Andrew Terrill

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

Connections, Love, and an Igloo

AMONGST THE MANY trips I’ve taken this past winter eight of them have been to the same location, to a wild spot often overlooked: a forested ridge that rises above a broad pass. Returning to this place again and again has been a joy. In fact, going back has felt more joyful each time, like a deepening of a relationship, like growth, and even like falling in love.

(If you just mentally scoffed at the ‘L’ word, unscoff yourself, please! What is love anyway but an intense feeling of deep affection for a person, place or thing?)

evening sunbeams colorado
Near the top of the ridge. August 2017.

It might be easy to imagine that returning to the same place over and over is a poor choice when there are so many new places to explore. Or, it might be easy to see it as unadventurous, as a sign of someone ‘playing it safe’, or even of someone lacking curiosity. Well, to that I say: hah! Perhaps it is! Perhaps all the long-winded self-indulgent waffle to follow in this here blog of mine is nothing more than rationalisation and self-delusion. Self-delusion is an ability we humans are extremely proficient in. Just look at some of the beliefs our species holds! As well as many of the behaviours we attempt to justify!

On the other hand, perhaps in this instance it’s the opposite. Perhaps repeat visits to a place increase curiosity and adventure, forcing one to go deeper and work harder to see and experience more. Well, what do you think? Try both, then let me know!

In any case, one doesn’t have to only do one or the other. It is possible to visit new places and return to old, taking turns perhaps. But even if one had to choose between either approach, the benefits from repeat visits to the same-ol’ same-ol’ shouldn’t be discounted. After all: if you’ve found exactly what you were first searching for, why keep searching?

(This is a thought that crossed my mind many times during longer ‘forever-passing-on’ backpacking trips. Moving on when I’d found the perfect place often seemed like the height of foolishness.)

evening light
Evening in a perfect place, August 2023. End-of-day treats like this up here can almost be guaranteed. (See below!)

For me, returning frequently to this same location over the past five months has been fascinating and rewarding. The ridge and the cirque beyond it were already well known to me from numerous visits over a twenty-year period, but my knowledge of the area has now grown even broader. And, unsurprisingly, my appreciation and fondness for it has blossomed to new levels, too. Get to know a place really well, invest time and effort into it, and the dividends earned can be significant. It’s like so much in life. The more you put in, the more you get back. (An obvious observation, perhaps, if not a trite one, but something that often seems to be missed.)

I’ve come to believe that a visitor to nature can have a meaningful relationship with a specific place – a relationship that can (to those open to it) be comparable in value to human-to-human relationships. (And please note, again: one kind of relationship doesn’t have to preclude the other! Both are possible, simultaneously. I don’t think I’m a sociopath because I love nature or any specific wild place. Well, I hope not! I love nature and people. And love, after all, is like sunlight. Sharing it around doesn’t diminish it. It shines as brightly onto one person or place as it does onto eight billion.)

Soaking up sunlight near the top of the ridge.
Soaking up sunlight near the top of the ridge.

Obviously, there are significant differences between relationships with people and relationships with places. But there are similarities, too. A relationship with a place can fulfill several fundamental human needs. Familiarity with a place can lead to feelings of fondness just as it can with a person; to feelings of safety and security in the known, predictable and trusted; to an urge to care for and protect the familiar ‘thing’; to being invested in it, and to a sense of belonging. Companionship of a sort is also possible in a known place; companionship with the living beings present through simple species-to-species interactions, through basic dialogues both spoken and unspoken, through respectful get-along-with-one-another co-existence of the most undemanding kind. And then there’s the greatest benefit of all (in my opinion), the fulfillment of an essential relationship need: a feeling of connection. Connection with an ‘other’ is the very definition of what a relationship is.

wild camp colorado
Feeling connected, September 2022. (I can’t easily count how many nights I’ve now spent in this general area, but to add an important note: you won’t find a sign of any of them no matter how hard you search!)

Get to know a place well enough and you can end up feeling profoundly connected to it. Regardless of whether or not that connection is reciprocated, and regardless of whether or not it is all in the mind, it feels real. Which makes it real. And truly beneficial. Being aware intellectually that it might only be a delusion doesn’t lesson the power of it. After all, love too is all in the mind. At least, that’s where it usually starts!

A feeling of connection is simply nature at work. It’s a process that is scientifically explainable. We are hardwired to become attached. But it’s no less ‘magical’ despite it. Does knowing that a rainbow is a mere splitting of light decrease its beauty and value?

