The August Blues?

The August Blues?

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For an eternal summer that shall not fade...

Does August depress you even though it's a beautiful month?

Two weeks ago today, as I was climbing my last peak before driving to and flying out of Jackson Hole, I found a heavy frost starting from as low as 8800'. Not much higher, some of late summer's wildflowers were so encased in ice that it was hard to imagine their wilted-looking selves surviving the day.

It was one of many signs in recent days that winter in the Northern Rockies is not far around the corner.

October may be my favorite month and fall may be my favorite season, but July is my favorite season in the high mountains. In Montana in July, summer seems endless; sunset is at 9:30, with good light until 10 and sometimes, on the clearest days around the solstice, even until 10:30, and sunrise is at 5. Wildflowers bloom in riots; streams roar; animals abound seemingly just for majesty's sake, not necessity's. It's not only summer that seems endless but life as well.

On one hand, August is such a fine month. The high passes become free of snow, easing access to the highest peaks. Stream crossings become easier. Mosquitoes are fewer.

But the days are suddenly shorter. Sunset is at 8:30, and a little earlier every day. There is the aforementioned frost, found not every morning but still many. Up high, the streams and the small ponds have a thin layer of ice over them, and it takes a few hours to melt off. Knowing what is soon to come, the animals are busier than ever feeding and storing. The days are still warm, but the nights are getting colder. At the limits of their range, the aspens are starting to show signs of turning. A few even have.
The Head of Cascade Creek

Soon, the high mountains will be sealed away for the winter, open only to the winds, the snow, the hardiest of the animals, and a few humans with a penchant for self-abuse. Yes, you ice climbers and skiers are salivating over the prospect of winter, but the rest of us will seek the desert, the warmer climes, or our dreams.

Now the end of August is but a day away. Meteorological summer is all but over. The end of calendar summer is not much further off.

The change of the seasons will have its benefits. With dropping temperatures and humidity levels, the local crag will be friendly places to climb again. In the Blue Ridge, leaves will drop from the trees and brush will recede, enabling easier bushwhacks to obscure summits and cliffs. There will be the warm, colorful days of autumn, and its crisp, dark nights. Winter will bring its clear skies and then spring, its explosion of wildflowers beginning in March. All will not be lost.

But it will not be the same, not by any measure.

Leaving my heart behind two weeks ago saddened me so deeply. As I left Montana in July, I did not feel that way. I cannot wait to reclaim it in next summer's sun and glory.


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Bob Sihler

Bob Sihler - Aug 31, 2011 9:08 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Nope

I envy you. Living where you do, you get those weeks after Labor Day when the visitors are gone and the weather is still nice. And, of course, I know you're waiting for that ice!


mrchad9 - Sep 1, 2011 1:08 pm - Voted 10/10


In California, August generally has less mosquitoes than July, often a lot less. August is better!

Bob Sihler

Bob Sihler - Sep 8, 2011 10:20 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Oh So True

Yeah, I shouldn't gripe too much. There's still a lot I can do around here in the winter, whereas you guys are pretty much shut out!


lcarreau - Sep 5, 2011 8:16 am - Hasn't voted

Other side of the coin ..

I haven't been going out as much, because I live in Arizona and
the "summer temperatures" have been nothing to laugh about this
year. Lots of triple-digit stuff goin' down ..

I always look forward to September and October, as do people
trying to escape from the snow - a whole different mindset.


Charles - Sep 6, 2011 10:55 am - Voted 10/10


Wistfulness accompanies the changing seasons Bob.



Bob Sihler

Bob Sihler - Sep 8, 2011 10:22 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Wistfulness

True. I feel especially so as summer goes to fall and fall to winter. I never miss spring too much, though; I'm glad to be rid of the allergies and the mercurial weather.


Castlereagh - Sep 6, 2011 6:14 pm - Voted 10/10

Agree wholeheartedly

I know I need more experience on snow to be able to attempt stuff like Denali and the great Cascade volcanoes...but at heart I'm still a fairweather hiker. I love the visceral experiences of a moderate clime, the pleasant feel of a gentle breeze on the skin, and the smells too, of the forest and the brooks here in the east, or the smells of sagebrush in the desert, or of the ponderosa evergreen forest, or even that of gravel and rocks high above timberline. The climbing might be more challenging, and even more fun in some ways, but I feel like I get less out of the wilderness experience being all bundled up from the elements.


Castlereagh - Sep 6, 2011 6:21 pm - Voted 10/10


but I do love the fall season here in the northeast though. Not just the foliage, but there's just a cool, crispness to the area, along with a slightly more open forest, that I feel like you can't replicate in the Spring (and yes, lack of bugs help too.). But yes, it feels so fragile and temporary, knowing what's to come.

On nice days in October and November after a hike I'd leave sunroof open in my car for the entire two hour drive home just so I can savor some more the last remnants of warm air for the next six months.

Bob Sihler

Bob Sihler - Sep 8, 2011 10:24 am - Hasn't voted

Re: ...

I agree about the fall. And winters here in Virginia are in some ways better than the summers, in the mountains, at least. The brush recedes, so off-trail summits become attainable, and the haze and humidity leave.

But my main love is the alpine places of the Rockies, so it is always with sadness that I see summer come to a close for those places.


BigRob - Sep 7, 2011 3:51 pm - Voted 10/10

Love 'em all

It is just turning to my favorite time to climb in the high San Juans of SW CO. Down here the window opens to clear skies until the snow flies. We get monsoons on and off until late August. I have already started gathering the ice climbing gear together though.


Scott - Sep 7, 2011 10:40 pm - Hasn't voted

Not me

"Does August depress you even though it's a beautiful month?"

Not me. I like July too, but I also like the fact that by September the mosquitoes are mostly gone. I do miss the wildflowers though, though some are still left in the shady areas. At least in CO, t-storms drop off after early to mid-September. Stream crossings are much easier now than in July.

The thing I don't like though is that it's hunting season and you have to be extremely careful in the mountains this time of year.

Bob Sihler

Bob Sihler - Sep 8, 2011 10:28 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Not me

Yeah, I mentioned the mosquitoes and the water crossings, and August is a lovely month overall up in Wyoming and Montana, but I can never help but feel a little sad at the multiplying signs that summer is ending. I guess I'm just a summer person at heart.

I've got Utah in October and again next April, and there is plenty I can do all year around here, but my main love is the alpine of WY and MT, so everything else, great as it is, just isn't the same (for me).

Good point about hunting season. I stick to the parks at those times, though that's no guarantee of being safe.


MoapaPk - Sep 9, 2011 6:03 pm - Voted 10/10

We have something like that here...

Peaks ranging from 12000 to 2000' near Vegas. I love the approach of the fall... best season.

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