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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Being Challenged and Enduring

By Ann Driggers
Saturday, March 6, 2010

Well the Endurance Challenge at Sunlight has come and gone. I was challenged, endured and had a super fun time at this 12 hour uphill downhill ski race held at the Sunlight ski area near Glenwood Springs. In previous years the race was a 24 hour format which was pretty hard core. Cut in half to 12 hours it seemed like a feasible option for me so I signed up. But just to make sure I wouldn't be completely annihilated I joined a team of four other ladies. The Bombay Bombshells almost spent more time on figuring out costumes than training but in the end we performed very well, coming in second place in our category.

The race started at 8 a.m. and Anne Mimloe was the first of the team to go. 

 

As you can see there were very few others who spent as much time on their outfits as us. We were complimented many times during the race. In fact it was widely believed that our tiaras held extra special powers and some racers tried to borrow them.

Over the next twelve hours we alternated climbing and skiing laps until we were almost dizzy. Here is one of the many changeovers between myself on the left and Amanda on the right.

 

Up, down, up, down.......

At the eleventh hour (literally) we decided we needed to get one more lap in to secure second place. I headed out for the final time while the rest of the team galloped towards the bar. The last lap was at night and I was sort of dreading it. But in fact it was the most fun of all. I could take it slow, knowing I had an hour and a half to complete it, chat with fellow racers who were in the same position, and catch the summit view of Glenwood's lights twinkling below. Still it was nice to be done.....

 

Shortly after the finish we were on the podium collecting our medals.

 

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Get Yer MOG On!

By Ann Driggers
Tuesday, March 2, 2010

 

Mark your calendars - the MOG fest is back! MOG (Manufacturers of Outdoor Gear) fest is the largest outdoor gear sale between Denver and Salt Lake City. New this year, there will be a bike swap to benefit COPMOBA. (COPMOBA is just a fancy word for those awesome folks who build and maintain all the wonderful trails in our 'hood.)

So what's not to like? Nada! Even if you don't want to shell out for a screaming deal on some new gear, this will be the place to hang on April 10th. Come visit with friends, watch the Telluride Mountain Film and party late into the LOKI night. Next day ride some of our rippin' singletrack, run the river, roadie thro' the Colorado National Monument, anything outdoors to clear the head! For more info check out the website. Schweeet, I'll say!

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Dawn Patrol

By Ann Driggers
Saturday, February 27, 2010

- You did what?

- Umm, well, I went and skied up Powderhorn before work this morning.

- Hang on a minute...UP Powderhorn? How the heck do you do that? And isn't it dark? And why on earth would you do that anyway?

This dialogue has occured frequently this winter. Usually on Thursday's. So let me explain.

In preparation for the Endurance Challenge at Sunlight, a 12 hour ski race up and down Sunlight Ski Area (more on that later), one of our team, Twyla Gingrich, and I have pledged to dawn patrol at least once a week. A dawn patrol for us consists of leaving town at 5:30 a.m., heading up to Powderhorn, slapping on the skins, climbing via Equalizer the 1,600 feet to the top of Chair One, skiing down, jumping back in the car and making it into work by 8:30 a.m.

Now to some that may seem to be somewhat of a chore and rather boring. Yes, it is a good work out (that's the point) but everytime has been quite different and entertaining. Here is a flavor of some of the highlights of our dawn patrols so far: 

#1: Swooping down at mach speed (3 minutes top to bottom) as a waning wolf moon sets in the western sky and the sun's rays paint the eastern horizon pink. So beautiful!

#2: Skinning up in windy, snowy conditions, second guessing our decision to be there. And realizing it was absolutely worth it as we ski 8 inches of fresh down Powder Keg.

#3: Twyla forgets her skins so she hikes with skis on her back.

This prompts me to make a "Guide to Rocking the Dawn Patrol" poster which takes me back to Elementary School (I was in my element) and we have not forgotten anything since (touch wood). 

#4: Almost getting creamed by the Beast as it zoomed around, gobbling up anything in its path, turning it into the most perfect corduroy ever seen at Powderhorn. (Prinoth loaned their premiere snow groomer to Powderhorn for a few days. And who can blame the grooming guys for taking full advantage and going nutso with it, while we ran for the trees).

#5: Bouncing around in the boulder fields, finding pockets of powder four days after the last storm.

#6: Looking for alternative uses for pipes sticking out of the snow, without being decapitated by other skiers/riders

 

and finding them. This terrain park feature at the top of Equalizer has now been renamed the 'Coat Rack'.

 

#7: And last, but by no means least, being crash test dummies for the Dummy Jump.

 

In sum, this winter's dawn patrols have been a blast. Not once have I sat at my desk and regretted spending the first hour of my day up on the mountain, with skis and snow underfoot.  Even though the race will be over and done by tomorrow, we hope there are many dawn patrols left to come.

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Snow Testing with an Avalanche Forecaster

By Ann Driggers
Wednesday, February 17, 2010

It's been a while, but the Outdoor Junkie has returned to the blog. Due to the mammoth task of transfering everything to the new and improved Daily Sentinel website, I got a little backed up on posting. As you can imagine I haven't been sitting around twiddling my thumbs, so I'll get right to it. Here's an account of an awesome day I had hanging out with a forecaster from the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC), a couple of weeks ago:

Cup of joe in hand, reading the daily weather and avalanche forecast from the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) is one of my morning rituals.  Even if headed only to work, learning about and understanding the changing conditions of the snowpack is vital for safe travel in the snowy backcountry. Every day’s avalanche report is like a page in a large book, building up a reservoir of information about the snowpack over the winter months. It is today’s weather that creates the snowpack and avalanche conditions of the future. 

