Andrew Terrill

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

A Snatched Night in the Hills

‘ESCAPING’ INTO THE HILLS is not always easy. Perhaps you know what I mean? In a life that has responsibilities and commitments the hills often end up taking second place. Work, family and other practical realities can all-too-easily get in the way. And for good reasons of course – taking care of others is important. Fulfilling promises is important. This stuff matters. Well, to me it does, anyway.

But, getting out on foot into nature matters, too. Spending time in the wild is important. Arguably, it could even be considered essential. It’s essential for balance, for the dose of reality it offers, for the completeness it brings, for allowing me to be my authentic self. And for many, many other reasons – more reasons than there is space here to list.

Could I live without nature? Yes, possibly. But do I want to?

Hell no!

The four-day-fourth of July weekend that just passed was planned to be a family-focused holiday. There was a birthday, and a get-together, and behind-the-scenes support to offer during a challenging work project. At the most basic level, just being present for those nearest to me was what counted most. So I made myself present.

But then, with everything going relatively smoothly, a window of opportunity appeared: a twelve-hour time slot with nothing planned – a late evening and an early morning during which I wasn’t technically ‘needed’. Could I carve out a few hours for the wild?

To be honest, I almost didn’t do any carving. Did I really want to gather all my gear together for such a short trip? If I went, I wouldn’t make it to the trailhead until seven in the evening and I’d need to be back home by ten the following morning. It was only a few brief hours. Was it really worth the effort?

But, as I learnt long ago, even a single hour in the wild is worth the effort. An entire night? It is always worth it.

So off I went…

The following few photos all come from this brief, snatched night. I didn’t walk far, but I walked far enough – far enough to return to the wild; far enough to feel as though I was back at home; far enough to see a familiar place from a new angle and, through that, come to know it even better; far enough to find the physical, emotional and spiritual nourishment that I need in life – nourishment of a kind that only nature can provide…

forest pines 2nd july 2023

The brief trip began at a busy trailhead forty-five minutes from home: the ever-popular Echo Lake Trailhead. As usual, it was teeming with visitors, and that was no bad thing. Smiles, everywhere! But I was here for the kind of experience that is hard to find amid crowds, and happily a few minutes beyond the busy lake lay a less-frequented place. Off trail, and uphill, I entered another world – a secret forest – a magical realm bathed in sharp evening light. It was clean, sparkling, unmanaged, free. Once I’d stepped into it, everything else slipped away.

twisted trunk forest pines 2nd july 2023

A twisted pine. Dead, but captivatingly beautiful.

Chicago Creek Valley 2nd july 2023

My evening’s goal was a rocky spur that I’ve glanced up to many times from the Chicago Creek drainage below. I’d always reckoned it would give an interesting view – and so it proved.

Reaching it through the forest meant clambering over fallen trees, negotiating boulders, navigating a path through a wild-wild forest by dead-reckoning and self-belief. I hadn’t brought a map – intentionally. The best way to really know a place is to meet it as it is, without outside aides! Feeling my way, basing progress on what I knew of the location from previous visits, I picked a slow and weaving line through the forest, and after less than an hour’s work I arrived.

The view from the spur (photo above) was as grand as I’d hoped it would be. No – it was far better.

enchanted trees wild camp Chicago Creek Valley colorado 2nd july 2023

Camp was made back in the forest in a fine sheltered spot. After weeks of rain, the scents of pine and earth and moisture were heavenly!

evening light rogers peak Chicago Creek Valley colorado 2nd july 2023

Warm evening light bathing nearby Rogers Peak.


sunset Chicago Creek Valley colorado 2nd july 2023

Once I’d set up camp I returned to the spur and sat on a rock – always a great pastime! The minutes passed, and ‘the place’ and ‘the moment’ sank deep. But, being a photographer, eventually I had to grab a few shots, especially as sunset developed. To fully capture the moment I felt that a least one of the sunset scenes needed a figure – and so I used the only one available!

sunset mount blue sky colorado 2nd july 2023

Last light up on the tops up the end of the valley. A fabulously rugged place.

glowing trees sunset Chicago Creek Valley colorado 2nd july 2023

Behind my perch, bristlecone pine trunks were glowing in post-sunset light. In low light, and with only a small gorilla-pod tripod with me, I couldn’t capture the picture I wanted with my DSLR so I resorted to my phone instead. Low in quality the image might be, but it captures something of the magic of the moment – at least, I think it does!

The glowing trees suggested a name for the camp. ‘The Enchanted Trees Camp’.

sunset james peak wilderness colorado 2nd july 2023

North-west, beyond the Continental Divide, the sky was glowing too.

sunset great divide james peak wilderness colorado 2nd july 2023

Peace reigned. The nearby road up the mountain still had a few cars on it – but they were out of sight and sound. Birdsong and the rush of water from far below in the valley provided an evocative and soothing soundscape.

camp Chicago Creek Valley 3rd july 2023

The night was moonlit and magical, ethereal. I got up at midnight and sat outside for a while. Just being. Living simply. My needs few, and fully met.

Last week, I chanced upon an news story online in The Guardian that lamented how a growing group of ‘young’ people are so limited these days and deadeningly dull for seeking out life’s simple things. It was an eye roll moment! If only the feature’s author could have experienced what I experienced that night, sitting quietly in the moon-silvered and night-hushed forest. Dull it was not. Fulfilling it was.

By dawn, the forest seemed even sweeter smelling that it had been the evening before. Partly, it was because I now knew it better. Because I felt connected.

morning hiker sitting Chicago Creek Valley 3rd july 2023

Not a bad spot for morning coffee.

morning Chicago Creek Valley 3rd july 2023

The Chicago Creek valley that I’d camped above can be a busy place in summer. It is well know and well travelled. But, from this unusual vantage point, it looked quiet, as well as different, if not new. It was somehow wilder, deeper and narrower. More of a trench. Staring into it, I found myself time-travelling. I could easily picturing a glacier of old carving an abrasive route down the valley.

morning Chicago Creek Valley 3rd july 2023

The water of the Idaho Springs Reservoir added an extra element to the view.

hiker backpacker morning Chicago Creek Valley 3rd july 2023

By nine it was time to leave. An early departure from a brief trip. But it was curious… how I felt as though I’d been out for days, not hours. Nature does that. Time really does work differently out here. It’s why even short trips have immense value.

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