Andrew Terrill

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

A Swift Change

I WAS ONLY AWAY from ‘my’ mountains for two and a half weeks, but during that time the snowpack in the high country forests has all but vanished. Right before leaving for a family visit at sea level I experienced gruelling travel and a snowstorm camp… but on my return I’ve come back to summer-like conditions.

In truth, I’d love to have to have been here for the change, to have experienced it directly. But I can’t complain. Seeing the swiftness of the thaw in this way has increased its drama and impact. Plus, the change is welcome. The final trip before I left – a mid-May wallow on snowshoes beneath a hefty load of winter gear (after a long winter of wallowing beneath a hefty load) – was one wallow too many. To return to trails mostly free of snow, and to be able to stride out again in ease and freedom beneath a light pack, and with lightweight running shoes on my feet, is something to celebrate.

The following photos are from two outings since my return: a short morning walk to re-acclimate, and an overnight walk.

The first outing, on June 15, was a quick jaunt to Chicago Lakes. I left the trailhead at 6 a.m. and reached the upper lake at 7:40. Travel had become ridiculously easy – a few months earlier a similar distance took almost half a day! I was hoping that the lake would still be iced over, but the thaw has been quick, despite a lack of hot days in recent weeks and an unusually high volume of rain. (I’d been keeping track of the weather and temperatures from afar!) Under cloudy skies, in chill air, and with rain forecast, it didn’t really ‘feel’ like mid June. But it looked like it, at least!

aspen june 2023

Lower down the Chicago Lakes Trail I spotted these intriguing rows of trees: skeletal trunks burnt during a fire back in the seventies, aspen showing a first flush of green, and healthy pines. A fascinating arrangement!

chicago lakes trail willow buds 15 june 2023

Willows cover extensive areas in the wilderness at around tree line, filling many valleys. Some people I know loathe them for how effectively they can limit travel, but I’ve come to appreciate them. They are part of the area’s character after all, and they are beneficial because they help keep the secret places secret. Here, the first willow buds of the summer are emerging.

chicago lakes trail marsh marigolds 15 june 2023

Marsh marigolds, adding colour to the wet and swampy places where only weeks earlier snow lay deep.

chicago lakes trail snowline 15 june 2023

There was still some deep snow left in the main catchment areas. This one sits directly between the upper and lower lakes.

chicago lakes marmot 15 june 2023

My first marmot encounter since September took place at the upper lake. It was an inquisitive fellow, perhaps remembering how some visitors pass out food – not something that should be done.

chicago lakes 15 june 2023

The most massive snowdrift hung across steep ground beneath the upper lake. I was glad to have my spikes with me. From the look of it, there are still a few weeks of ‘life’ left in this drift!

chicago lakes bristlecone trunks 15 june 2023

The ease of travel increased my energy and had me extending the walk. Heading uphill in another direction toward a different lake, I stumbled upon these contorted bristlecone trunks, moulded around a boulder. Exquisite!

Unnamed lake 15 june 2023

Some threatening rumbles in the sky kept me from continuing any higher, but this favourite lake was worth the rough off-trail detour. Last year I gently removed a massive fire ring that someone had built on the fragile tundra. Someone who doesn’t understand what ‘leave no trace’ means and who clearly feels that ‘developing’ such places is the right thing to do. I intend to keep it undeveloped.

snowdrift at Unnamed lake 15 june 2023

I think of this lake as ‘The Caribbean Lake’ for how warm it can be in summer, and how refreshing for a swim. But on this visit I didn’t give in to the temptation! The lines in the snow tell a clear story of a long season’s many snowfalls.

Echo Lake 15 june 2023

I made it back to Echo Lake at 11 a.m., five hours after leaving. But just in time, if the darkening skies were any indication!

three mile creek canyon mossy boulders 18 june 2023

Three day’s later I was back, heading up a valley I’ve never visited before. It sits on the south-western side of the ‘Blue Sky Wilderness’. Moss Creek I’ll call it, for the soft treasures that can be found along it.

web 003 three mile creek canyon mossy boulders 18 june 2023

web 004 three mile creek canyon mossy boulders 18 june 2023

It was a gloriously green and damp place!

three mile creek canyon waterfall 19 june 2023

The valley was a bewitching mixture of pine and aspen woods, and endless cascades.

treeline mount logan three mile canyon trail19 june 2023

Eventually I made it above tree line. The views opened up.

treeline mount logan colorado trail19 june 2023

My goal was this bald peak, 12,870 feet, well off the beaten path. It has an official name – Mount Logan – but ‘The Peak of Great Space’ will do as a name for me!

summit mount logan colorado 19 june 2023

It was cold and windy on top, almost gloves weather. The view south past the Lost Creek Wilderness to South Park and beyond was quite something: hundreds of mountains and immense space.

summit mount logan pikes peak colorado 19 june 2023

A zoom lens shot to distant, snow-covered Pikes Peak. The wet May and first half of June have left it looking very wintry up there.

summit mount logan aircraft wreck colorado 18 june 2023

On the way down, I spotted this aircraft wreck just beneath the summit. A search online hasn’t yet revealed what happened.

tundra mount logan colorado 18 june 2023

The spacious tundra surrounding the mountain hasn’t yet embraced spring!

tundra mount logan looking east colorado 18 june 2023

Enjoying the big views, I pushed north. The busy, built upon, flat, and over-developed plains looked far away.

looking east to denver colorado 18 june 2023

Even with the zoom lens Denver seemed a word away.

