• Michael O'Keeffe

Finding Summer in the Never Summers, Colorado

Recently, I did another quick overnight backpacking trip into the high country. This time I was much closer to home in the underrated Never Summer Mountains in northern Colorado. Despite the majority of Never Summers being contained within the boundaries of Rocky Mountain National Park, this unique range often gets overlooked when compared to many of the other mountain ranges in the state. One potential reason for this is that there are no peaks exceeding 13,000 feet. The range's tallest peak, Mount Richthofen, comes in just shy at 12,945 feet. It also requires going over multiple mountain passes to reach it from the Denver metro area. Whatever the reason, I am certainly okay with keeping the Never Summers wild.

For this trip, I began on the northern end of the range starting from Cameron Pass. Cameron Pass is very popular spot for the local people of northern Colorado (Fort Collins-Loveland-Greeley area), in fact it is one of the few trailheads I've been to in the state I didn't see any cars with out of state license plates. The destination was the American Lakes, a relatively popular spot in the northern Never Summers (there were about 10 other tents in the basin with me that night). The hike in is quick and mellow leading to a stunning alpine basin with two shallow lakes beneath towering peaks of varying geomorphology. The Never Summers are interesting in that respect as the geology is quite young compared to many other Colorado ranges, and consists of heavily volcanic rock types (basalt, rhyolite, ash flow tuff, and other intrusive igneous rock such as granite). This mash of various rock types makes for a magnificent backdrop to the lush alpine basin of the American Lakes.

To add to the beauty, mid-summer means wildflowers in the high country and the American Lakes basin is no exception. The wildflowers were abundant and kaleidoscopic nearly everywhere you looked. This is certainly my favorite time of year to be in the mountains!



Never Summer Mountains Colorado
First view of the basin on the rainy hike in.

Never Summer Mountains Colorado
Static Peak stands above the American Lakes.

Never Summer Mountains Colorado
The American Lakes are very shallow.

Never Summer Mountains Colorado
From the opposite shore looking back east.

Never Summer Mountains Colorado
The larger of the two lakes.

Never Summer Mountains Colorado
My camp

Never Summer Mountains Colorado
My camp set among wildflower meadows and views of the big peaks.

Never Summer Mountains Colorado
Light and shadows in the wildflower meadows.

Never Summer Mountains Colorado
A rain shower passes behind a multi hued ridgeline looking north into the Neota Wilderness.

Never Summer Mountains Colorado
The red volcanic rock of The Electrode.

Never Summer Mountains Colorado
Wildflowers everywhere!

Never Summer Mountains Colorado
Looking across a lush wildflower filled basin towards Iron Mountain.

Never Summer Mountains Colorado
A rain shower passes over the Rawahs.

Never Summer Mountains Colorado
A pano of Iron Mountain.

Never Summer Mountains Colorado
Impressive wildflowers throughout the basin.

Never Summer Mountains Colorado
A bighorn sheep ewe trots across Thunder Pass.

Never Summer Mountains Colorado
Bighorn sheep

Never Summer Mountains Colorado
The Nohku Crags looking craggy in the evening light,

Never Summer Mountains Colorado
Mount Richthofen, the Never Summer's tallest peak seen from Thunder Pass.

Never Summer Mountains Colorado
Light filters across Thunder Pass beneath Mount Richthofen and Static Peak.

Never Summer Mountains Colorado
A pano of the entire American Lakes basin.

Never Summer Mountains Colorado
Looking south towards the rest of the Never Summer Mountains.

Never Summer Mountains Colorado
The Never Summers diverse geology makes colorful multi hued peaks.

Never Summer Mountains Colorado
Thunder Pass marks the boundary into Rocky Mountain National Park.

Never Summer Mountains Colorado
Nokhu Crags

Never Summer Mountains Colorado
Iron Mountain in evening light.

Never Summer Mountains Colorado
Looking into Rocky Mountain National Park.

Never Summer Mountains Colorado
A rain shower dissipates over Iron Mountain.

Never Summer Mountains Colorado
The impressive American Lakes basin from the slopes of Lulu Mountain.

Never Summer Mountains Colorado
The lush basin beneath the Nohku Crags.

Never Summer Mountains Colorado
Heading back to camp, a colorful sunset over Iron Mountain.

Never Summer Mountains Colorado
Purple sunset with purple wildflowers.

Never Summer Mountains Colorado
Nohku Crags

Never Summer Mountains Colorado
Wildflowers beneath Static Peak and The Electrode.

Never Summer Mountains Colorado
Iron Mountain

Never Summer Mountains Colorado
Wildflowers at sunset

Never Summer Mountains Colorado
Wildflowers at sunrise

Never Summer Mountains Colorado
First light over Lulu and Thunder Mountains from near camp.

Never Summer Mountains Colorado
To my surprise, two moose (a mama and baby) trot through my shot in the valley below.

Never Summer Mountains Colorado
A wide shot with Lulu and Thunder with the moose.

Never Summer Mountains Colorado
A last look at the moose before the continue on their way.

Never Summer Mountains Colorado
First light at camp

Never Summer Mountains Colorado
A calm peaceful morning in the American Lakes basin.

Never Summer Mountains Colorado
Columbine at sunrise

Never Summer Mountains Colorado
Wildflowers along a stream.

Never Summer Mountains Colorado
Wildflower meadows near camp.

Never Summer Mountains Colorado
A beautiful morning on the trail.

Never Summer Mountains Colorado
A close-up of the Nohku Crags in morning light.

Never Summer Mountains Colorado
One last look at Static Peak.

Never Summer Mountains Colorado
Can you spot the tent (not mine), a perfect setup beneath Iron Mountain.

Never Summer Mountains Colorado
So long Never Summers!


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