Connection (and love) with another person, or with nature, or a specific location, or existence itself, or with an unseen deity, or with any kind of object or idea real or imagined, can give life meaning, purpose, and joy. And connection is what I’ve found up on the ridge, an extra connection on top of all the other connections I’ve also found elsewhere.

It’s why I keep going back.

evening ridge tundra colorado
Paradise found. Why keep searching?


I thought it might be worth sharing a selection of photos from the repeat visits I’ve made to the ridge throughout the winter. Hopefully, they’ll reveal something of how I feel about the place. They’ll also document the story of a specific objective: iglooing. I tell myself that I don’t need objectives for my trips to nature. I like to believe that experiencing nature is enough of an objective in itself. But, you know. Self-delusion and all that…

So here we go. Eight visits. One place. One igloo.

snowshoe tracks

The journey began last year on December 10th with the first snowshoe outing of the season, although back then snowshoes were barely needed. At that time winter was slow getting started. The snowpack was only a few inches deep. Grass was still poking through. The tangled maze of willows in the valley below was as hard to negotiate as it is in the height of summer.

wild weather winter colorado

None-the-less, the ‘ambiance’ was definitely wintry. As was the feel. Daylight hours were short, sunlight dim. A fierce wind hustled across the ridge. Spindrift stung. And the temperature was far below freezing – biting enough to numb a photographer’s exposed fingers within seconds.

igloo platform

My ‘objective’ on the first visit was to find a perfect spot for an igloo, then build a platform for one. The spot was easy to find. It was known in advance. The snow wasn’t close to deep enough, though, and the creation of a platform took some shovelling. But I got it done, hoping that this early start would make it possible to build an igloo sooner rather than later.

winter camp colorado

Back home, I waited a few weeks, watching weather forecasts carefully, noting passing snowstorms, then returned on January 6th to check on the spot. Unfortunately, despite the heavy snowfalls that had supposedly occurred, the snowpack remained shallow. Willows still showed, especially down in the maze. Rocks still stuck out. Building an igloo would have been possible, but it would have involved a huge amount of extra work and time to gather snow from a wide area. So, instead, I camped. But there were no complaints. I felt perfectly content, igloo or not, sitting quietly in a known place, listening to the neighbourhood coyotes sing, treasuring the solitude.

In any case, bigger storms were forecast over the next week and a half…

moose in the willows colorado

On the hike out I passed ten locals moosing about in the willow maze. Until the snow deepens and entirely covers the willows (which doesn’t happen every winter) these miniature ‘trees’ can present quite the barrier to progress. Unless you are a moose and can barge your way through, that is.

skiing colorado

Eleven days later, on January 18th, the latest ‘big storm’ finally did leave the area buried. I skied in with a companion, Jeff, aiming to check on conditions in advance of the following weekend’s planned igloo trip. (The ‘objective’ of which would be to help friends build and sleep in their first igloo.)

deep snow rocks in the forest

Up on the ridge, snow was now piled high. Trees were laden, rocks half-buried. The snowpack was finally deep enough for an igloo, just. But regardless, the sparkling pillowy-soft winter wonderland was a delight to see. As we travelled, large areas of snow shifted and ‘whoomphed’ as we crossed them, even down on the flats. The avalanche risk was exceptionally high. Our route choices were extremely cautious!

 snowdrift snowstorm
Below the ridge in the wide open flats, a few drifts were finally beginning to consume the willows.

skiing in colorado sleds

On January 21st a party of four skied in with sleds – me, Doug and Heidi, Jeff – heading for the igloo site and my pre-made platform. The sleds allowed for heavier loads and greater-than-normal comforts in camp. Jeff carried a hot tent, for him and for me. Doug and Heidi had a tent too, just in case. ‘You won’t need it’ I’d foolishly announced days earlier. ‘Building an igloo takes work, but there are four of us. We’ll finish it. I’ve never failed with an igloo build.’ As it was to turn out, Doug and Heidi had done well to ignore this advice…

skiing colorado sleds
Skiing over the flats, the ridge rising ahead, the upper mountain looking windswept and bare.
skiing through willows colorado
Leading the way through the willow maze.

