June 15, 2009

Hail, rain and lightning

Colorado has seen quite adverse weather lately. I got a taste of it up close and personal Saturday. That morning, it was cloudy, but then it seemed to clear up. I couldn't see any clouds over the mountains (usually a sure sign that there'll be poor weather later in the day), so I decided to go on a short hike in a different park.

When Apollo and I arrived at the park, clouds were rolling in, but they tend to move through the area pretty quick, so I thought we would be OK. A few hundred yards in, it started to sprinkle a little, but didn't worsen. We got about halfway to the summit of aptly named Windy Peak when I saw the first flash, and heard - even without my hearing aid - the rumble.

Oddly enough, this didn't send Apollo into a fussy fit. He seemed to enjoy being out in the bracing wind, despite the occasional thunder. I surveyed the cloud and thought that the worst of it was on the other side of the mountain, and decided that we would continue on to the next ridge, then turn back. Wanted to make the most of the day before turning back.

We were probably a dozen yards away from the ridge (not to be confused with the summit) when I first felt a dozen hard pinpricks. Pea-sized hail. Unfortunately, we were passing through a very pretty meadow that didn't have much cover. Apollo and I found a straggly little pine to stand under. The hailstones weren't large - the biggest of the lot, about pea-sized. After a few minutes, it seemed to pass. I waited a few more minutes for good measure, surveying the area. We would make the run back to the treeline, where we had come from. Essentially backtracking.

Apollo and I only got about a dozen feet when a gust moved the same hail cloud overhead and it started pelting us again. We had at least two hundred yards to cover...so Apollo and I made for the same pathetic tree to hide under again.

This time, the cloud hung around a bit longer, and the ground was liberally covered with hailstones, it looked like snow as long as you didn't look too closely. After about 20 minutes of patiently waiting, it finally passed. The ground was still warm from earlier sun and it quickly melted the stones. Muddy fun for Apollo!

Apollo and I made the dash back into the treeline, none worse for the wear. It started to rain a little harder, but beneath the trees, it was tolerable other than an occasional big splat of water.

We hastily backtracked down the trail. I could see some dark clouds coming, and I wanted to be in my car before it hit. Unfortunately, another hailstorm hit. This time we had some more cover so it wasn't too bad, although the hailstones were a little bigger that time. This bout lasted even longer - maybe 15 minutes. Again, the ground warmth melted the stones quickly and Apollo and I had a muddy stream of water for our trail. It reminded me of that scene from the movie, The Goonies, where the kids somehow (my memory's fuzzy) end up in a mudslide.

Apollo and I made it to the last ridge that we needed to cross to get to the car. An exposed one. I thought we were in the homestretch so I stopped to take a few pictures.

Steam rising
Fog/steam/cloud on the mountain across the valley
Unfortunately, the ominous cloud quickly made its presence known and decided to less loose. This time, the hailstones ranged from quarter-size to golf-ball size. And damnit, they hurt! And again, we were in a spot that didn't have a lot of cover. Not a lot of luck that day. Apollo and I hid under another pine tree, and while the treelines were less than 50 yards away both ahead and behind us, I did not want to move from our cover. Those hailstones hurt! They pelted through the sparse branches and when I saw Apollo wince a few times, I stood over him, sheltered my head with my arms and let my backpack take the beating.

I managed to take a quick picture when it seemed to let up briefly - not a great one.

It seemed like this round took much longer - it certainly was more painful - but I think it only lasted about 10 minutes. After it passed, Apollo and I trotted as fast as we could downhill back to the car...and the clouds opened up to blue skies. Crazy weather. And I thought Rochester was bad.

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