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.