The sled-pulling went well… until we reached the ridge. But there, as we began heaving our gear up steep ground, I soon discovered that dragging sleds can be challenging work. My load was lighter than my companion’s (a rare situation for me on backpacking trips) and yet even with this lighter load I found it a struggle.

pulling a sled up steep ground
Steep ground at the start of the ridge. Even steeper slopes lay ahead.

Soon, a group decision was made: we settled on a new spot, lower than the one I’d prepared. It wasn’t an ideal location, but it was out of a strong wind then blowing. And there was, at least, a reasonable amount of snow to use for the igloo. A negative, however, was the steepness of the slope. Its angle meant that rearranging snow into an appropriately-sized platform for a two-person igloo took a lot more shovelling than usual… and far more time.

camping platform in snow colorado
Preparing the platform. At great mass of snow was moved.

We didn’t begin building the actual igloo until the relatively late hour of two p.m.. Keen to get things moving, knowing how long the build was likely to take, I prepared the ICEBOX tool, and unwittingly paved the way for my first failed igloo build. Working with too much haste, with too little care, and with too much complacency, I slotted the poles together incorrectly, and for the next hour as I taught the group how to shovel and pack the igloo blocks I didn’t notice my simple rookie mistake.

igloo building
Cheerfully (and unknowingly at this point) demonstrating how NOT to build an igloo…

Oddly, it took more work than usual to create the first layer of blocks. And, strangely, the igloo’s diameter was unusually large. Perhaps, I thought, it’s merely the pressure of teaching? But eventually the truth became clear. When I paused to adjust the pole – a necessary step at the transition to each new layer of blocks – I finally discovered my error. Oh, bother! I thought (or words to that effect). The pole is too long. Too long by far. The igloo will be huge! We’ll be building all night! Embarrassingly, at this stage, there was no reasonable fix.

‘Erm…’ I began, feeling heat spread across my face. ‘I hate to say this, but…’

Fortunately, my companions were extraordinarily forgiving. They let me off with only mild teasing and not the lynching I deserved. And fortunately, they had brought a tent. It was soon pitched.

winter camp
A tent, where an igloo should have stood!

The rest of the trip passed without further embarrassing errors on my part. That evening, the companionship was a delight to one better-used to wilderness solitude. I also received an education in winter camping, discovering that a hot tent was – quite possibly – better than iglooing. Certainly, the hot tent was easier and faster to pitch than an igloo typically is to build. Plus, it didn’t matter how much snow there was – ten feet or two inches; it could be pitched just the same. And finally, it was hot inside. Gloriously hot! With the woodstove burning, the temperature inside the hot tent soared to over seventy, and the evening that followed, complete with great yarns and whisky, would be hard to beat.

hot tent colorado
The hot tent, ready for use.
hot tent interior
A memorable evening beside a crackling stove.

colorado winter dawn

The next morning, January 22nd, dawned cold but mostly clear. Fog capped the mountains across the valley. The morning light was soft, magical. I stared across the sea of willows towards another familiar and cherished place: a side valley that I’ve also camped and iglooed within several times.

winter camp colorado
Our January campsite from above, with a grand view across the flats. (Note how many willows are still showing through the shallow snowpack down below. We’ll revisit this viewpoint several times in the months ahead to watch the willows slowly disappear…)

I didn’t return to the location for a month, but on February 24th made my way back. The snow had deepened a little, and the wind was still blowing as though it meant it. Ptarmigan were sheltering among the willows. The protection the willow stems gave seemed minimal to me, but what did I know?

ptarmigan willows spindrift colorado

ptarmigan willows spindrift colorado

Back on snowshoes, not skis, and carrying a light load rather than pulling a heavy one, I reached the lower igloo platform within ninety minutes of leaving the trailhead. Upon arrival, I saw that perhaps a foot of new snow lay upon it – not much, but enough for the igloo I had planned: a small seven-foot one-person igloo. I pulled out the ICEBOX tool, fitted it together very carefully, and began work. Or… play, rather. Because igloo-building is play. Standing in a beautiful spot. Unlimited by demands imposed by others. Building one’s very own snow shelter. It’s what childhood should be like, especially at the age of fifty-four.

glowing igloo colorado night

The build went well. It was my second attempt at building solo, but the first actually doing it alone! My only other solo build had occurred with Igloo Ed present, and his assistance had been needed when I’d encountered difficulties with the upper layers. (See the blog from that trip, HERE.) This time, however, with no one around to rescue me, and no tent packed, I had to rely entirely on myself. There were challenges, but I persevered, developing my own tricks to overcome them. Self-reliance is the best teacher! I was finished by eight p.m.. Feeling pride at my success, I moved in.

