The Outdoor Junkie

The Outdoor Junkie is a blog by Ann Driggers, a backcountry bon vivant who lives to hike, run, ride, ski and climb in the great outdoors, and is most often found roaming through the red-rock canyons and mountains of Western Colorado.

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A Stay at the Milky Way Motel

By Ann Driggers
Wednesday, August 27, 2014

I didn't think it was going to happen this summer, as weather scuppered one trip and running plans and busy schedules took care of most weekends. But the night after the Power of Four 22k Trail Race, which I rather surprisingly and incredibly won (!), I decided I had enough of racing and wanted to go backpacking instead.  Despite the short 10 days notice, we managed to gather a group of five of us adventuresome gals to head out on a 30 mile point-to-point, partial traverse of the Holy Cross Wilderness.

We started at the busy Holy Cross/Fall Creek trailhead but quickly left the masses behind as we took the trail less traveled towards Fall Creek Pass.

We were pleased to see that wildflowers were still blooming up high:

When we reached the pass an afternoon storm rolled in and we spent the next few miles hiking down past the Seven Sisters lakes in rain. Although a little gloomy it was still quite beautiful:

The Elephant Heads were really out in force:

After passing through Holy Cross City, an old derelict mining town, and with 10 miles under our belts for the day, we set up camp at Fancy Lake.

I awoke early and snuck out of my tent to watch the sunrise over the distant Gore Range:

Once up the sun lit the peaks surrounding the lake:

Our second day on the trail started off with a climb up and over Fancy Pass at 12,380 feet and then dropping down into the head waters of Cross Creek.

From there we left the trail and beat our own path across country and up and over an unnamed pass in the above photo on the far right. This was a route that we had an idea would go having researched on the map and on Google Earth, but until we got there and figured it out we did not know for sure. I was excited to find it totally worked, and I wasn't the only one who had that idea since there was a faint trail in spots. Even better, when we landed over the otherside we were transported to an even more spectacular setting than before. Granite walls, mouton rochees and boulders were interlaced with meadows blanketed with wildflowers, and emerald and turquoise lakes and tarns, strung together by gurgling streams and cascading waterfalls.

We wandered, almost in a daze, for hours, gradually making our way down this pristine alpine valley to our next camp. Here we whiled away the evening flyfishing, cooking up mushrooms, playing music, reading poetry, drinking bourbon and engaging in the general merriment that a group of five gals might get up to when left to their own devices for a few days.

In the middle of August the milky way is at its peak and I tried my best to capture its incredible beauty:

Our final day involved linking a number of trails for about 10 miles to reach our vehicle left at Woods Lake. The landscape we traveled through was quite different from the days previous but uniquely beautiful. We hiked between big stands of lodgepole pine, across 'parks' and past lakes.

As we approached the trail head marking the end of our trip I really wanted to make the clock stop and hike backwards. Even if just for a few nights my annual stay at the Milky Way Motel is always the best.


Touching the Sky

By Ann Driggers
Monday, July 28, 2014

Above: Myself and Janis Taylor on the summit of La Plata Peak, 14,336 feet, Colorado's fifth highest yesterday morning.

"It is something though...

To jump up from fourteen thousand feet and touch the sky

To wonder at enormous land-waves cresting in slow motion all around

To run back down through wild meadows of diverse flowers

To return once again - to practice figuring out how to best be a human living with other humans" - Janis


Our plan was hatched to bag a 14er so late in the evening it was just 6 hours later Janis and I met and drove east over Independence Pass. The early morning start saw us running through the dark, damp and pungent pine forest. The rising sun gilded the surrounding peaks as we emerged above treeline.

The trail switchbacked its way up the flanks of the north west ridge amongst beautiful wildflowers.

Views for miles...Mount Elbert, Colorado's highest, and Mount Massive, on the horizon and closer in the sawtoothed Ellingwood Ridge, another of La Plata's ridges. The rock around the trail was covered with a bright green lichen.

