Andrew Terrill

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

From White to Green

SPRING COULD WELL be my favourite season in the High Country. The fading away of feet of snow, the re-emergence of the living earth after being buried for so long, the first flush of green, the first flowers, the return of blissful warmth on bare arms and legs that had previously been encased in layers of protection… how can any season top that?

sunny skies wild camp June 30 2024
Late spring in the High Country – the snowpack almost gone. June 3oth.

Then again, in autumn I tend to celebrate the landscape’s transformation into fiery hues as though it’s the best thing ever, and in winter every single snowfall typically sends me jumping about like an over-excited toddler on Christmas morning. So perhaps I don’t really have a favourite season. But, spring: ah! When I’m living it I can’t imagine any time of year that’s better. The white-to-green transformation truly has me living in the moment, appreciating the moment, and lost in the moment. It has me feeling like the land itself: reborn, ALIVE!

The year’s spring seemed to arrive with unusual speed. In May I was still snowshoeing. I was still pitching my shelter atop a deep snowpack. The biting-cold May nights still furred my tent with frost. Gloves remained essential by day. But by mid-June, with the sun high overhead, all those feet of snow had all but vanished. Suddenly, as though in the blink of an eye, it was shorts and tee-shirt weather. It was swimming in mountain lakes weather. It was marvelling at the astonishingly delicate but outrageously tough alpine flowers weather. How could five feet of snow vanish so swiftly? The land had been white since October. Eight months of winter. The Long White Season. And then it was gone, just like that.

The primary aim for this blog is to share a few photos of this dramatic change, to let the images tell the story of this thrilling winter-to-spring white-to-green transition…

And hopefully, too, to share a little of how I feel about this change…

between the seasons guanella pass 31 may 2024
A snow-streaked landscape. May 31st.

The story opens in late May, above, in a landscape and conditions notably different from those I knew growing up. Back then and there, in the suburbs of London, spring typically started in March and by late May the season usually felt far more like summer than winter. But the seasons here in Colorado are truly different! The photo above marked the first warm day of the year that I’d experienced in the High Country, the first real day of spring. My gloves were off, finally. And yet, snow still lay deep. I still needed snowshoes to travel.

between the seasons guanella pass 31 may 2024
Storm clouds brewing over the mountains.

Two weeks earlier the willow maze pictured above had been completely buried beneath five feet of snow. Crossing it on firm snow had been easy. But now at May’s end the snowpack was thawing fast and what was left was sugar-soft. Travel through this willowy and still-snowy ‘maze’ was slow and taxing. Meanwhile, above the mountains, dark clouds were building in the day’s relative warmth, threatening thunder and lightning.

snowshoe tracks 31 may 2024
Snowshoe tracks across a deeper, firmer drift. May 31st.
wild camp colorado 31 may 2024
Camp in a wild cirque at 12,250 feet. May 31st.

I made camp a few minutes before the first of the day’s storms hit. For half an hour thunder rumbled and rain, then snow, fell. The last day of May had never looked like this in London!

wild camp colorado 31 may 2024
Late afternoon, May 31st.

By late afternoon the storms had passed. Sunlight gleamed of the great sweep of white. The lake beneath camp barely showed.

small pool 31 may 2024
An unfrozen pool in a sunny spot.

Despite the wintry appearance of the landscape the season was spring and the days were long. Late in the evening I strapped my snowshoes back on and went for a leisurely wander about the cirque. I discovered a few exposed spots that matched what the season should look like. The land was emerging, after all.

colorado wild camp 31 may 2024
Camp, from above. May 31st.
wild camp evening 31 may 2024
Late day light, May 31st.
sitting evening 31 may 2024
A rare and precious snow-free perch.

I found an elevated perch above camp and whiled away the evening, savouring the peace and beauty of the location. Fierce winds had probably kept this spot free of snow for most of the winter. This cirque can be a savage place, but on this evening if felt benign and welcoming.

wild camp morning 01 june 2024
June 1st!

