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.

Follow Ann Driggers on Twitter by clicking HERE.

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Running Across the Island in the Sky

By Ann Driggers
Wednesday, November 13, 2013

 

Now the high country has been shut down by snow for long distance foot travel I was jonesing to get out and stretch the legs. So this recent weekend I picked out a 20 mile loop of trails and roads that traveled through a small section of the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park. My friend Holly agreed to throw in with me and mid morning saw us at the Upheaval Dome trail head setting out under glorious blue skies and in warm desert sunshine. Our route took us down the southern half of the Syncline Loop trail, through Upheaval Canyon onto the famous White Rim road, up Taylor Canyon and then finished with the last 6 miles on the Alcove Springs trail.

We chose the clockwise direction as I had read that the views were better and we would avoid the strong western sun by climbing up the east facing Alcove Springs trail at the end of the day. After a quick look (top picture) at the Upheaval Crater from which we could see where we were headed (a long long way away) we started on the descent: 

At times the trail was very rough and our first destination, top right in the valley bottom, seemed to be an interminable distance away:

Always the scenery was spectacular and the hardest thing about running was tearing our eyes away from the towering red canyon walls so that we didn't fall flat on our faces.

In Upheaval Canyon we found one lone cottonwood tree and we felt that it needed a hug. Which it did because it hugged right back as you can see by its arms:

On the White Rim Road for a very short section, it was funny to be running over the top of all the bike tracks as the White Rim is a loop I have ridden more times than I have run in the last month (six):

For the most part the roads and trails were in great shape, not too sandy, because of plentiful autumn rains. Still I had two rules on this run, in order to preserve my feet and legs for the long distance, - no running in deep sand or on pavement (there was a short section at the beginning).

About half way into the run at the 10 mile mark we turned off the White Rim and onto the Taylor Canyon Road. As I mentioned earlier this route was made up of sections of different roads and trails. Each was about 5 miles long so Holly and I would keep saying every time we reached an intersection "Off on another daily run!" since that is more my typical running distance. Really this 20 mile run was, for all intents and purposes, done off the couch. The last intersection with the usual poor views of sandstone towers, in this case Zeus and Moses:

And then we are off up the Alcove Springs trail which followed a sandy wash for over 4 miles:

We found a large cairn so we popped another stone on top and offered a prayer up to the canyon Gods to give us strength to climb the last 1,400 feet and 5 miles back up to the rim.

Eventually we reached the alcove for which the trail was named:

And shortly thereafter the trail really kicked up. I confess, walking happened here too, but it was hellish steep:

Before we knew it our desert adventure was over and we were back at the trailhead and ready to celebrate our awesome run across the Island in the Sky:

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Ginkos

By Ann Driggers
Monday, November 4, 2013

A ginko is a walk taken by poets to inspire the writing of haikus, a form of Japenese poetry, usually evoking a particular experience or scene in nature. As I hike, run and ride my way around western Colorado this glorious fall I have, at times, turned them into ginkos. Here are my attempts, both written and visual, to capture the beauty of the season as it wanes towards winter:

A harsh north wind blew -

What color is laid upon

the earth a tapestry so rich.

Indian summer -

Savor blue skies and warm sun

For the birds fly south.

And then...

Mountainsides barren

Silver grey streaked with white

As winters cloak drops.

The forest stands gaunt,

desiccated, past glories

cast off into the wind.

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Skiing Under a Hunters Moon

By Ann Driggers
Sunday, October 20, 2013

 

The cold cut like a knife as we skinned across the snowy flats and on up the windswept ridge at dawn. Although the peaks were tainted pink with alpenglow we didn't linger and turned our tender cheeks, more used to warmer climes, away from the needling icy wind. Spindrift streaked across the tips of our skis, over the lip of a cornice and spiraled into the bowl below. To the east the sun has begun to lighten the sky, casting a gold underside to the ragged raw clouds scudding across the mountain tops. To the west, above the snowy peaks and earth's umbra, a waxy full moon hangs low in the muted pink sky. This is the Hunters Moon, said to be named for its ability to illuminate the prey of hunters, and today is October 19, the first day of the rifle hunting season for deer and elk here in Colorado. But were it not for the moon and the orange capped hunters we saw on our drive up, all signs pointed to winter.