We tried to be as speedy as possible, wanting to beat any chance of the forecast storms, and made it to the summit in a little over 2 hours. We jumped for joy and touched the sky. I made it to about 14,346 feet, Janis a little higher since she can jump better than me.

Going down we ripped through the meadows of wildflowers, pausing only for pictures and to tell hikers on the way up they *really* weren't almost there yet. 

It was a very runnable trail, apart from a couple of short rocky sections near the summit. One of the most enjoyable 14ers I have ever been on. We pretty much had the place to ourselves until we were about 2/3 of the way down.

La Plata was a very pleasant surprise to me. Typically I expect crowded and rocky choss piles when I climb 14ers. This was the opposite. Absolutely gorgeous scenery, fantastic running trail and no people, at least those that are willing to set off at 6 a.m. and run! Extra bonus - we did not get electrocuted and we made the 9 miles RT and 4,600 feet of climbing in 4 hours and back into Aspen for a late breakfast!


The Hills are Alive…

By Ann Driggers
Tuesday, July 22, 2014

After a slow start, the snow has all but melted and the high alpine is alive, finally. Alive with wildflowers blanketed across meadows, with marmots squealing on the mountainsides, with meadowlarks singing, with streams gurgling, with trout jumping in lakes, with rolls of thunder, and with me running, hiking and biking. It's a smorsgabord of sights, sounds and smells. The first flowers to really take hold were the lupines and Mules Ear at lower elevations.

And then it was the lovely Colorado state flower, the columbine, which decorated the trails at Snowmass for a few weeks:

And many others - daisies, penstemmons, paintbrush and scarlet giliea included. The flowers are spent down low and are moving into the highest alpine. And with them we go too. Here Paula and Heidi run up towards Buckskin Pass on their way to completeing the Four Passes Loop which circumnavigates the Maroon Bells over four passes of 12,000+ feet each.

Although it was toasty warm at 12,500 feet this weekend, even at 8 a.m. when we were up there, I found a touch of frost between the sunflowers. A reminder that the days are getting shorter, the nights cooler and we are only weeks away from fall.

This time when the hills are vibrant and blooming at the highest elevations is so stinking beautiful but everso fleeting. Take advantage of it while you can!


Green Rush

By Ann Driggers
Monday, June 16, 2014

All of a sudden spring has finally arrived here in the mountains. Unlike years past where it seeped in a tepid and steady trickle, it fairly exploded on the scene. A super intense, bright, neon, fresh green is saturating the earth. Now snow lies only above 10,000 feet and the lower mountains are open for business. Believe you me I am taking advantage of it!

Long slender trunks rooted in the earth soar upwards and touch the sky where wind whispers in the tree tops. The sun falls through shimmering leaves, dappling the forest floor and the trail winding through it. As my feet tap out the steady rhythm of a long run, I am held spellbound, captivated by the magic of an aspen forest.

Wheels roll over bumpy ground pocked by elk, hop over fallen trees and brambles smart my legs as we are some of the first to ride the trails this spring. Although it has barely started its growth the forest floor seems lush already. Skunk cabbage slowly unfurls its massive leaves and the first of the wildflowers punch through the earth. Larkspur seems to be especially abundant this year, carpeting meadows a deep blue.

The heady scent of the white blooms of the mountain serviceberry fills the air. Around every turn a budding flower, a new leaf unfurled, and the fresh smell of spring. Even though the summer solstice approaches there is not enough time in the day for me to drink it all in. We ride and run until sunset.


Zion Rim to Rim - Take 1

By Ann Driggers
Sunday, June 8, 2014

We set off as the sun was creeping over the horizon, stomachs fluttering with excitement and legs fresh. Here at 7,500 feet the spring air was cool and aspen leaves were just beginning to unfurl. As the suns warming rays flooded the forest with light we fell into a steady rhythm, slow but purposeful, cognizant of the long day ahead and wanting to have full immersion in our surroundings.