June began. Summer in many places – but not here! The night had been cold. A deep freeze. Frost within the tent. And the sun was a long-time coming over the high ridge. But finally the new month hit, and it soon felt wonderfully warm. Within minutes the snow began softening and dripping and gushing.

 morning 01 june 2024
Spring on one side of the valley, winter on the other. June 1st.

After striking camp I set off back down the valley, but stayed high on the sunny, south-facing slopes. After eight months of travel upon snow it felt good to finally be able to place my feet upon the land itself.

spring square top mountain morning 01 june 2024
A landscape in transition. June 1st.
storm clouds above mountains morning 01 june 2024
Storm clouds brewing – an almost daily occurrence through Colorado’s short summer season.
Camp 1 June 2024
Camp, with ‘weather’ moving though.

I didn’t travel far. The aim from this trip was to savour the landscape, immerse myself into it, not pass through. I camped in a spot visited several times during the previous winter. On the last visit a month earlier most of the willow clumps had been buried beneath five feet of snow. I was impressed with how swiftly the snowpack had thawed.

wild camp 28 april 2024
For comparison, the same spot on the last day of April, just over four weeks earlier.
afternoon storm 01 june 2024
The date may have been June, but winter wasn’t entirely done. The afternoon saw heavy snow squalls moving through. 
a swing back toward winter storm 01 june 2024
June, but it felt very much like a swing back toward winter!
evening 01 june 2024
Conditions improved by late evening – as they always do in this spot! The snow-streaked landscape below told quite the story of the seasons in flux.
A writing in camp 02 june 2024
In camp, writing. June 2nd.

June 2nd dawned mild and sunny. It was the thirty-first anniversary of my ‘alpine bounce’ – the accident that changed my life. I spent the morning writing a blog post by hand: the story of my return to the site of the accident, the Hohtürli Pass, a year after it. It can be read here: A Return To Hohtürli.

A igloo site 02 june 2024
A sunny south-facing spot, reached during the hike out. June 2nd.

On the hike out I passed by a location I’d grown to know well over the previous winter – the site of several camps and an igloo. Without snow, it barely seemed like the same place.

cold morning igloo colorado - 14 march 2024
The same spot back in March!
willows 02 june 2024
The Willow Maze beneath the igloo site looked far browner than the last time I was here!
blog 0morning light colorado - 14 march 2024
In comparison: the winter view.
Echo Lake reflection morning 15th june 2024
Echo Lake, June 15th.

Commitments kept my out of the mountains for a couple of weeks. When I returned on June 15th it was like returning to another place. The speed of the change from winter to spring was astonishing.

blog valley willows morning 15th june 2024
Green willows, June 15th.

Even the willows had greened up. From white to brown to green in less than two weeks.

Valley forest floor 15th june 2024
An old snow drift on the forest floor. June 15th.

There was very little snow left on the forest floor now. Only a few old drifts. In winter, the forest floor can feel close to lifeless, but released from the snowpack it had become an entirely new environment. Same location, different world!

I love the messy reality of the wilderness forest floor. I love the ongoing processes of life and death, of decay and renewal; the opportunism amid the chaos, the perseverance because what else is there to do in life but give it a go?; the myriad microcosms co-existing side by side, often diametrically opposed but inextricably linked and even dependent; the variety, the richness of detail and texture; each square foot a perfect wilderness in itself, a wilderness in miniature, an entire universe almost, to marvel at and cherish and visit with immense care… goodness, how I love the forest floor when released from its covering of snow!

forest floor 15th june 2024
Spring on the forest floor. June 15th. Imagine the piney, woodsy scents…
Aspen woods 15th june 2024
Trail through aspen woods. Two weeks earlier the twigs had been bare.
A hiker and view Valley 15th june 2024
A favourite view. June 15th.

