Andrew Terrill

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

A Welcome Return to Winter

JOURNEYS ARE BETTER when they don’t go as expected, when surprises lie around the corners, when plans go awry. And so are the seasons – or so I think – better when they don’t unfurl as they ‘should’, better when they slip from one to another and then back again in a way that makes mockery of what a calendar might predict, better when spring comes early and then winter returns…

The early onset of spring that hit two weeks ago had me feeling dismay. While it was undeniably pleasant to run up a snow-free mountain in shorts and a tee-shirt, and to bask in comfort and ease on a 13,300-foot summit, it was simultaneously disappointing. It was also concerning, to see winter vanishing so swiftly. What we should have had was heavy falls of snow, but what we had instead was an early thaw – a premature end to snow and ice – a situation that threatened a long dry summer, with all the attendant fire risks that go with it. Peak snow depth doesn’t typically occur in my local mountains until April’s end. And yet April’s start saw a snowpack that had already been drastically reduced by two-thirds.

It was a major negative for the land and its many inhabitants, and a potential negative for me – although I pushed myself to accept it for what it was, not for what I wanted it to be. Still, I couldn’t help but lament it. While most of the American west had been collecting truly massive volumes of snow all winter, the wilderness area I’d committed myself to had almost completely missed out. On numerous occasions through January, February and March, hefty dumps had fallen elsewhere, even close by on the Continental Divide, but ‘my’ area had collected mere inches. It was starting to look as though I wasn’t going to experience a single decent snowfall.

But then, two weekends ago, the elusive winter finally showed its face. A foot of snow was forecast – and this was a promise I couldn’t resist. In great haste, and with childish enthusiasm, I dashed from my foothills home into the wilderness, grinning my way uphill through a mass of downy flakes, and camped gleefully in appropriately-seasonal frigidness, with the recent outings in shorts and tee-shirts happily forgotten.

Alas, the first return of winter only delivered four inches, but fortunately more lay ahead. For a week, cold air remained in place, further snow showers passed through, and by the weekend another decent snowfall was forecast. And, wonderfully, this one delivered. At last, I got to wallow in a snow-softened wonderland that matched everything I’d hoped winter could be.

The following photos come from these two recent camps; from this welcome return of winter. Excitingly, the recent snows may just be the start. As I write this, a storm is kicking off that might deliver 28 inches of snow. Spring may have started early, but winter has reclaimed the mountains, and it is all the better for how unlikely it seemed just two short weeks ago.

hiker in heavy snow april 14 2023
Heading into the wild, April 14, shorts-weather completely forgotten.
snowstorm colorado april 14 2023
Snow wafting down. The forecast for a foot of the white stuff seemed very believable.
chicago creek colorado april 14 2023
By the time I made camp, the snowfall had ceased, but darkening skies and rumbles of thunder presaged another round of snow.
chicago creek approaching weather colorado april 14 2023
Sure enough, the mountains further up the valley began to disappear.
camping in a cave colorado april 14 2023
Snow showers and thunder gave way to sunshine, which gave way to more snow showers. I sheltered and cooked dinner in a cave beneath a massive boulder. With black bears probably emerging from hibernation, cooking in the tent was no longer a smart option!
camp among rocks colorado april 14 2023
Snow should have been falling hard all evening, but whiling away the time in camp beneath clearing skies was no hardship.
mount evans mount blue sky chicago creek april 14 2023
In evening light, Mount Blue Sky – or ‘The Mountain of Great Space’ – down the valley’s end looked even more majestic than usual.
camp among boulders and spindrift colorado april 15 2023
Morning brought wind and stinging spindrift. Packing up camp was a bit of a battle. But wonderful for being it!
chicago creek willows and snow colorado april 15 2023
The view up-valley showed snow moving in.
sunbeams and snow colorado april 15 2023
The other direction looked more cheerful!
echo lake and mount evans blue sky colorado 15 apr 2023
I walked out in a rising wind. Clouds lurking over the mountains hinted at fierce conditions higher up, but away from the heights at Echo Lake the world sparkled.
sparkling trees at echo lake colorado 15 apr 2023
A frosted wonderland beside Echo lake.
spindrift in the forest colorado 15 apr 2023
Wind in the forest, stripping away snow, whipping up clouds of spindrift.
colorado pine forest in winter 22 april 2023
Six days later, on April 22nd, Earth Day, I climbed back into the hills and forests. Only an hour earlier I’d been eating dinner with my family, but now I was heading uphill through falling snow with dusk almost upon me. The contrast in situations was wonderful!
fog and colorado pine forest in winter 22 april 2023
By sunset, I reached treeline and had soon climbed above it – almost climbing above the clouds, too. There was no wind and I pitched my trusty old tent, ‘Auld Leakie’, ten or so feet beneath summit rocks in a bold and exposed spot.
dawn colorado pine forest in winter 23 april 2023
It worked out well: the night stayed calm. Approaching daylight woke me naturally at 5:40 a.m.. The view from camp was worth leaving a warm sleeping bag for!
winter sunrise from camp wilderness colorado 23 april 2023
A winter sunrise.
morning light on mount evans mount blue sky 23 april 2023
It soon became one of those mornings where ‘everything’ seemed right.
winter sunrise forest wilderness colorado 23 april 2023
The forest below – an area I’m looking forward to exploring once the snowpack has fully thawed.
winter sunrise mount evans mount blue sky wilderness colorado 23 april 2023
Summit view south-west toward the big hill, or ‘The Mountain of Great Space’, as I’m starting to think of it. It IS a great space, and the sense of space both upon it and surrounding it truly is great.
sunrise through snow covered pines 23 april 2023
The winter morning I’d been waiting for.
sunrise light on mount evans mount blue sky 23 april 2023
With no wind, delicious quietness, and deep soft snow, I felt a fair measure of gratitude for how things had worked out.
sunrise light on mount spalding 23 april 2023
To the west, Mount Spalding looked rather dramatic. The slope in the foreground was where I’d seen bighorn sheep, and traveled bare legged and armed, only two weeks earlier.
morning light across the colorado plains 23 april 2023
Looking east past the foothills and out into the plains.
sunlight shadows winter forest snow colorado 23 april 2023
Sunlight and shadow on the edge of the wilderness.
winter morning snow pines colorado 23 april 2023
Breakfast could wait. I spent a couple of hours sauntering this way and that.
winter camp colorado 23 april 2023
Morning coffee. Unhurried!
summit chief mountain winter colorado 23 april 2023
This peak – Chief Mountain – has almost always treated me well. It’s becoming a popular peak, and for good reason. It’s easy to reach and the views from it are among the best anywhere. But on this Sunday morning, I had it entirely to myself.
summit chief mountain winter colorado 23 april 2023
The summit view north-west toward the Continental Divide showed that those summits were still socked in. By noon, more snow was predicted to fall.
bear track lakes and mount rosalie colorado 23 april 2023
Looking into the Bear Track Lakes and Tumbling Creek valleys with a zoom lens. I can’t wait to get in there this summer!
tors in the forest colorado 23 april 2023
It’s said by many that Colorado has become overcrowded – that it’s hard to leave people behind. But from where I stand I see plenty of unpeopled space…
front range plains from chief mountain colorado 23 april 2023
Eventually it was time to descend. I packed away camp, making sure I took everything with me, and returned into the trees.
 in the forest winter snow pine trees colorado 23 april 2023
Down in the sparkling forest.
 forest trail in winter colorado 23 april 2023
It will be fascinating to return, especially on the heels of two more feet of snow! We will see, but if the next storm doesn’t live up to the forecast it no longer matters. Winter delivered.


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