Andrew Terrill

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

The Storm That Wasn’t In A Hurry

raging blizzard and snowstorm at golden history park march 2021

 

I’M A LITTLE LATE with this blog… but that’s okay: the snowstorm it covers was a little late too. Storm ‘Xylia’ (and who else dislikes the naming of regular weather systems as though they are hurricanes?) trundled through seven days ago, dropping almost two feet of snow on Golden – but for a while it looked as though it wasn’t going to drop anything.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) forecasters had been analyzing the approaching storm for a week – with the TV forecasters going a little overboard on predicted snow totals – and many of my fellow residents along Colorado’s Front Range had taken heed: rushing out to the food stores on Wednesday and practically emptying them. Then came Thursday (sixty Fahrenheit), and then a quiet Friday (when the storm was supposed to start), and then Saturday (with low clouds and rain for most of the day)…

Would the promised storm never arrive?

By late Saturday afternoon the first flakes were finally settling, and off I dutifully plodded into the foothills, aiming to watch the snow deepen from camp. (As every sane backpacker does!) The start was promising: I sat in Auld Leakie as daylight faded, listening to heavily falling snow. From within my trusty shelter it sounded like ten-thousand tiny mice tap dancing on my ceiling – a wonderfully entertaining sound! But by 8pm the flakes had ceased. Oh, for goodness sakes! Even the NOAA scientists had predicted up to 20 inches for Golden (not quite the numbers over-excitable TV presenters had touted), but it wouldn’t be the first (nor last) time a forecast ‘snowmageddon’ had fizzled out last minute…

But happily, by Sunday morning the delayed storm was finally picking up momentum, and after packing away my snow-covered tent the route home led through drifts already knee deep. Strong winds were rising too, something that had been predicted for Colorado’s northeastern plains but not for Golden – but strong winds, and a blizzard, was what Golden got. Which was fine by me! The walk home – along roads that had drifted over, passed homes that looked unlit, through waves of vision-blurring spindrift – felt thrillingly apocalyptic. I might have been the only person left on the planet. That’s how it felt, anyway.

Storm ‘Xylia’ may have been late getting started, but it finally lived up to the forecast. And the result was a landscape altered, a place re-wilded, a town transported several thousand miles north. Below, are just a few of my favorite photos from the storm: taken before, during, and after. I’ll let the images and captions tell the rest of the story. But I think they hint at one thing: for me, staying indoors in such extreme weather would have been a waste, however odd that seems to some folk!

north table mountain in fog and frost seen from below golden colorado

 

Friday morning, with the big snowstorm due later that day. Fog clung to the mesa and a dusting of frost and snow hinted at the storm ahead.

frosted slopes beneath golden cliffs on north table mountain golden colorado

Looking up the rough slope above my home. The contrast between the ice-free winter grasses and the frost-whitened mountain mahogany was exquisite.

mule deer in light snow on north table mountain mesa golden colorado

A lone mule deer up above ‘snowline’. I wondered if she had any inkling that rough weather lay just hours ahead. I’d loved to have warned her.

Golden Colorado in frost fog and snow march 2021

A wide view back across Golden from just below Golden Cliffs. Everything sat still and expectant – although most likely the expectancy was in all my mind! In two days, most of the rocks and plants would be so deeply buried beneath snow they’d barely show.

clear creek in golden colorado in wet weather

Saturday early afternoon along Clear Creek, with a soft drizzle in the air and thick clouds pressing on the foothills. Golden was empty. Most people had hunkered down indoors. Comments on social media expressed confusion: “Where’s the damn storm? Wasn’t it supposed to begin yesterday?” I felt for the weather forecasters – at least the real scientists at NOAA who understand the limitations of finding order in ‘chaos’. The TV forecasters had predicted the worst storm in years, but the scientists had only spoken about probabilities, not certainties. Of course, only a few people listened to such boring pronouncements.

