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....
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....
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.
By Ann Driggers
Sunday, September 22, 2013
"The finest hour that I have seen
Is the one that comes between
The edge of night and the break of day
It’s when the darkness rolls away." - Kate Wolf, Across the Great Divide
Through the dark forest we hike, headlamps bobbing, as we wind our way up the mountain side. With my vision focused solely in the narrow space illuminating the trail before me, my other senses are heightened and define the world in which I move. I hear the crunch of granite beneath foot, the clink of pole tips on a rock and the gurgling of a mountain stream. I smell the musty undergrowth of a waning summer after a night’s rain, and the pungent odor of mountain goats bedded down nearby. I feel the downdrafts of cool air descending from the high peaks, and the warmth arising from my body as we climb the steep switchbacks. But every now and then, between the giant pines looming above, I catch a glimpse of the night sky and stars glittering in the inky blackness.
After a thousand feet of climbing we reach a bench atop the headwall and stop to catch our breath. We turn off our headlamps and stand, let our eyes adjust to the darkness and then cast them upward. The moonless sky is dense with its radiant celestial bodies - sparkling stars, gleaming planets and crystal-clear constellations. And through them all the Milky Way streaks like frothy waves in a sea of ebony. We gaze at the heavens in wonder until we are reminded that time is of the essence.
Headlamps back on, we continue hiking in the quiet darkness, across the tundra into a high alpine basin. For a short while the ascent is gradual and then becomes steeper as it zigzags through boulders and around scree fields. Our breathing becomes heavier. Another half an hour and we are feeling our way through the twilight, up a rock ramp, which delivers us to a saddle at the base of the final climb before the summit. As we stop to put away our poles, the eastern horizon starts to glow orange, crimson and purple behind the sawteeth of distant mountains. The brightest stars and planets still vaguely wink above but most are lost to the diffused light of the impending break of day. We turn off our headlamps for the night is ending.
On the summit ridge, the mountain above opens to us, bathed with the soft glow of dawn. We scramble quickly out of the shadows, enjoying hand over foot climbing on solid granite until we are there. From the summit we can see miles and miles in every direction, the expanse and grandeur of the views infinite. To the west a rosy glow surrounds the Earth’s purple umbra arched over distant and hazy mountain ranges. We turn and sit to watch the brightening sky to the east.
Slowly gold fades to flaxen blonde, then little by little to an insipid yellow and then, all of a sudden, the horizon is on fire and the sun presents itself, a dazzling orb, blinding bright, spinning us in its glorious gilded rays. Standing strong on a mountain summit, in the gleam of the sun, cast in its golden patina, I think, if there is a moment, just one, where one is touched by the glory of life, this is it.
All around the mountains are a kaleidoscope of every shade of pink and purple and blue and gold imaginable. We wheel around first to the west, then back to the east and west again, taking in, no - devouring, the splendour of the mountains at sunrise.
I do not want to leave, but the sun is rising fast now, stealing down the mountain sides, flooding valleys with light and banishing shadows from the earth.
I do not want to leave, but we have more summits to climb. So we begin our descent, tingling from the warmth of the sun, invigorated and so vitally alive. The finest hour may be over, but the mountains are awake and so am I.
Note: This is the third installment from the backpacking trip in the Weminuche Wilderness. Over a period of two days we camped in Chicago Basin, rising early in the morning and summiting the four 14ers which surrounded our camp. These are: Windom Peak (14,082 feet), Sunlight Peak (14,059'), South Mount Eolus (14,083') and North Mount Eolus (14,039'). The pictures above were all taken from the summit of North Mount Eolus with the exception of the last which was on Sunlight Peak. My partner in climb was Holly. Christy stayed with Keira, our four-legged friend, back at camp where they fought a running battle with invading mountain goats.
Despite being warned about how crowded this area was we experienced total solitude on every one of our summits and saw only two other groups on the more technical aspects of the peaks. Perhaps this was because of our desire to experience the Finest Hour.
My first report from the multi-day backpacking trip is Adventures in the Weminuche. The second is Where Rivers Change Direction. Thank you for joining me on my travels through the mountains. I hope you find them as inspiring as I do.
By Ann Driggers
Sunday, September 15, 2013
Above: Claggy weather in Colorado. Clag obscures Mount Sopris.
I've lost count of how many days it has rained in a row. Like really rained, reminding me of the Motherland across the Pond. It was 16 years ago that my webbed feet finally had the chance to dry out and I do not want them back, thank you very much. This level of moisture is a rarity in Colorado. Known for our indigo blue skies, of course we have rain but it's usually of the afternoon thunderstorm variety, not an endless deluge. Here in the western part of the state I can hardly complain though, as is covered on national and international news, Boulder and other parts of the Front Range are bearing the dreadful and heartbreaking brunt of this non-stop claggy weather.
Clag is a word I grew up with and was used to describe the typical northern English grey weather of rain and/or drizzle with lots of low-lying cloud. Apparently it is derived from an aviation acronym used by the Royal Air Force meaning "Cloud Low Aircraft Grounded". I've also read that its origin is perhaps from Scandanavia where the word 'klag' means sticky mud and indeed claggy can also be used to describe something sticky.
Either way clag and ensuing clagginess happens during rain or just after and since this was about 95% of the time, one could say the weather in Northern England is more often than not claggy as was the ground. Not so in Colorado. Until this week. We've had some proper clag I can tell you!
Mount Sopris looking a little claggy on top:
Between rain storms, clag hanging around in the Roaring Fork Valley:
Despite the claggy weather I still got out. Here I'm running past one of the few stands of aspens which have started to change. I'm likely leaping over a puddle or section of trail which is claggy in order to avoid getting myself covered in clag.
Of which there was lots. Of clag that is.
The weather forecast is much improved so hopefully this is the last encounter we have with proper clag for a long time. Fall is on its way and I'm really looking forward to getting out among the colors.