I was soon back to a favourite place… and a favourite view, one I’d seen many times over the seasons. As always, though, it was different this time. Going back to a specific wilderness location is never truly going back. A place is always different. And with each return visit the place changes. Knowledge of it increases. Memories add up, layer upon layer. With each return visit a place grows. It becomes more than would ever seem possible from only one visit.

Blog 032C chicago creek lake fall autumn 28 september 2023
For comparison, the same view the previous autumn. September 28th.
majestic view mhiker andrew terrill 9 November 2023
And a month and a bit later, in early November.
camp infinity lake colorado 15th june 2024
I set up camp overlooking ‘Infinity Lake’. A far greener place than it typically looks back in May.
frozen lake in spring snow colorado 4 may 2023
Typical conditions in May.
snowpatch infinity lake colorado 15th june 2024
Snow still lay in a few large drifts beside the lake, the layers telling the story of many winter storms.
Unnamed lake 15 june 2023
Infinity Lake, June 15th, the previous year – 2023.

I realised later, when looking through old photos, that I’d visited the same location exactly one year earlier – on June 15th, 2023 – a complete coincidence. Here I was again, on June 15th, 2024! The coincidence gave me an opportunity to compare conditions, revealing that this year’s were far greener and with significantly less snow. Note the amount of snow on the mountain wall the previous year, above. Note the brown willows. Then compare with the shot below, 2024’s version…

camp infinity lake colorado 15th june 2024
Camp, June 15th, 2024. Barely any snow on the mountain.
 Infinity Lake Colorado 15 June 2024
And far greener willows around the lake.
frozen lake in spring snow 4 may 2023
And for comparison, the May view.
pascal flower colorado 15th june 2024
In the mid-June warmth, wild flowers had returned. Pasque flowers, blooming months later than down in the foothills.
wild flowers Colorado 15 June 2024
Sky pilot, trumpeting the season. June 15th.
wild flowers Colorado 16 June 2024
Delicate saxifrages… where weeks earlier snowdrifts had rested.
bristlecone pine colorado 15th june 2024
In rich evening light a majestic bristlecone pine below the lake. I love how this tree grows around the rocks. June 15th.
bristlecone pine colorado 15th june 2024
A magical evening on the forest’s edge, June 15th. This was the view from camp. The wind picked up at the lake so I moved to a more sheltered spot. Sleep is more valuable, sometimes, than a morning view of a lake!
bear bagged supplies colorado 15th june 2024
My food bag hung between trees. I don’t worry too much about bears getting my food up above treeline, but in the forest it’s another matter. And the concern is primarily for the bear’s sake, not for my own. Bears that become habituated to human food rarely last long. Visitors have a responsibility to the bears – to all wildlife, and to the land itself. ‘Leave no trace’ covers many aspects of each visit.
rock evening Colorado 15 June 2024
Long shadows up at the lake. A favourite boulder, some ten feet high. Good for sitting on and basking like a marmot!
boulder colorado 4 may 2023
The same boulder, in May, from another angle. A boulder with real character!
boulder colorado 28 september 2023
Basking on ‘marmot rock’ the previous September.
evening light mount blue sky Colorado 15 June 2024
The mid June day finally ended. Last light on the summits, seen from camp.
camp dawn Colorado 16 June 2024
June 16th arrived. The morning was cool and crisp, but dewy not frosty. Birds sang. The sun brought instant warmth. I’d woken up in camp in a snow-filled cirque only sixteen days earlier. It seemed far longer ago now.
camp morning Colorado 16 June 2024
A lovely spot for a morning coffee!
wild swim Infinity Lake Colorado 15 June 2024
And, a few hours later, a lovely spot for a swim!
aspen woods 14 june 2024
From white to green in a few short weeks.
columbine 24 june 2024
Columbine in the woods, June 24th.
forest camp from above 23 june 2024
A wild camp, bathed in green! June 23rd. Winter… long gone.


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