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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By Ann Driggers
Sunday, May 4, 2014
Last week I enjoyed a beautiful run to see the Rattlesnake Arches in the Black Ridge Canyons Wilderness, outside of Fruita in the Grand Valley. Just minutes from I70 and adjacent to the Colorado National Monument, this area gives you quick access to the best red rock canyon country in Colorado. Extra bonus is the arches found along the rim of Rattlesnake Canyon which are the highest concentration found outside of Arches National Park. Janis, Holly and I chose to start at the lower trailhead, known as Pollock Bench, so we could log some miles underfoot and take in the incredible scenery along the way.
Lower down the trail traverses a number of mesas and canyons, up and down, with a couple of fun little scrambles and creek crossings. Early spring flowers were out in force, the first act of an incredible show the desert will put on over the next month. A kaleidoscope of color unfolded before us. Set against the cerulean blue sky and red rock walls was a carpet of bright green flecked with vibrant red paintbrush, white primroses, purple milkvetch, yellow daisies, white pepperseed, lavender phlox and blue scorpionweed. It was spectacular! The desert is such a rich environment in the spring.
Having started at the Colorado River and with Rattlesnake Canyon up 1,500 feet higher, we knew we'd have some climbing to do. Sure enough the trail morphed from being very runnable and rolling to a steep, rocky incline.
When we reached the top the views were pretty awesome. The Bookcliffs far off in the distance stretch deep into Utah and in the foreground the Colorado River carves its way through the earth's folds.
After 6 miles we reached Arches Alley where 7 arches line up one after the other along the rim of Rattlesnake Canyon.
We cruised along the trail taking in the sights before it dead ended and we returned the way we came. We were greeted on the homestretch by fields of primroses - a lovely way to end a fifteen mile run.
The whole way we did not see one other person. If solitude amongst beautiful scenery is what you are after (and I don't know who isn't) this trail comes highly recommended.
By Ann Driggers
Thursday, May 1, 2014
Spring! The battleground between winter and summer is no more apparent than when I'm out on the trails which I've been hitting hard for the last six weeks. At the beginning of the trail running season I tend to be optimistic as to conditions. More often than not I end up slipping and skidding my way around in mud and snow.
Patience! Soon enough the snow has melted at lower elevations and I can claim the trails back from winter and from the elk. I have been beating a path around my regular haunts to replace hoof prints with my own, smoothing out the pock marks while the soil is still soft. The elk have moved higher, following the green line as it creeps up the mountainsides.
Trails, which last fall seemed old hat, are new again. It’s a joy to run a trail for the first time in the spring. And then again and again, each time something new to see and smell as the earth awakes. The bones of winter are gradually being dressed in a cloak of green. Leaves bud and then unfurl. Tiny green shoots poke through the earth. Every day I see new flowers, at first tiny yellow buttercups and dwarf bluebells. But then, as the snow banks recede from the pinon and juniper forests, the lovely pasque flowers emerge. This beautiful lavender bloom is a sure sign that spring is here.
As spring ramps up so do the miles I cover. More trails open up and my weekly mileage increases as my running legs get stronger. Goals are set, races are signed up for and plans laid out. Goals and long runs are even better when shared. A run shared is a run halved? More like a run shared is double the enjoyment. My friend Janis has been joining me for many runs which has been super fun. Here she eats up the trail on a 12 miler out on Carbondale's Red Hill:
Janis on Glenwoods Boy Scout trail, high up on the side of Lookout Mountain with great views of the Colorado River as it snakes its way through town:
Some days it seems as summer is winning the battle as we run in warm sunshine and under blue skies. And then winter is back again with its freezing temperatures, biting winds and snow squalls blurring the mountain views.
Well that's spring for you! And I'm not complaining especially when I get to run in places like these.
By Ann Driggers
Saturday, April 19, 2014
As we move through spring the opportunities for skiing fresh powder become less and less. The key is to get out as the snow is falling or immediately following. It's a race against the sun - if its rays touch the fresh snow it turns to mush in a heartbeat. Being a weekend warrior it can be hard to get the timing right but a couple of weekends ago I lucked out big time, scoring a line I've wanted to ski for eons in the most delicious conditons imaginable.