igloo morning coffee colorado

I slept well inside my newly-built solid-walled home. Unlike with the hot tent once the stove was out, the igloo’s interior remained above freezing all night. (The hot tent had no insulation. By dawn it was roughly fifteen Fahrenheit inside, minus-nine Celsius.) Admittedly, I couldn’t heat the igloo to seventy once I was awake, but nether did I need to. Instead, I sat outside for a long while that morning, munching breakfast, supping coffee, letting the magic of the location sink deep.


I returned a week later, on March 2nd, and was delighted to see the igloo still standing. The slope it sat on was south-facing, meaning the igloo received long hours of direct sunlight each day. Temperatures had been spring-hot back at home at 6,000 feet, and forecast to be above freezing here at 11,500 feet, so I hadn’t been fully certain the igloo would still be habitable. But there it was! Returning to an igloo after time away, seeing it again for the first time, is always a great moment.

igloo colorado
Back home!
igloo inside
The view inside, looking down the entrance/exit trench. Seven-foot igloos don’t provide a huge amount of space, but they are still far more spacious than a typical one-person tent. And far better insulated. I settled back in, wearing a childishly silly grin.

igloo at night colorado

The igloo later that evening. Notice the tossing spruce, blurred by a long exposure. That night, the wind roared. Snow soon fell. Within a tent sleep might have been difficult. But in the igloo the wind was merely a distant whisper, a lulling accompaniment to happy dreams.

igloo entrance fresh snow

Six inches of snow fell overnight. By dawn the igloo felt even cosier inside. With a sturdy shelter to retreat back to when needed, the location around the igloo felt even more welcoming than usual.

igloo colorado
The flats below were showing a little less brown. The willows were slowly disappearing into the snowpack.
ridge colorado winter
Above the igloo hung a jagged rim, traversed the previous summer.
winds spindrift winter colorado
High winds continued, whipping up spindrift on open slopes. Such conditions are normal up here for most of the winter. Windless days are rare.
igloo winter colorado
The igloo site, down on the ridge among the trees, was sheltered. Despite the harsh season, the location felt benign. The feeling of belonging here… of connection… was strong.

snowstorm winter colorado

Conditions during the hike out were wild, as usual. I passed through stinging wind-driven snow and fierce cold. It was now March: would the willows ever become buried?

parking area buried in snow

The next return was made two weeks later, in mid-March, shortly after an epic spring snowstorm had dumped two feet of snow upon my lower-altitude home. Reportedly, even more had fallen at high altitude. Over four feet, some said. As it turned out, these reports were exaggerated… although I soon discovered that enough snow had fallen to block access to the usual winter trailhead (pictured above). The road to it was unplowed, tripling the distance I had to cover to reach the igloo. The return visit became a long, slow, gruelling trudge.

colorado mountains winter

But conditions up high made the effort worthwhile. Finally, the willow-maze flats were almost completely white. Only the highest twigs poked through. The high mountains were unusually white, too. Flanks normally stripped bare of snow by high winds were buried. Sunlight and cloud shadows surfed the open slopes. Barely a breeze blew. Underfoot, the snow was wet and sugary, but not excessively soft. Progress across it took effort, but less effort than at any other time all winter. Honestly, it was fantastic being there!

snowshoe tracks colorado

I made tracks across the top of the willow maze, temporarily signing my existence upon the wild.

igloo colorado

Once again, the first sight of the igloo brought relief and joy. My home, still standing!

inspecting an igloo colorado

It was buried, but still habitable. My trusty wilderness home!

sitting outside an igloo

Warm(ish) mid-March temperatures had me eating dinner outside, despite falling snow. (My closeness to the camera in this shot makes the igloo look smaller than it is. There was still as much room inside as on the day I built it.)

igloo forest hiker

I spent the evening outside, drifting about, lapping up the solitude – a precious resource in this crowded world of ours. Below, fog smothered the flats. Soon, snow was falling hard. I stood in stillness, awash with gratitude. What a gift wildness is, I thought. What a perspective-adjusting and reality-affirming treasure!

fog and snow colorado

As daylight began to dim, conditions worsened even further. I considered heading ‘indoors’, but didn’t. As I’d experienced during previous visits, this ridge can deliver sudden visual treats at the day’s very last moment, no matter how unlikely it seems. The second photo in this blog post (far above now) is just one example: a startling burst of light where minutes earlier rain had been falling and fog swirling. So I waited. Would it do it yet again?

