Andrew Terrill

The outdoor diary of a writer, photographer, and wilderness wanderer

A Brainard Lake sigh

snow covered forest in winter near brainard lake colorado


ON THE WAY back from my recent quinzhee stay I meandered by Brainard Lake. In summer the location can be horrendously busy and the atmosphere far from wild, but on Sunday February 14, with the temperature at minus twelve Fahrenheit (minus twenty-four Celsius), and snow burying the land, and no one else about, it wasn’t busy at all.

It didn’t stay long – it was Valentine’s Day after all, and my wife and family were awaiting my return – but I still stayed longer than I’d planned. Truth is, I struggled to pull myself away. Despite the low temperature, the sun actually felt warm, and the wintry arena was captivating to all the senses. It wasn’t merely impressive to look at – it was impressive to ‘feel’. The space, the quietness, the cleanliness, the brittleness, the wildness, the realness… it soothed my spirit.

I took a series of photos (shared below) to try and capture the place, but I also stood and savored the location and the moment, trying to be fully present within both. I took deep breaths, opening myself up, pulling the wild inwards, making it a part of me with each inhalation. And I felt that magical joining, that connection, the thing I head into the wild to experience more than anything else. For a short while I wasn’t merely a visitor passing through.

There’s always a bitter-sweetness to moments like these, a sense of joy and gratitude, but also a panging ache of loss. No matter how magical a place or a moment in time neither can last. Eventually, we always have to move on.

At least when I did that, and snowshoed away, I was able to do it without regret. I did it with a sigh of immense gratitude.


winter mountains in indian peaks wilderness near brainard lake colorado
Clearing skies after leaving the quinzhee. In view is Pawnee Peak (12,943) and its long east ridge, and the sharper peak of Mount Toll (12,979).
contintal divide above brainard lake colorado in deep winter snow
Approaching Brainard Lake with the sky now brilliantly clear.
heavy snow on tree near brainard lake colorado february 2021
An impressive dollop of snow!
winter view of brainard lake in snow in indian peaks wilderness colorado
Brainard Lake in winter, pristine and peaceful – a hard place to leave. Mount Audubon (13,223) is the large mountain on the right.
Niwot Ridge Navajo Peak Apache Peak and San Isabelle Glacier indian peaks wilderness colorado
From left to right: Niwot Ridge, Navajo Peak (13,409), and Apache Peak (13,441), with the San Isabelle Glacier nestling between Navajo and Apache.
winter view of continental divide between Apache Peak and Shoshoni Peak near brainard lake indian peaks wilderness colorado
The jagged crest of the continental divide between Apache Peak and Shoshoni Peak (12,967).
mount toll near brainard lake indian peaks wilderness colorado in winter snow
Mount Toll (12,979). Look closely at all these images and you’ll spot plenty of evidence of avalanche activity.
Paiute Peak on continental divide in indian peaks wilderness colorado winter
Fog blurring the divide on the shoulder of Paiute Peak (13,088).
cowboy camping bivvy on snow at sunrise andrew terrill
And finally: how different my most recent night out was from the Brainard Lake quinzhee. It was simple, peaceful, and by comparison gloriously mild. Starting the day right on Feb 23, 2021.
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