backlit, snow-laden trees on the left side of the frame. Longs Peak would rise on the right side of the frame. After careful study of the map and measuring the angle of view of various lenses, I figured that Mt. Wuh had to be the right spot.

I began waiting for an upslope snowstorm, with wind from the northeast, which often produces heavy snows in Rocky Mountain National Park that are not accompanied by strong winds. Typical snowstorms blow in from the west with high winds, so trees in exposed locations don't get loaded with snow. In November 1999 we got just such an upslope storm. I got up just after midnight, started hiking at 2:30 a.m. and hiked for about four hours in the dark to the summit of Mt. Wuh, navigating by map, compass, and altimeter through the woods.

I was delighted when I finally emerged from thick woods and saw the summit just above me. My joy was short-lived, however. A minute later I got my first clear view to the south and discovered that Longs Peak was completely obscured by clouds. My idea was worthless. So I wandered along the summit ridge, looking for a consolation prize. At the last minute I set up on a little knoll looking east, thinking I had probably just lost a night's sleep for nothing. Then, by a stroke of pure luck, a snow squall passed between me and the sun at the moment of sunrise. The sky was otherwise clear between me and the horizon, so all of the golden light of the rising sun backlit this cloud of falling snowflakes. For two minutes, the cloud exploded into gold. The resulting photograph is a spectacular display of pure natural light. It has not been enhanced by colored filters, digital manipulation or darkroom trickery. If the cloud had been much thicker, it would simply have been another gray, boring sunrise. I feel that shots like this are simply a gift. I'm certain I could go back to Mt. Wuh a thousand times and never see the same thing again.

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