This year is going down as being one of the most dangerous in recent memory. Several long periods of dry weather interspersed with some moderate and very large snowfalls has created a rotten and dangerous snowpack. Overlaid with last week’s big snow event the snowpack is now teetering on the brink and in many places, has come crashing down. Hundreds of avalanches have been recorded and sadly several deaths too.  As a state program whose purpose is “to minimize the economic and human impact of snow avalanches on recreation, tourism, commerce, industry and the citizens of Colorado”, the CAIC has been very busy in recent weeks.

The daily forecasts are, in part, based upon observations from backcountry travelers submitted to the CAIC. Although our backyard, the Grand Mesa, has its own avalanche forecast, the number of observations trickling into the CAIC office is minimal, and the forecast is sometimes an extrapolation of neighboring zone observations. Wanting more information on the local snowpack, I recently accompanied one of CAIC’s forecasters, Scott Toepfer, on a Grand Mesa foray and conducted a number of tests to assess the stability of the snow.

 We dug a pit on a north facing slope at approximately 10,000 feet with an angle of 32 degrees. The layering within the 4 foot deep snowpack was immediately obvious:

 

The bottom of the pack was made up of old snow particles called facets. Created by a process of metamorphism the sugar-like cohesion less grains are typical of a weak Colorado snowpack.

 

Scott then performed several tests which identify possible weak layers, the strength of those weak layers and overall snow stability.

First was the Shovel Compression Test which failed at the first hit from the shoulder with an easy and clean shear (CT21, Q1):

Next, a Rutschblock Test, which again tests the bonding of the layers, this time with the weight of a skier on an isolated block of snow. Rather disconcertingly, this failed when Scott stepped onto the block (RB2, Q1):

 

Scott also performed a relatively new test of snow stability, the Extended Column Test (ECT). The ECT provides information on where a fracture in the snowpack could be initiated and how it might propagate. Although there was no result from the ECT the low score on the Rutschblock Test was concerning enough that we decided to ski relatively conservative terrain and avoided slopes greater than 30 degrees.

The final test of the day is one I call the Happy Skier Test (HST). This test assesses the quality of the snow for skiing purposes. Judging by the size of the smile on Scott's face I would say that the HST had strong results (HST gold star).

 

Upon submitting the observations that were made during our trip the avalanche danger was increased from Moderate, meaning natural avalanches are unlikely and human trigged avalanches are possible, to Considerable on NW - N - NE aspects. Considerable danger means natural avalanches are possible and human triggered avalanches are probable. This was therefore important safety information for backcountry skiers and snowmobilers.

 In order to provide the most accurate information possible the CAIC encourages those traveling in the backcountry to submit observations on their website. I would also encourage anyone who reads and uses the forecasts to financially support the CAIC so that we may continue to be well informed and safe beneficiaries of this important program.

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Never Summer Ski Tour

By Ann Driggers
Monday, January 18, 2010

Bony is the name of the backcountry game, not only in Colorado, but just about everywhere in the Rocky Mountains. However there is good news on the horizon as the weather forecast is looking much improved this week. The bad news is that it’s not here yet. So when the snowpack is skinny and all the usual popular backcountry spots are pulverized into bump runs, long tours to high and remote terrain usually yield the best results. Furthermore there are silver linings to a snowless three weeks: the snowpack has consolidated moderating the avalanche danger and making for fast travel across longer distances.

We visited friends in Grand Lake this weekend who offered to take us on a ski tour into the Never Summer Range, an area that sees little ski traffic and whose name alone offers great promise in a season where winter has yet to settle in for good. The Never Summer Range's 12 peaks over 12,000 feet follow the Continental Divide and the western border of Rocky Mountain National Park. The central peaks are named after clouds, Mounts Cirrus, Cumulus, Nimbus and Stratus. It was in our hopes to touch the sky and bag one of these beautiful peaks, when we set off early on Sunday morning. Leaving the trailhead our first hurdle was crossing the Colorado River...headwaters. Buried beneath the snow it was neat to stand above the water that in a hundred miles or so would be running through the middle of town, here in Grand Junction.

coloradoheadwaters.jpg

The first hour was spent gaining a bench with steep skinning through thick forest. We plugged away and were rewarded with our first sight of one of the cloud peaks. Fluffy and white and appropriately named Mount Cumulus.

 

Navigating around a series of drainages and traversing a few avalanche paths (observing protocol) we continued to climb into a basin between Nimbus and Cumulus.

The weather had been warm and sunny but as we started to climb towards a saddle connecting these peaks clouds moved in and began to look a little ominous. Reaching the saddle we still had great views across to the west, but we decided the safest decision was to make this our turn around point and forgo any summits. It was almost 2 p.m. and we had over 4 miles and 4,000 feet of descent to return to the trailhead.

 Looking out to the west from the Continental Divide

saddle.jpg

The flat light and manky snow higher up made the skiing 'interesting'. Neilie drops into the basin

Skiing3.jpg

But lower down in sheltered gullies we found some creamy snow that made for fun turns. Doug enjoys the recycled powder.

skiing2.jpg

Chad too.

 Skiing1.jpg

The last few hundred feet before the valley floor, the bones started poking through and it was a little dodgy. The snow has become so rotten that we bottomed out several times hitting rocks and logs. Someone's brand new skis suffered a core shot (sniff) but at least no bodily injuries were sustained. Despite my sad skis and no summit, the day was deemed a great success. Thanks to Doug and Neilie for showing us this special place.

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