Andrew Terrill

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

The More You Go The Luckier You Get

LAST WEEKEND’S PLANNED night in the mountains almost fell through at the very last moment. The aim had been to return to an igloo I built months ago (an igloo I’ll blog about in due course) but a change in family circumstances just as I was preparing to leave home meant I’d have to return by nine the following morning – which put the igloo out of reach. It was simply too far into the wild.

For a brief moment I considered giving up on the idea of heading out. But my rucksack was already packed and I knew well that even short trips are worth taking. As I learnt long ago: a few hours in nature are better than no hours in nature. Truth is, every single moment in nature has value. And each trip adds up. The cumulative impact from numerous short trips can be life-changing. To act upon the thought: “I only have a few hours so it’s not worth going” would be a mistake.

Plus, one never knows what extraordinary events might lie in wait. If you don’t go you don’t get lucky. And the more you go, the luckier you get.

Making a spur of the moment decision, I chose to go. For a new destination I picked a familiar spot close(ish) to home: a mountain I’ve visited and slept upon more times now than I can easily count; a mountain that draws me back again and again, especially at this time of year. This mountain rises a forty-five minute drive from home and offers a summit that’s reachable via an easy mile and a half walk and a thousand foot climb. The peak’s flanks are heavily forested, but its rocky summit pierces the piney cloak and gives an uninterrupted hundred-mile-wide panorama across the Front Range, a view that takes in the Continental Divide, the sweeping folds of the foothills, and the vast flatness of the Great Plains. This view bowled me over the first time I saw it twenty years ago and it still bowls me over today. Back during my first few visits I typically had this view to myself, but in the years since word has got out. At weekend’s now the summit can be crowded, even during the winter, and for good reasons, but fortunately there are still certain times and conditions when few people visit… such as during snowstorms like the one occurring at just that moment.

So away into the storm I went.

The drive to the trailhead was sketchy. Across the foothills at lower elevations snow was falling heavily and settling quickly. Roads were becoming slick, visibility was limited, fog smothered the landscape. On the face of it, conditions didn’t seem ideal for a pleasurable summit camp – an understatement perhaps! Indeed, one might justifiably ask: what kind of idiot would head up a mountain in conditions like these? Well, here’s my answer: someone who checked the forecast and trusted that the storm would end by late afternoon as predicted; someone who’d climbed the peak in exactly the same conditions several times before at exactly the same time of year and had been rewarded for it (see HERE); someone who, in summary, hoped to experience a ‘once-in-a-lifetime-camp-above-the-clouds’ yet again.

(As I hope you know for yourself: nature can make ‘once in a lifetime experiences’ regular experiences!)

The events that followed soon had me glad I went. Very, very glad! This quick night out ended up being more rewarding and memorable than my original igloo plan could ever have been. It’s funny how changes like this often seem to work out for the better, how frequently nature appears to ‘reward’ the decision to go, how it pays back in richness of experience the overcoming of doubt and hesitation. Putting in the effort isn’t always easy. But just look at the rewards that are possible when one pushes through….

And consider this, too, the real beauty of it: that rewards like those pictured below are free. Nature is free! And it is open to all. Don’t ever forget this!

Instead of writing a long and overly-descriptive blog (I’m fighting back the temptation!) I’ll let the photos do most of the talking. They’ll fail of course to truly share the full experience I was lucky to have had, but I hope they’ll give some hint of the magic that was found during a few stolen hours atop a mountain…


aspen wood pines fresh snow - 20 april 2024

Snow-decked forests, seen during the drive. By this point I was only five miles from the trailhead. The worst of the falling snow lay behind and below. I stopped driving to grab this shot: my attention caught by the way the aspen trunk was surrounded by conifer boughs as though they were growing from it.

summit view above the clouds - 20 april 2024

Snow had been falling heavily to approximately 9,500 feet, but above that altitude the snowfall ceased and the fog gave way to clear air. Above 10,500 feet the forests were green, not white – a reversal of the way snow usually blankets the landscape at higher elevations, not lower.

blosummit view above the clouds - 20 april 2024

I wore snowshoes for the uphill walk through the forest. Although the trees weren’t heavily snow-decked as they were at lower altitudes the snowpack still lay many feet deep – the result of several big March storms. The snowshoes kept me afloat where previous visitors had clearly wallowed knee deep. I walked slowly to avoid sweating, trying to hold back, and passed just one other visitor heading down. He spoke of strong winds and stinging spindrift. “Wish I’d had snow goggles,” he said. I didn’t doubt his experience, but felt great anticipation at what lay ahead. Finally, once I climbed above treeline, I found the magical ‘above-the-clouds’ conditions I’d hope for.

breaking though above the clouds - 20-April 2024

I could scarcely believe my good fortune! Once again, this mountain had delivered exactly what I’d sought. And to think: the snowstorm was almost certainly still continuing below. Everyone down within it would be experiencing a very different world from the one to be found up here.

summit view mount blue sky above the clouds - 20 april 2024

I continued to the summit, buffeted by spindrift and a brisk wind. Although the forecast called for clearing clouds, the wind was supposed to blow hard all night, which meant I had to choose a sheltered spot for camp. I considered a handful of locations down in the trees that I’d used before, and snowshoed back down to them to check them out. They were out of the wind, just as I’d hoped, but it seemed a shame to camp where I couldn’t see the captivating view across the clouds.

