Andrew Terrill

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

A Blue Sky Autumn

AUTUMN IN COLORADO’S high country is often the sunniest time of year. This autumn was no exception.

It began at dawn on September 16th, the first day that the closest fourteener to Denver bore its new ‘Blue Sky’ name. After five days of clouds, rain, sleet and snow the sun finally climbed into a sky that was utterly clear – a sky that was soon dazzlingly blue and would remain that colour for forty-one of the next forty-seven days. Of course, this had nothing whatsoever to do with the renaming. It was coincidence, nothing more. But it’s fair to say it felt appropriate.

Early snow mount spalding
September 16th – the dawning of a ‘blue sky season’.

Following this bright start, the second half of September passed in a blaze of warmth and sunlight. Mid-September’s early snowfall rapidly thawed and faded, lasting only in the shadiest of gullies and on the steep north-facing slopes. Soon, October arrived, and it too delivered calm, mild, sun-drenched weather. Up in the high places the benign conditions felt like a gift from the mountain gods. I was able to walk wearing shorts, a tee-shirt and lightweight running shoes, not in a hat, gloves, thermals and hefty boots. Yes, the starry nights grew colder. But the days? They were glorious.

It was an autumn to treasure. A golden autumn. Winter could wait.

For the first few decades of my life, winter was the one season I didn’t want to wait for. Usually, I pined for it with immense impatience. Perhaps it was because winter was the season of my birth, the season within which I felt most at home. Or perhaps it was because snowfalls where I grew up in London were never guaranteed, but when they came they brought such joy. Fortunately, I’ve learnt a little more patience since then. I still love winter (and too much, as some close to me might argue) but I’ve also now grown to love the other seasons as much. Plus, I’ve learnt to treasure each moment and not waste time wishing for a season that hasn’t yet arrived. And that’s the thing in Colorado: winter will arrive eventually. Up in the Rockies snowfall is guaranteed.

In any case, the delay of knee-deep snow and extremity-numbing cold brought practical benefits. It meant that access to the high places remained swift and easy. It meant my pack stayed light even on overnight trips. It meant I could sit in the landscape and truly relax, something that’s extremely difficult to do in winter. Winter is such a long and demanding season here anyway. As I’d thought to myself back in mid-May during a late-season snowstorm: one CAN have too much of a good thing, especially as one grows older! And so I welcomed this blue sky autumn, even if it did seem like yet another sign that the climate was out of whack. But…. instead of worrying about the future it seemed better to simply focus on what I had.

And so I focused on it and enjoyed it. No, I treasured it. I turned my face upward into the sun and stretched out on a rock and basked like a skinny human-sized marmot.

guanella pass 20 October 2023
A sun-kissed perch, October 20th. There was real warmth in the sun, even late in the day.

After breaking trail to the summit of Mount Blue Sky on September 16th my outings continued. They ranged from camps beside high lakes to walks along ridges to aimless meanderings deep in the woods. I revelled in my travels above the world, stepping carefully across burnished tundra. I thrilled to the stinging water of upland swims. I savoured my walks in the sweet decaying softness of aspen groves, breathing deep the earthy, tannin-laden scents, losing myself to the hypnotic dance of sunlit aspen leaves shimmering in the breeze. And I choked with emotion at the other-worldly beauty of silver moonlight, and at the strange muted glow cast by a partial eclipse. There were moments during this extended blue sky spell when life itself felt like one long sigh of contentment.

Slowly, the nights grew colder. Frosts coated the earth by dawn. Ice began encasing splash zones alongside creeks and lakes. But it seemed curious, how the chill of autumn mornings could bring such warmth to the soul, and how the dying back of life and abundance could stir such pleasure, awe and gratitude. Perhaps the emotional rewards came from the very nature of change itself, from simply accepting that beauty won’t last, and from appreciating it all the more because of it. Value because of brevity. Value because a single moment of perfection can’t ever be possessed, only lived to the fullest once.

Change is inevitable. All things pass. But each moment can still bring immense beauty and hold immeasurable value.’ Or so I scribbled in my journal whilst sitting alone but not alone in the woods, staring around at my silent companions, ‘mere’ trees.

Ah,’ I wrote, ‘My blue sky autumn!’ Yes: one long sigh of contentment. Or so it was for me, silly fifty-something child that I am.

The following photos are highlights from this sunny season. They stretch from September 16th on a newly renamed mountain to the eventual arrival of winter on October 28th. All were taken in the Mount Blue Sky Wilderness, as it will assuredly one day be called. These images only hint at what this season served up. But I hope they bring some warmth.

Our world often seems filled with coldness, and with insanity. Thank goodness for the sanity of nature.


