Like clockwork, the rain fell right on schedule. Gathering stormclouds had shaken off occasional droplets over the last three hours, but by 4:00 the thunderheads had reached full strength, and the teasing was over. With a furious, deafening boom that reverberated across the San Juan Mountains, the storm unleashed a torrent of rain upon the grasses and stones of the alpine tundra. Fortunately for me, by then I was sitting comfortably in my tent below treeline, reading a tattered, secondhand book of old ghost stories. For all their thunderous boasting and bluster, Colorado’s summer thunderstorms are shamefully predictable, if you pay attention to the signs.
I had chosen to temporarily give up the luxuries of car camping in order to backpack deep into the San Juans on a four-day adventure. I’d attempted the route last summer but had to cut my journey short due to an overabundance of snow. It was beautiful country, with mountains the color of iron and rust, and golden eagles circling overhead. But I was also sick, with a bad head cold, and I built a campfire that first night under the shelter of tall spruce trees to help me stay warm and dry. I had no chicken soup, but I did have chicken-flavored ramen noodles, which was the next best thing. And when the sun set that evening, it passed through the narrow space between the dark cloudmass and the horizon, creating a stunning complete rainbow against the backdrop of pink-hued stormclouds. For all my knowledge of Colorado weather, the sight was something I completely failed to predict.