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
Monday, September 24, 2012
This past weekend we headed to the Grand Mesa for a friends wedding party held at their family's idylic mountain cabin, in a grove of aspen trees near Powderhorn. The autumn colors were off the hook - brilliant oranges, glowing yellows and vibrant reds. Perhaps its because we were shortchanged last year, but they do seem to be some of the best we've ever seen.
A wonderful afternoon and evening were spent in this gorgeous location with many friends old and new, celebrating marriage, family and friendship. Wine and beer flowed, bar-b-que was consumed. The band, local favorites Straygrass played, as we danced under the rising moon amidst the luminous aspens.
The next day, despite the excesses of the night before, we rallied for a mountain bike ride on the classic Grand Mesa trail, West Bench.
Running from Jumbo Lakes across the top of Powderhorn ski area it is fairly mellow singletrack with a few rock gardens thrown in. Although only 11 miles out and back it took an inordinate amount of time due to the fact we kept stopping to take pictures. Here's why:
All photos of Krissy Steele by me ^. Chad ...
Lift Two group photo. We gave ourselves trail names based upon the sign. I was Snowcloud (of course), Krissy was Hooker (haha), Mike was Hooligan and Chad was Warning! No one wanted to be Tenderfoot.
After finishing up West Bench we headed back down to Powderhorn on some secret singletrack Chad knew. I quickly saw why it was so secret.
Beavers had blocked the trail with their dams, water flowed down, there was lots of deadfall. It became a little adventuresome for a short while and I was thinking secret might not be good so after all. More than a handfull of riders a year would certainly help clear the trail a little.
After thrashing through the undergrowth and lugging our bikes through the jungle gym, finally it opened up and super sweet singletrack unfurled through the glowing forest.
^ Me, photo by K.
K, photo by me....
And then it was wheeeeeee all the way home. Or back to Powderhorn for more beer and bar-b-que. Grand!
By Ann Driggers
Tuesday, September 11, 2012
Fall in the high country. A melting pot, both a juxtaposition and fusion of seasons, where the mountains shed their summer mantle, layers peeled away, before being stripped down bare, to the bones of winter. Warm sunny days are followed by cool nights and crisp mornings. Lush greens are overtaken by golds, yellows, russets and vibrant reds, all set against a deep blue sky. The bright fragrance of flowers and frenzy of growth is replaced with the ripe aroma of decay, both sweet and musty. Leaves are brittle and dry, rattling in the breeze, and the majestic bugle of an elk echoes across the valley. The cadence of the earth is slow and heavy.
This is fall and into the high country we go. Like the diversity of the season, a 30 mile loop circumnavigating the mountain which gives the Holy Cross Wilderness its name, provides a perfect tour of autumn in the mountains. From rugged, windswept passes well above tree line, to dense pine and aspen forests with dappled sunlight shimmering through the golden quakies. From faint paths scribbled across the spongy alpine tundra to rocky trails tracing the ridges and knolls of the valley sides. From pure blue tarns set in granite bowls fed by crystal waters cascading down like tears, to the meandering creeks which languish into muddy swamps on the valley floors. This is our world for a weekend.
We set out into the dusk, weighed down with heavy packs. An occasional break in the dark evergreen forest affording views as late evening light casts long shadows of purple and umber into the distant peaks of the Gore Range.
By nightfall we have traveled four miles and reach Lake Constantine. Cold hands struggle to function as we stumble around in the dark pitching our tents. A quick dinner and we are tucked in for the night, a vain attempt of sleep for we toss and turn at this high altitude of 11,300 feet.
Daybreak. A hard frost, the ground brittle and white. We shiver and coax our stoves to life. Sunrise brings streams of pale light spilling through the trees and mist rising from still waters.
As we lean into the climb, the sun rises higher and its warm fingers finally pry layers of clothing from our chilled bodies.
At Fall Creek Pass rocky ridges soar and a waxing crescent moon hangs above, like thin rice-paper in the bright midday sun.
The trail drops off sharply below us into a jumble of granite, a string of lakes, aquamarine and emerald jewels sparkle in the distance.
Fancy Pass, a steep but steady climb through fractured rock, the debris of old mining claims lies around.