The fog and falling snow persisted… persisted… but just when the time for sunset appeared to have passed there was a sudden stirring of the clag, a let up in the falling snow, a thinning of fog, an easing of the wind… and the world opened wide…

ethereal light evening colorado winter

…to reveal the reward for patience and faith: a magical fleeting end-of-day treat.

morning light colorado winter

The following morning was perfect. Cold at five Fahrenheit. Crisp and sharp. Pristine as though utterly new. A wondrous place to wake to. And an extraordinary location to once again have to myself.

The sun appears over the ridge.
The sun appears over the ridge.

igloo colorado

The flats below were almost completely white now, notably different from how they’d looked two months earlier. (Scroll back and compare images!) The rocks around camp, and even small spruce, were now well-buried, too.

igloo colorado
My igloo home.

sbowshoe tracks colorado

Eventually, I snowshoed out, free to wander at will across the hidden willow maze.

snowball avalanches

Lower down, spring was beginning. Little ball avalanches and snow slides hinted at the inevitable thaw eventually to come.

colorado winter

Down in the valley the scenery remained pristine – and the avalanche risk high. Shortly after taking this photo, my presence fifty feet back from the creek was enough to send out shockwaves and collapse the creek-side snow.

fractured snow and creek

The creek-side collapse. There was no risk to my own safety down here, but it reinforced why I avoid being anywhere near avalancheable slopes. Deep snow always requires respect.

snow covered forest colorado

The next (and most recent) return visit occurred on April’s last weekend. The landscape was, once again, freshly whitened.

Doug (from my failed igloo-build) was back with me. Apparently, his forgiveness had stuck! It felt like a ‘full-circle’ return, heading back to where it had all begun months earlier.

skiing with sled colorado

We pulled sleds again, and the snow was now deep enough to open up the route to the higher igloo site I’d originally proposed. Back in January, with the laden sleds, willows had blocked the easier-angled way. And the only other viable route had been too steep.

half an igloo colorado

But before reaching the original site we had to call by my igloo. Well, my half igloo! It wasn’t habitable, but I hadn’t expected it would be.

half an igloo colorado

Still, given that it was over two months old and located on a sun-kissed south-facing slope, I was impressed that there was any igloo left at all!

camp colorado winter

Soon, we were up at the high spot, near my favourite section of the ridge, our tents pitched, basking for a short while in hot spring sunshine, unexpectedly hearing the first pika calls from the approaching summer…

dinner in the snow

…until the winter moved back in!

view from a tent winter

For the following three hours, as sunset approached, it looked as though the usual end-of-day clearance up here wouldn’t occur. By seven-forty-five, with daylight fading and fog still smothering the hills, Doug understandably had doubts when I said: ‘Trust me, it’ll clear.’

I couldn’t blame him, especially given my assurances over not needing a tent back in January!

snowstorm colorado

But then… the clouds shifted. Remarkably, as though by magic, brightness returned within moments…

clouds and mountains colorado

And normal service – the sudden end-of-day lighting extravaganza – was gifted once again.

mountains colorado

mountains light colorado

evening in colorado

Once more, the ridge had ‘given back’, repaid faith. Or so it seemed. A delusion, perhaps? Well, of course it is!

evening colorado high country
A similar view to the very first image in this blog. Just… a different season.

Elated by the magical evening, I settled into my tent after sunset, considering everything that had gone before. All the visits. All the moments. I thought about how it was the same place each time… but never once the same place. And I examined how I felt after so many return visits, which was many things, but which – most of all – was comfortable, connected, and very much at home.

camp colorado
Camped on the snow platform built almost five months earlier. Compare this scene with earlier photos! Where have the willows near camp gone?

camp colorado



IMPORTANT FINAL NOTE: if you recognise this special location, and if you visit it, PLEASE visit gently. Please leave no sign you were ever there. Footprints in the snow vanish. Igloos melt. But fire rings and trash, trampled vegetation and ‘improved’ campsites last. Colorado still offers a few places that are untrampled and relatively unharmed. Such places are priceless! Please, let’s make certain they remain unharmed and unmarked for the next generation. Thank you!






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