A series of storms has been depositing snow with quite some regularity over the past few weeks and rumors of powder skiing have been swirling in the valley below. When another storm reported six inches of fresh I couldn't take the armchair view any more and decided to interrupt my regular fall programming with a wintery intermission. I had to head up to see if there was enough snow to make the first turns of the 2013/14 season. And heck yeah, there was! I was super pumped to arrive at the top of my first run with a snowy blanket laid beneath me.

My ski partner Scott dropped it first:

Then it was my turn. As cold and light snow roiled up around my knees and swirled around my head I couldn't quite believe that it was only October. Whoop whoop!!

In fact these were quite possibly the best turns I have ever had this early in the season. Let's hope it is a precursor for a most excellent winter where the snow falls often and deep.

Now back to fall....

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The Ebb of Autumn

By Ann Driggers
Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Like liquid gold, autumn is dripping down the mountain sides and pooling in the valleys. Sweeping in swiftly behind is winter as early snows strip the fall foliage from trees. Bright and brilliant color but a week ago has now been painted over with broad strokes of grey and white. Sleet and ice needle from steel grey skies during storms. And though in between there are hard frosts, we revel in autumn's waning sunshine. 

Trails on the north faces are covered for the winter. Sunnier aspects are rideable a day or two after a storm.

The oakbrush especially is coming into its own, weaving its bright colors of yellow, red, gold, burgandy, purple and brown into a rich tapestry laid thick on the rolling hills and canyon sides. Barelling through a tunnel of color is especially delightful and even more so near sunset.

I ride often and hard and fast. I'm in a frenzy to do as much as I can before being shut down completely. I ride through the sunset and into the night.

Above photo of me by Anda Small.

Still, despite autumn being chased doggedly by winter we managed to log a couple more rides in the high country before being shut down for good.

Photo above of me by Chad.

I love fall.

Although autumn is at low tide in the high country it is still rising lower down. It's not over yet....

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Transcendent Fall

By Ann Driggers
Sunday, October 6, 2013

It was a little tardy in its arrival but the gold rush has finally gone full bore in the mountains over the last couple of weeks. In the frenzy of immersing myself in as much of this glorious season as possible, I have vascilated between two wheels or two feet as my prefered mode of travel. On the bike I can travel further faster and see more quicker, perfect in the eveings after work. It doesn't get much better than shredding singletrack winding through an aspen forest as the fall colors streak by.

Most evenings I ride til sunset - the golden hour is on steroids during autumn and this year is proving to be a special one. 

And then last Friday the snow came. I stabled the bike, laced up my running shoes and headed out into a wintery world. I found the snow had made the fall even better than I could imagine. White on red, white on gold, white on green, and a backdrop of sky so blue it took my breath away. Fall became transcendent.

Yesterday I ran up Hunter Creek trail out of Aspen. The colors were insane. It was a good job there weren't too many people out since I alternated between breaking out into song and blubbing at the beauty of it all.

The trails were in good shape for running since I went fairly early so they were frozen, and the snow was but an inch or so deep. I *ran* for a couple of hours up to the head of the valley. (*Running is highly sporadic given it is regularly interspersed with rubbernecking, taking pics and yodeling.)

After such a glorious day I decided I needed a second helping of finter (fall-winter) trail running and headed out to Hay Park at the base of Mount Sopris.

 

It too was spectacular though there was significantly more snow.

Still it was so awesome running with yellow, orange and red aspens quaking above and their fallen leaves like gold coins scattered on the snow around my feet.

With the current forecast some of the trails will be drying out (though Hay Park I doubt will be one) and I plan on getting out on the bike again. The colors lower down are really coming on - cottonwoods are starting to blaze and the oakbrush is on fire. I'll be sure to report back on the next stage of our transcendent fall.

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