The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Cool off in these snow-capped mountains where summer never comes

Never Summer Mountains covered in snow. June 1, 2017. (John Hopewell)
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For much of the nation, summer weather has arrived. That’s great news for the pool rats, but to snow lovers it’s just a ho-hum period of time to swelter through, in flip-flops, of course.

But here’s great news for those who long for a world with 12 months of winter: There is a mountain range in north central Colorado that claims to have no summer at all — appropriately called the Never Summer Mountains.

To the Arapahoe Indians who named them, the Never Summer Mountains always seemed covered in snow and cloaked in cold clouds while the surrounding two-mile-high mountains were basking in summer sunshine.

Even in July, the average high temperature in the Never Summer Mountains is only 59 degrees (15 Celsius), according to meteoblue, a weather data website. The average high is below freezing from November through April, and the average low is below freezing every month but July and August.

Appropriately enough, many of the peaks and lakes that make up this chilly mountain range have meteorological names. Take 12,725-foot Mount Cumulus, for example. Peering at a topographical map one can see at least six references to cloud types and other atmospheric phenomena.

Not far from towering Mount Cumulus is a booming Mount Thunder. But you usually don’t have thunder without rain, so pouring over the southern section of the range is Mount Nimbus. Mount Stratus, named after the low-hanging cloud type, is recognized as one of the shortest peaks, at 12,523 feet. And floating high above the rest is Mount Cirrus. But not to be left out, below the cloudy peaks nestled up in a cirque is chilly Snow Lake.

Born by fire and sculpted by ice, the Never Summer Mountains are a small but formidable mountain range at the headwaters of the hugely important Colorado River. About 25 million years ago, this part of the Rocky Mountains was volcanically active and many of the peaks are remnants of volcanic intrusions. Starting around 2 million years ago, several ice ages sent glaciers bulldozing into the valley below, leaving behind small lakes, serrated arêtes and jagged mountain peaks.

The Never Summer Mountains are important in the Colorado River basin, as they squeeze out some of the first drops of rain that drain into the 1,450-mile-long river. Snaking its way through several arid western states to the Gulf of California, the mountain range helps sustain a population of over 40 million people. Recognizing this, Congress declared much of the mountain range a wilderness area that can never be developed.

The mountain range boasts dozens of miles of hiking trails and backcountry camping spots if you are looking for a little bit of winter in the middle of the summer. But wear hiking boots instead of flip-flops.

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