Early snow mount blue sky sunrise 16 september 2023
September 16th – A ‘Blue Sky’ day.


Geneva Mountain Mount Bierstadt Mount Blue Sky Guanella Pass 22 September 2023
Open space and autumn-burnished tundra. Geneva Mountain, September 22nd.


fall tundra colors Geneva Mountain Guanella Pass 22 September 2023
The colours of the tundra.


Scott Gomer Creek Fall Colors 22 September 2023
A sea of rippling gold. Scott Gomer Creek, September 22nd.


chicago creek valley hiker mount blue sky lake fall autumn 28 september 2023
Overlooking the Chicago Creek Valley on a ridiculously warm late-September day.


chicago creek valley camp lake fall autumn 28 september 2023
The edge of a glorious unnamed lake, September 28th. I have several names for it!


swimming colorado infinity lake september 2023
A high country swim – an unexpected treat with October just days away.


chicago creek valley camp lake fall autumn 28 september 2023
A final glow of late-day sunlight.


chicago creek valley camp lake fall autumn 28 september 2023
Fiery-hued magic at day’s end.


chicago creek valley lake moonrise fall autumn 28 september 2023
Moonrise, September 28th. Afterward, the moon’s silver light transformed the landscape. It truly looked and felt like a fantasy realm.


camp chicago creek valley fall autumn 28 september 2023
Camp, with Mount Blue Sky rising above.


colorado rocky mountains fall autumn 28 september 2023
The Continental Divide seen from beneath Gray Wolf Mountain.


colorado rocky mountains mount blue sky fall autumn 28 september 2023
Perhaps my favourite view in the area: the two cirques on Mount Blue Sky’s northern side, one cirque stacked atop the other.


chicago creek valley aspen fall autumn 28 september 2023
A seldom-visited corner above Chicago Creek.


abyss trail aspen 4 october 2023
Willows and aspens long the Abyss Trail. The aspen groves were past their peak autumn colours, but they remained captivating never-the-less.


 aspen 4 october 2023
Long shadows among the aspen, October 4th.


aspen leaves 5 october 2023
Aspen leaves, October 4th.


aspen camp 4 october 2023
A soft mulchy camp. The autumnal scents were intoxicating. They were so strong I felt I ought to have been able to grasp a hold of them with my hands.


aspen and pine abyss trail 5 october 2023
Alone amongst a sea of quaking yellow.


abyss trail aspen 4 october 2023
Along the Abyss Trail, October 4th.


 aspen abyss trail 4 october 2023
Looking through aspen to the craggy side of Geneva Mountain.


alone at summit lake 13 october 2023
A day and night of solitude at Summit Lake with the summer crowds long gone. October 13th.


ice summit lake 13 October 2023
Ice on Summit Lake’s edge, formed from waves splashing onto the grass and freezing overnight.


front range foothills 14 october 2023
View east across the Front Range foothills. October 5th.


summit lake early morning 14 October 2023
Early morning at Summit Lake.


chicago lakes valley early morning 14 October 2023
Morning light along the Chicago Creek Valley. The slopes were dusted white from the one break in the weather that occurred during six settled weeks.


mud lakes and lions head 13 october 2023
Zoom lens shot southeast past Mud Lakes, October 5th.


eclipse shadows and light on rock 14 October 2023
Shadows cast onto a boulder during the partial eclipse, on October 5th. The sickle shapes reveal how much of the sun was covered.


 heading in 20 October 2023
On October 20th the sunlight still felt hot. It was shorts and tee-shirt weather. Still.


guanella pass wild camp 20 October 2023
A rugged high camp late in the season. There wasn’t even a hint of a breeze.


Camp Dinner 20 October 2023
Dining out high country style.


evening light 20 October 2023
The last light of day catching the Sawtooth Ridge.


guanella pass 21 October 2023
A familiar view across Guanella Pass in unfamiliar late-season warmth.


Echo Lake 28 October 2023
Finally… it had to happen. Grey clouds rolled in and snow began to fall. Winter had finally arrived. Echo Lake, October 28th.


pine cones in a dusting of snow 28 October 2023
The forest floor was soon dusted white.


snow in the forest 28 October 2023
Snow settling in the forest.


snow camp 29 October 2023
By morning it was a world renewed.


corkscrew tree 29 October 2023
‘The Corkscrew Tree’, an old favourite of mine. Oh, the things it must have ‘seen’. And the stories it could tell, if only it could speak!


Echo Lake Rocks 29 October 2023
Echo Lake, October 29th. The sun was trying to return, but it was now shining on a different season.


winter camp 29 October 2023
Winter. Well, I suppose one might as well enjoy it!


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