andrew terrill with auld leakie hiker camping in snowstorm colorado
But finally – late on Saturday – it began, and by Sunday morning the foothills were white. After a wonderful sleep I woke to six or so inches on the tent. It wasn’t especially deep yet (and I’d eventually wish I’d camped out Sunday night, not Saturday night) but it was a start…

andrew terrill mad mountain jack hiking in blizzard in colorado foothills

From camp, I made my way downhill, and was soon out in the open. Away from the shelter of the forest things were really picking up. This was more like it!

blizzard snowstorm in the front range foothills colorado


Just a few miles from home, and it felt like an adventure. The wind was fierce, snow whipped by at thirty-miles an hour, and there was little sign of anything but wild nature. Progress through the knee-deep drifts was slow and difficult, but not unpleasant. It touched the senses; it invigorated. It left me feeling young and alive.

 

wild wind during snowstorm and blizzard in colorado front range foothills


Thrilling conditions!

 

big snow drift on deck golden colorado march 2021


It took a while in the wild conditions to walk the eight miles back home, and part of me didn’t want to arrive – life outside was too much fun. But my family (and neighbors) had needs too! From indoors watching the weather worsen was thrilling too. The view was soon impressive.

 

downtown golden welcome arch during march snowstorm 2021

Late afternoon I went for a run to get back out into the storm and fully experience it again. Down in Golden, the storm was at its most intense, burying the roads as fast as the plows could clear them.

outside cafe restaurant chairs and tables in deep snow golden colorado march 2021


Unsurprisingly, downtown Golden was empty. Now outdoor dining today!

 

blizzard at golden history park pearce cabin march 2021


The snow was piling up at the History Park.

 

clear creek in golden colorado during snowstorm march 2021


Clear Creek was a spectacularly different place from the quiet location it had been 24 hours earlier.

 

clear creek and golden history park during blizzard march 2021


With most of the ever-growing city hidden by the storm, it was easy to imagine pioneer times. That’s one of the (many) things I love about big storms – the opportunity they provide to step temporarily back to simpler times.

 

deep snow beneath golden cliffs on north table mountain mesa golden colorado march 2021

Monday dawned bright and clear, the storm had moved on. There was a great deal of shoveling to do, but wandering up the hill was a clear priority too!

tracks in snow beneath golden cliffs on north table mountain golden colorado
Progress wasn’t easy, that’s for sure! But the day wasn’t especially cold, and wallowing through thigh-deep snow so close to home was the kind of thing I always dreamed about being able to do as a child back in London. These were dream-come-true conditions for a little suburban child!

golden colorado winter deep snow march 2021
A retake of one of Friday’s photos (earlier up the page). It was barely the same place!

golden history park in golden colorado in deep snow march 2021
Down in Golden the ever-photogenic History Park didn’t look the same either.

clear creek and castle rock mesa in snow in golden colorado march 2021
Conditions were a little calmer along the creek.

guy hill school house golden history park in snow march 2021

Even with the storm over some selective camera positioning meant it was still possible to imagine pioneer times!

massive snow drift and juniper on north table mountain golden colorado march 2021

By midweek the snow was melting fast, but some epic drifts remained up on North Table Mountain.

snow drift above cottonwood canyon on north table mountain golden colorado
On Thursday, four days after the storm, the temperatures were back into the sixties. Despite the look of the land, it felt like spring had returned.

small snow drift and juniper on north table mountain mesa golden colorado
It was clear which direction the wind had been blowing!

playing chess by moonlight in the mountains in the snow andrew terrill
Higher up, there was still enough snow to make another night out feel like a winter outing. This bivvy was shared with a good friend, and it became the funnest night out of the year so far. Chess by moonlight! What could be better? And lying quietly afterwards, staring up at the stars and moon, and around at the snow, I felt nothing but gratitude for the storm that had passed. As inconvenient as such weather is, it still feels important to me to celebrate it!

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