 summit camp above the clouds - 20 april 2024Instead, I decided to act with uncharacteristic boldness (I’m usually very timid when it comes to siting camp) and settled on a site higher up but sheltered by the summit rocks. I dug a platform into a firm drift directly beside the rocks, then set up my home, adding a solid wall of snow around the base of the tent to both protect and anchor it in case the winds shifted overnight. A couple of previous night’s up here remained very much in mind: a bivvy I retreated from once at two a.m. when savage winds arose, as well as another ferociously windy and sleepless camp nearby when a snowdrift ‘tried to eat me’, blogged about HERE.

view from tent above the clouds - 20 april 2024

The view from the tent wasn’t half bad!

view from tent above the clouds - 20 april 2024

I sat in comfort for dinner, with a five-star restaurant view spread all around, still unable to take the location and the conditions for granted. Yes, I was glad I’d come!

summit camp panorama - 20 april 2024

After eating, I feasted further on the view. This shot shows roughly 280 degrees of the panorama. But it doesn’t really do the scene – or being up there experiencing it – full justice!

summit camp panorama close up - 20 april 2024

A crop from the previous panoramic photo. A camp with a view, nestled against the summit rocks. The drama! It was hard to know which direction to look.

above the clouds - 20 april 2024

Although strong winds continued to blow over the summit rocks and spindrift still rushed across the mountain’s shoulder, a feeling of calm ‘end-of-day’ peace soon arose. Shadows lengthened. The evening light grew richer. I noticed the moon, almost full, hanging high in the sky. It was going to be a bright night.

above the clouds colorado front range - 20 april 2024

To the northwest, storm clouds still hung over the Divide. Below, the fog continued to lap against the foothills.

above the clouds frost and fog colorado front range - 20 april 2024

Lower elevation forests held significantly more snow than forests closer to my summit.

A evening camp above the clouds colorado front range - 20 april 2024

The last sunlight of the day brightened the surface of the storm clouds far to the east.

above the clouds colorado front range - 20 april 2024

moonlit camp cheif mountain 20 april 2024

Night eventually arrived, but not darkness. The nearly-full moon shone for the most of the night, creating a magical, silvery, unworldly glow. I sat in comfort in the tent entrance, well wrapped in my sleeping bag,  feet in the well I’d dug, peering out, awash with awe. The rushing wind continued, eddying over the summit rocks and tearing into the forest, but barely touching my spot. I’d done well with my chosen location.

 moonlit cloud seas chief mountain 20 april 2024

Before sleep, I spent some time on the summit. It was hard to tear myself away.

A predawn sunrise color above the clouds - 21 april 2024

I slept eventually, waking briefly a few times when the wind buffeted the tent. But most of the night passed unobserved. Brightness from the coming dawn eventually woke me. Five-thirty saw a red streak on the horizon, with the plains below still hidden beneath the clouds.

predawn sunrise color above the clouds - 21 april 2024

Looking east towards my home, hidden far below beneath the fog. Darkness would still be holding sway down there. But up here: I had fantasy colours and a fantasy world!

predawn sunrise color above the clouds - 21 april 2024

Looking southeast across the foothills. My location felt wonderfully ‘elevated’. Far removed from the ‘normal’ world.

sunrise camp above the clouds colorado - 21 april 2024

And then the sun rose over the horizon, to be ‘witnessed’… which is off-the-charts extraordinary when you pause a moment to think about it, that on a tiny ball of rock spinning on its axis at roughly 1,000 miles an hour, travelling at 67,000 miles an hour around a larger fiery ball that is, in turn, spinning at 483,000 miles an hour around the centre of a galaxy of some 100 billion roaring stars, which in turn is hurtling through the unfathomable immensity of a universe filled with uncountable trillions of other galaxies… and that on that barely noticeable rocky ball an even less noticeable collection of molecules gets to work together in an astonishing feat of self awareness to think: I exist, and THIS is why… to witness such moments, to perceive stillness amid so much motion, to find connection with that which I am a part of, to feel and know beauty beyond description

sunrise above the clouds colorado - 21 april 2024

As the earth spun a little more and the sun rose ever higher the fog far below began to recede. The mesa above my home came into view, white with fresh snow.

sunrise above the clouds colorado - 21 april 2024

Mount Morrison, sixteen miles away in a straight line and 4,000 feet lower, rose as an island above the fog.

sunrise pikes peak above the clouds colorado - 21 april 2024

Pikes Peak, sixty-three miles south, looked majestic.

sunrise above the clouds front range colorado - 21 april 2024

I sat with my coffee, taking it all in, shooting occasional photos for the sharing…


sunrise james peak front range colorado - 21 april 2024

James Peak and the divide, fifteen miles to the northwest.

longs peak front range colorado - 21 april 2024

Longs Peak, forty miles north.

morning light mount blue sky front range colorado - 21 april 2024

The forests beneath Mount Blue Sky looked far snowier at lower elevations.

clouds forests colorado - 21 april 2024

Soon it would be time to pack up and leave, to be home by nine, to put family first. But what an experience I’d be taking back with me! As I came to understand while walking across Europe: choose your experiences, and you choose who you want to be…

tent with a view - 21 april 2024



FINAL NOTE: I haven’t identified this mountain, and for a reason. It is already well-known. It is already a crowded place. If you know where it is, or work it out, please consider the impact of how you share it with others. I believe that encouraging people to spend time in nature is a good thing, but encouraging large numbers of people to go to specific places can lead to a real diminishment of those places. People that find these special places for themselves tend to care for them a lot more than people who are handed them on a plate. Thank you for reading, and hopefully for thinking about it! (For more on how I feel about this subject, please see this blog post HERE.)




Scroll to Top