From this elevation of over 12,000 feet we can see the shape of the Collegiate Peaks, the Elk Range and even further where they disappear into the mountains of southern Colorado.
We are on top of our world, walking through the sky.
And then it's down again. The upper reaches of the Cross Creek drainage are a perfect bowl rising gradually from smooth grassy meadows up forested flanks to high benches.
After 14+ miles on the trail we wearily pull into camp, our feet leaden but our minds and hearts full.
The last magic hour of light. The glassy surface of the lake filled with cloud and sky, as alpenglow lights the distant peaks.
And then darkness. A velvet night. We lie on the ground our eyes filled with the Milky Way and shooting stars.
Another cold frosty morning quickly gives way to warm sunshine as we continue our trek following the bipolar Cross Creek, one minute roaring through boulders, the next still and languid.
Golden aspens frame the Mount of the Holy Cross towering above us at over 14,000 feet and at our feet, if eyes are sharp enough, we find forest treasure, boletus mushrooms.
The trail is long and rocky, endlessly climbing and then dropping up the sides of the valley, through thick pine forests scattered with mouton rochees and large granite boulders left by a retreating glacier. It's a slog and in deep contrast to the previous day where we walked through the sky. It's hot too, at these lower elevations - a reminder that summer has not yet officially ended.
With the final crossing of the creek and after two days and two hours of hiking our tour of the high country draws to a close. This was our world for a weekend.
By Ann Driggers
Tuesday, September 4, 2012
Descending the 401 trail in Crested Butte - photo by Chris Webster.
At this time of year, on the cusp of Fall, I am possessed by a feverish need to cram in as much as I can. As the days shorten and the shadows lengthen, like a critter preparing for the winter ahead, I pick up the pace squirrelling away more summer memories. Another trail to ride, a mountain to climb, there is simply not enough time to fit in everything I had hoped. Still I do my best and this past weekend was no exception. I need another day off from work to recover from the holiday!
We headed to Crested Butte, that fun and funky little town plonked in the middle of the most ridiculously beautiful places on the planet. Our core group of six arrived and quickly swelled with the addition of local friends. Camped on the edge of town in a meadow amongst the glowing aspens and circled by mountains, we had rain and we had sun. There was riding, much laughter and silliness, more riding, plenty of partying, riding again and somewhere in the middle of the social and adventure vortex I managed to cram in one of my most memorable mountain hikes of the summer.
Although Mount Owen is a CB classic and at 13,058 feet the highest peak in the Ruby Range, it's not technical, or long or even requires much ascent. Still its fun, and occassionally airy, ridge hike and magnificent views quickly put it right to the top of the pile of my summer memories. Good company made it even better. My homies, Brittany and Twyla:
It started out as an easy hike along a road above Irwin and Kebler Pass, but being the local mountain goat, Brittany decided to mix it up for us and we headed cross-country to reach Green Lake.
Onwards and upwards to the pass between Ruby and Owen we head. The ridge stretches out behind towards the summit of Mount Owen in the distance:
The views were so ridonkulous every which way I looked, my head nearly span off.
On the summit looking out towards the Elks with the Maroon Bells, Pyramid and Castle prominent on the sky line:
And as has become customary....some extreme mountain yoga:
Just this weekend, in the space of three days we really noticed the leaves changing and the nights cooler. They say fall is a week ahead of schedule and the peak is not far away.
So I am crammin' to bank a few more 'summer' memories.
By Ann Driggers
Tuesday, August 28, 2012
"Did you buy a lotto ticket today? ..... Well you should have!" the firefighter said as he put up a road closed sign immediately behind us. We were the last ones to be allowed passage to the Main Salmon River that day, and as it turned out the following also. He was right - we were extremely lucky - not only had we been fortunate to be invited on one of the most sought after multi-day whitewater river trips in the U.S., but we had snuck in by the skin of our teeth. Numerous wildfires caused by lightning were burning in the 2.3 million acre Frank Church - River of No Return Wilderness through which the Salmon flows. One fire was in close proximity to the road accessing the river put-in at Corn Creek. By the time we had our conversation with the firefighter we had already driven 30+ miles down a gravel road, through the Incident Command Post, observed the helicopters waiting to ferry loads and a hundred tents lined up in a meadow for firefighters to catch a few hours sleep and smoke billowed above. Now we were lollygagging at the confluence of the Middle Fork, enjoying clearer skies and marvelling at the stunning views reminiscent, to me, of New Zealand.