Our goal was to run from the west rim to the east rim of Utah’s Zion National Park, a total distance of 27 miles, essentially traversing Zion Canyon, one of the most spectacular landscapes in the U.S., if not the world. Many miles had passed beneath our feet to bring us to this point, training in the cold and snowy months of a Colorado winter, dreaming of this beautiful and warm red rock country. Like a golden carrot dangling before us this run was greatly anticipated by Holly, Janis and myself.

Finally we were here! The skies were blue, the sun was shining and we were running across this incredible place! Or hobbling in my case. Unfortunately the weekend prior, on my last training run, I turned my ankle, suffering a Grade II sprain. It was likely against all medical advice I embarked upon this run. I say likely as I did not seek medical advice, for I knew what I would have been told and I did not want to hear it. So I strapped on an ankle brace, inhaled ibuprofen, and went anyway.

As the sun rose higher in the sky we ran up and down rolling hills, through forests and open meadows, and after seveal miles reached the western rim proper. Here we could look far down into the depths of the side canyons that eventually lead to the biggest one of all - Zion Canyon. At this elevation of around 7,000 feet the first flowers of the year were opening. The trail was decorated with vermillion paintbrush, pink and white plox and the showy yellow Arrow Balsamroot. Every which way we looked the scenery was spectacular. In fact it was hard to focus on the trail as I rubbernecked my way along and stopping frequently to take photos. Once we left the rim and began our descent it was no less dramatic as the trail followed a cut in the side of the canyon wall.

As we dropped lower the canyon walls turned from white to red.

Down, down and down we went. Every turn and twist in this trail revealed another superlative view and more flowers for us to exclaim over. In one location we found three different colored penstemons within a couple of feet. If this was not peak wildflower season then it was darn close. In short, they were off the hook.

As we got closer to Zion Canyon proper we began to see more people. At this time in the morning - about 9 a.m. - they were all runners, who had started at the East Rim and were headed west to complete the Zion Traverse, a 48 mile link up of trails in the park. Our plans for a paltry 27 miles made us (or me at least) feel a little weak. Speaking of which, my ankle was doing fine but my achilles tendon was complaining on the uphills - no doubt having to work harder to make up for the weakness in the rest of my ankle.

After about 12 miles or so we came up to Angels Landing - a narrow fin of rock which projects into Zion Canyon. To reach the top involves a 3/4 mile scrambling traverse of the fin with 1,500 foot drops on either side. This exposure and the views make it a unique, and popular, hike.

We decided we couldn't pass it up, even though two of the three of us had done it before. So we headed up.

On the summit the views were mind blowing. We butt-scooted to the edge and dangled our feet off.

On the return trip, as we negotiated the crowds of hikers, scrambling and slidding down the slick rock, Janis turned her ankle. Oh no! It's catching. :(

After resting up for a few minutes we carried on and began the descent on the paved but steep trail that would take us to the canyon floor.

We crossed the Virgin River and arrived at the Grottos trailhead, 15 miles into our run. Here we could fill up with water before embarking on the final 12 miles and 3,000 foot climb that would take us to the East Rim trailhead. It was the climb that was worrying me. With my achilles complaining on any hills I really did not want to aggrevate it further - this one had a history of problems. So I made the difficult decision, but the right one, to call this the end of my run for the day. Janis, who when taking off her sock, saw her swollen ankle, wisely decided to join me. This left Holly the sole finisher of the Zion Rim to Rim and she slayed it in appropriate fashion (by the time we had driven over to the East Rim to pick her up, she had been waiting for us for half an hour).

For me and Janis it was to be Rim to River. But as we soaked our swollen ankles in the beautiful waters we decided that we would be back. There will be a Zion Rim to Rim - Take 2, and hopefully that will be a wrap. As in complete, done, finished. Not an ankle wrap.

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