Bierstadt and Mount Evans Mount Blue Sky colorado 18 june 2023

Soon, the wilderness’ central mountains came into view across the wide open spaces. There was an impressive amount of snow on top, deposited by the six unusually wet preceding weeks. Both Bierstadt (know to me as Miracle Mountain) and (potentially and officially one day) Mount Blue Sky (now known to me as Kümachah’aw) looked as though they had more snow on top than they’d had in February or March.

Mount Evans Mount Blue Sky colorado 18 june 2023


Kümachah’aw – pronounced something like: ‘Coo-much-oh’.

I’ve been considering the name of this peak for some time… since last summer, in fact. Its current name – to honour Colorado’s second governor – clearly won’t do. To stick with a name that celebrates a man responsible for genocide is unthinkable.

But the proposed name, Mount Blue Sky, doesn’t work for me either. It is far too generic. It says little about the mountain. I suspect that those who proposed it haven’t spent much time on foot on or around the peak, or haven’t visited it in bad weather, haven’t slept here, and haven’t poked into the nooks and crannies. If they had, they’d understand that Blue sky is emphatically not this mountain’s defining characteristic.

So instead, for now, I call it Kümachah’aw, the Ute word for the verb ‘to change’, which is what this peak does minute my minute, decade by decade, millennia by millennia, and also what it does to those who visit it – whether they are aware of being changed by their brush with the mountain or not. People who stand on the summit and look out across the plains will never see either place in the same way again. People who climb the mountain under their own steam will never see themselves in quite the same way, either. By varying degrees, the mountain will remake them, change them, become a part of them – whether consciously acknowledged or not.

The Ute people travelled this landscape long before the Arapaho and Cheyenne tribes who put forward Mount Blue Sky. They were here long before the European settlers who arrogantly named landscape features after themselves. Using a Ute name feels right – well, to me it does.

And ‘change’ feels right, too. This mountain is so many things, but it is not always benign, and it is not ‘set in stone’ as some might think. So far this year, there have been far more cloud-filled skies than blue. I’ve been keeping track. Change is far more of a defining feature!

Mount Evans Wilderness Colorado 18 june 2023

Simpler country at tree line, passed on the way to camp. Don’t fence me in!

camp Mount Evans Wilderness Colorado 18 june 2023

I made camp late in the afternoon in a spacious spot, nicely sheltered from a strong wind by a thick stand of pines (out of view in the photo). My intended water source was a massive drift nearby, but the thawing of the dusty, pine needle-speckled snow tested my patience, and I ended up moving to another spot twenty minute’s away that sat close to a running creek!

Bierstadt and Mount Evans Mount Blue Sky colorado 18 june 2023

But not before first enjoying the view, one of the grandest in the area!

evening light colorado 18 june 2023

The day’s second and final camp was made lower in the valley. While cooking dinner I discovered that I’d left my spoon behind at the first camp (which I retrieved the next day). No utensil made eating dinner entertaining – I managed with a stick! For that reason, but also for the peace of the place, The ‘Lost Spoon Camp’ was a memorable camp!

sunset on Mount Rosalie colorado 18 june 2023

A peaceful evening – aside from the year’s first few mosquitoes.

 dawn from camp colorado 19 june 2023

The next day dawned crisp and clear. This year an all-too-rare perfect blue sky, in fact

camp rosalie trail big sky wisp bivy colorado 19 june 2023

This was my first night in a ‘new’ tent – a Big Sky Wisp Bivy – kindly and generously sent to me by Chris Townsend (along with a few other highly useful items of kit). For those that don’t know, Chris is a well-renowned backpacker and author who has been undertaking epic journeys since the seventies. He is also the gear guru and tester for The Great Outdoors Magazine back in the UK, a magazine I still write for occasionally as well. I’d shared a few trail miles with Chris four years earlier, helping him resupply during a 500-mile walk of his here in Colorado, and he’d generously offered to pass on some gear to me if ever I needed it. After a long winter of lugging impossibly heavy loads about the mountains, I’d finally accepted that the time for lighter gear had come! Chris posted some summer and winter gear, and with a bit of luck there’d be no more ‘Ten Ton’-carrying for me…

camp rosalie trail big sky wisp bivy colorado 19 june 2023

The Wisp is tiny, but it had stood up well on the first use. It had kept at bay some strongish overnight winds, as well as the evening’s mosquitoes. We’ll see how it does when some real weather hits!

 spring snowpack colorado 19 june 2023

Soon I was underway again, heading back to my ‘first’ camp to successfully retrieve my lost spoon.

mount evans wilderness colorado 19 june 2023

The vastness of the open spaces was epic! Some say that Colorado is overcrowded, especially within two hours of Denver. But…

mount evans wilderness immense space colorado 19 june 2023

High spirits on a narrow trail heading back for the valley.

three mile creek textures colorado 19 june 2023

After the immense wide open spaces of the uplands the textures back down in the Moss Creek valley were rich and captivating.

three mile creek aspen wood spring colorado 19 june 2023

A perfect path through a perfect aspen wood on a perfect day!

three mile creek beaver gnawed tree stumps colorado 19 june 2023

The local residents had been busy!

three mile creek beaver pond colorado 19 june 2023

three mile creek path colorado 19 june 2023

And so the brief outing came to an end. A first visit to this corner of the wilderness but not – I suspect – the last!

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