This was the location where, in 1805, William Clark had returned to Meriwether Lewis and reported "the river from the place I left my party to this creek is almost one continued rapid, five very considerable rapids the passage of either with canoes is entirely impossible, as the water is confined between huge rocks and the current beating from one against another". As a result the Lewis & Clark expedition detoured the Salmon river and continued overland.
For us however a detour was not possible, nor wanted. We were committed to the River of No Return, to 80 miles of whitewater through a granite walled canyon, more than one mile deep in some of the most wild and scenic country in the U.S. And with the road closed behind us there was no going back.
We arrived at the put-in to find half of our party (9) already there and... that was it. We had the run of the campground, the ramp and the first choice of campsites for the entire trip. For a river that sees 6 parties of up to thirty people launching per day we felt like we had indeed won a lotto ticket. Except for the problem half our party was missing. The road remained closed overnight and the next morning the ranger arrived to tell us it was to remain closed for at least another 24 hours. After exchanging messages with the rest of our party via firefighter and ranger radios we decided to launch.
We had six rafts and food for 18 so we were quite the overloaded convoy as we set off. We were not going to starve that's for sure.
As we moved westerly away from the fire the skies cleared but we could see the smoke from a second fire just a few miles away.
A couple of new rapids, formed late last summer, kept our attention on the river for the remainder of the day and we drew into the Devils Teeth camp with the skies still clear.
The next morning as we prepared to launch the winds changed and the smoke moved back in.
At times the smoke was so dense our eyes streamed and burned and ash fell on the boat. Rowing through some of the bigger rapids felt almost apocalyptic.
Reaching camp on the second night the winds picked up and cleared away the smoke making for a very pleasant cocktail hour. Having seen no one else all day we jumped up at the sound of a jetboat to wave at what we assumed to be passing firefighters (who traversed up and down the river quickly in this manner). Imagine our surprise when the jetboat slowed, stopped on the beach and the lost half of our party disembarked. It was quite the entrance and quite the journey for them having driven 400 miles to the take-out and then chartered a jetboat to cover the 60 miles of river upstream to meet us.
From there on out it was a classic river trip with the addition of conditions fluctuating between clear blue skies, haze and billows of smoke. Still it was off the charts in fabulous funtasticnous.
It was evident this area burns frequently. We learned that in 2007 the Salmon River was closed due to a massive fire.
When the smoke cleared the view of the canyon was spectacular.
The waters were too warm to catch much of anything on a dry fly but we tried.
We ate very well on the trip though I was quite thankful we didn't have to eat 18 persons worth of food.
There are lots of fun rapids on the Salmon River. Many unnamed, lots of II's and III's and also several class IV's though at lower water levels they were relatively tame. Here Chad tries to drop us in a hole in a small Class II rapid.
And here is one of the larger rapids - Elkhorn.
Ah, the games we find to entertain at camp. Paco pad slip'n'slide:
And of course last night costumes:
By Ann Driggers
Sunday, August 26, 2012
As of this weekend the season has begun to change. For the first time I feel the finger tips of fall wrapped around the edges of the dog days of summer.
On a morning ride on the Snowmass Rim Trail the damp musty smell of dying grass and rain drenched sagebrush accompanied a little burst of yellow in the aspens and a tinge of gold across the mountain sides of oakbrush.
The afternoon did warm sufficiently we retreated to the river for a float. Still the warm days are now followed by cool evenings and crisp mornings.
Rabbit brush blooms in the meadows as a sunrise alpenglow strikes Mount Sopris.
No frost yet but cool enough for gloves until the sun rises. Low angle light hiking through the aspen glades:
Yarrow and fireweed are the only flowers we saw and the alpine tundra has taken on a brown tinge.
The air at 12,000 feet has a crispness that wasn't there three weeks ago.
We salute the opening of a new season.