Andrew Terrill

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

An Early Onset of Spring

EARLIER THIS WEEK I went for a spur-of-the-moment run/walk up Rogers Peak in the Mount Evans Wilderness – although hopefully the area will one day become the Blue Sky Wilderness instead. It’s a wilderness area that I’ve spent a fair amount of time in so far this year, and all for a new project, a new journey…

I aim to write about this project soon, but for now I’m posting a blog simply to share a few photos from a memorable day out in the hills.

bighorn sheep females grazing on wild mountain slope colorado rockies april 11 2023
Life on the alpine tundra, April 11, 2023

The outing was memorable for many reasons, and the first reason was for the conditions – for unseasonal warmth that felt more like summer than the tale end of winter. A week earlier, temperatures had been down at zero Fahrenheit. Snow had been swirling by in a fierce wind. But now, the temperature had soared: eighties down in the plains and high fifties at altitude. With sunlight blazing and barely any wind it seemed too good to waste.

Caught by a desire to move fast and light, I left my snowshoes behind and headed out in running gear: in shorts, and with sleeves rolled high. From a trailhead at 10,500 feet I made a beeline for 13,391-foot Rogers Peak, utilizing the Mount Evans road for the first four miles then picking an off-trail route across rocky alpine tundra. Aside from a few stretches down in the forest, my running shoes barely touched snow. The ease and swiftness of travel felt joyful, a release from the gruelling challenges of all my winter trips so far this year. Flowing along, not even troubled by the altitude, I felt twenty-seven again… well, almost!

on the summit of rogers peak april 11 2023
On the summit of Rogers Peak, looking toward Mount Blue Sky.

The summit was reached easily. A month earlier, on Mount Bierstadt, I’d spent almost six hours battling up a mountain via a shorter route. But this longer ascent took less than a third the time – an hour and three-quarter. What a difference a lack of wind and snow, and the gift of warm sunshine, could make! After a leisurely bask on top, taking in the expansive views, I began running back down… but soon stopped. I’d spotted movement on a slope above – a large flock of bighorn sheep, grazing on brittle tundra vegetation. Every previous time I’ve encountered bighorn sheep they have always been skittish, trotting away the very moment I’ve appeared. But on this occasion they seemed untroubled by my sudden appearance. Sensing an opportunity, I eased down onto a rock to wait and watch. To my great delight the sheep drifted closer… and closer… and eventually passed by on both sides, stopping and grazing within fifteen feet of my perch.

flock of bighorn sheep on Colorado mountain above Denver april 11 2023
Bighorn sheep, with Denver’s tall buildings visible below.

For twenty or so minutes I sat quietly in the company of these hardy mountain companions – a truly memorable experience, and a real privilege. To be honest, as comfortable as the warm weather was, I hadn’t been thrilled by it. It seemed too extreme for the time of year, yet another symptom of a rapidly changing climate. I would have preferred winter to persist up here for at least another month. That’s what it ‘should’ do. But now, all I felt was gratitude for the warmth – for the wildlife encounter it had led to.

Afterwards, as I continued my descent, I called by my igloo – featured in this recent blog, HERE. I was expecting to find it decimated by the heat, diminished in size, slumping, maybe even half-melted with a great hole thawed in the side, but to my surprise it stood strong and true, even habitable. Sitting in it in running clothes – welcoming the coolness of it – provided yet another unusual and memorable moment.

It’s fascinating, how profoundly memorable simple mountain outings can often be!

big horn sheep female standing on a mountain april 11 2023
A ewe, surveying the tundra, unconcerned by the quiet human sitting nearby.
bighorn sheep in colorado rocky mountains apri 11 2023
Bighorn sheep typically give birth in May. This ewe definitely looks pregnant!
bighorn sheep digging on a mountain side colorado april 2023
Kicking up dust, foraging…

bighorn sheep grazing on a rugged mountain colorado april 2023

bighorn sheep grazing on a rocky mountain colorado april 2023

close up of bighorn sheep female grazing 11 april 2023
The ability to live off such dry and abrasive food is impressive. Microorganisms in the sheep’s rumen – part of a sheep’s digestive tract – play a big part.
bighorn sheep on a mountain side in colorado april 2023
Taking a moment to take in the view.
flock of bighorn sheep grazing on Colorado mountain above Denver april 11 2023
For most of the year, the ewe’s stick together, keeping away from rams.
two bighorn sheep grazing rocky mountains colorado 11 april 2023
I love the horns on this pair.
big horn sheep female portrait april 11 2023
Ewe’re looking good! (Sorry!)
summit view on rogers peak of mount blue sky 11 april 2023
Summit view on 13,391-foot Rogers Peak.
mount blue sky north face 11 april 2023
Mount Blue Sky’s north face.
dark eyed junco colorado 11 april 2023
A summit companion, flitting about the rocks: a dark eyed junco.
the black wall and squaretop mountain 11 april 2023
Looking past the Black Wall to Squaretop Mountain.
summit view rogers peak colorado 11 april 2023
Southeast towards Pikes Peak and the plains.
treeline april 11 2023
There’s still a reasonable snowpack beneath treeline, although it doesn’t compare with the epic snowpack currently in place elsewhere across the American west.
 igloo in hot sunlight april 11 2023
The igloo. Despite the day’s heat – sixty degrees now – it was still standing.
the igloo april 11 2023
Back home!
igloo entrance 11 april 2023
The entrance, drifted over once again.
inside the igloo april 11 2023
The calm and cool interior – a welcome retreat from the blazing sun!
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