My friends Amy and Marti and I had it in our minds to drop off the right side of Highlands Ridge into Maroon Bowl, but as we hiked into the storm we were engulfed by roiling clouds, fog and snow. The visibility was terrible and when we left the Highlands backcountry exit gate conditions seemed to get worse. We poked around for about 45 minutes, in the wrong place, looking for entry to our line and praying that the storm would abate so we could see where we hoped to go. Finally it did!
We had a fun little butt scooting down a chute to get to the top of our line:
Then we were salivating at the untouched powder that lay before us under clearing skies:
It was as incredible as it looked:
In fact it was one of the best runs of the year. Most delicious!
As is often the case, in the spring, exit from lines such as these always has an entertaining log crossing to add a little more spice. Actually this one was not too bad.
As long as you don't drop a ski pole in the water....and you have to chase it down while your ski partners roll around on the bank in laughter....
Either way, scoring a line like this in all time spring powder conditions will stay in the memory bank for a long time.
Post Script: A video recently appeared on vimeo which appears to be two snowboarders we dropped in right behind. Their tracks are visible in one of the photos above. Check it out, it's pretty sweet: Maroon Bowling
If I had known they were fiming I would have totally pulled some of those moves. Massive cornice huck..no problem.
By Ann Driggers
Sunday, April 13, 2014
As we move further into spring, the dawn patrol - getting up super early to ski before work - starts to lose its appeal. Firstly all the skimountaineering races, for which the dawn patrol is good training, are over for the season. Secondly the snow is icy and, if the ski area is closed, grooming operations have ceased and ski conditions are less than optimal. I keep my eye on the weather forecast however and once in a while there is the perfect scenario of an overnight storm, with a fresh dump of snow. Even better if the storm has cleared allowing for viewing of a beautiful sunrise. The stars aligned last week so I headed up to a closed Ski Sunlight with ski buddy Scott. As we climbed the eastern sky colors were quite beautiful:
We reached the summit just as the sun came over the horizon. Perfect timing!
The light was simply gorgeous.
Sure enough there was plenty of fresh snow and we enjoyed some lovely turns on our way down.
First tracks at first light - always a great way to start the day!
By Ann Driggers
Sunday, April 6, 2014
"I love the upward ways
To the sun tipped crest of the mountains
High over the billowy world;
Where the wind sings hymns of praise,
And the snow breaks into fountains,
And life is a flag unfurled." ~ Harriet Monroe
Photo of me by Scott on Sopris' north east ridge:
I have climbed Mount Sopris, the majestic mountain lording over the Roaring Fork Valley, almost more times than I count. However every time I have stood atop its lofty summit, just shy of 13,000 feet, it has always been in the spring, summer or fall. Due to snowbound approach roads, a winter ascent is somewhat more of a significant effort requiring a 16 mile round trip with 5,000 feet of climbing. The winter route of choice follows the north-east ridge which is virtually free of avalanche danger but is long and rolling. Any which way you look at it, it's a decent day out and, coupled with the short days and more rowdy weather of winter, its not as easily accomplished as in other seasons. However I have always harbored a desire to climb my favorite mountain in every season of the year. With winter technically ending March 19 and a spring like weather forecast the weekend prior my ski partner Scott and I found ourselves skinning into the inky blackness of the morning twilight hours and towards Mount Sopris. After an hour we emerged from the forest and into a meadow just as the eastern horizon started to lighten and our goal was laid out before us.
The route we were to take followed the ridge on the left, over the subsidary summit and then on to the eastern (left) summit of Sopris' twins - apparently of identical height.
Coyote track through the meadow as the sun rose:
Sunrise is such a special time, emerging from dark into light is so energizing, powering us onwards and upwards.
Once above treeline the views became even more spectacular. Here Scott skins along the ridge approaching the subsiduary summit.
It took us just under six hours to reach the true summit and once there I was pretty stoked! The entire Elk Range was laid out before us, with 14er Capitol Peak dominant on the horizon.
We elected to return along the ridge, forgoing our normal descent route of Thomas Lakes Bowl. The hike back was spectacular and the skiing was really pretty good.
Photo of me by Scott:
Check that one off the list! It was so good that it will likely be a repeat next winter!