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 7, 2009
It’s hard to believe that I have lived here for almost a decade and have never climbed Independence Rock, the quintessential climb in the Colorado National Monument. So when my friends Greg Tibboel and Twyla Gingrich offered to haul me up via the historic Otto’s route, I jumped at the chance.
Independence Rock is the standout spire in Monument Canyon Early Sunday morning on Labor Day weekend saw us hiking up Monument Canyon into the base of the 450 foot sandstone tower. The air was cool and humid from the previous night’s rain and as the sun rose, a layer of light mist hovered over the valley. We figured an early start would be needed to beat the heat and the crowds on this popular route. John Otto, the well-known proponent of the Colorado National Monument pioneered the area and made the first ascent of Independence Rock back in 1911. He succeeded by following a series of cracks and chimneys, and when those ran out, by hammering pipes and cutting steps into the smooth sandstone faces. Although I knew it to be a classic route in terms of its historical significance, I had no idea that the climb itself was such a good one. Four diverse pitches of both trad and sport climbing, all excellent, would take us to the lofty summit. We circled around the south side of the tower to reach the base of Otto's route, which ascends the shady, cool northwest face. Twyla led the long first pitch following an easy crack to a chimney that required some wriggling and then finished up on a slab.
Greg and I followed climbing simultaneously with a two rope system, enabling us to move relatively fast, one behind the other. The second pitch was also long and involved a 5.8+ move on an overhanging off-width crack, which Greg adeptly led. Otto’s pipe holes (the pipes long gone) provided great finger pockets along with footholds chipped out of the rock. Without these the move would be near impossible to make. Thanks Otto!
The belay stations all had bomber anchors and fantastic views. The next pitch was short but fun and ascended a vertical 80 foot slab protected by old pitons. The climbing almost exclusively utilized pipe pockets and chipped steps.
I'm loving this climb! Quickly we were at the base of the final pitch and the thrilling finale. The crux of the climb lay ahead or rather above - the hardest moves of the day coupled with a good dose of exposure.
An airy rib offering no protection, leads to the top of the tower which is capped by Kayenta sandstone. This cap is made of harder rock than that below, creating an overhang, and requiring some 5.9 pumpy moves to navigate. Greg made it look easy, even on lead.
As I followed, placing my feet in the foot holds cut by Otto, I could only shake my head and say out loud for the umpteenth time “this Otto guy was one crazy dude”. Dangling hundreds of feet above the valley floor, I refused to look between my feet, knowing it would send my head into a spin. I focused on the task at hand, feeling for finger pockets and cracks, smearing my feet against the rock and finally pulling myself up and over the ledge. The summit is actually above the final anchor and required a couple of unprotected moves to reach it. Greg topped out and then belayed Twyla and I using a deep hueco as a solid belay seat.
On the summit we hung out for a while, ate some lunch and signed the register. Several parties had climbed in the days previous, so we were amazed that we had it all to ourselves on what we thought would be a busy weekend. Since it appeared no one was following us we were in no hurry to get down. But in the end we had to go.
The descent involved two double rope rapels which were super fast and a lot of fun, once we made the little hop 'n drop over the overhang. With 8.1 mm ropes we added a prusik to the belay devices to slow us down, but even then we fairly zipped, smoking ropes and burning hands as we went. All too soon we were down and hiking out. What an awesome day on a Grand Valley classic! I hope to repeat it many times.
By Ann Driggers
Thursday, September 3, 2009
I've been getting my 'tude back. Altitude that is. Although my body is in recovery mode, preventing me from running more than a little trot twice a week, I have been taking advantage of the glorious end of summer and getting up high. Rather than hit up the crowded and ever popular 14ers, the last two weekends have seen Chad, I and friends virtually alone on a couple of mighty 13ers. The first trip involved a 5,000 foot climb to reach treeline on the Treasure massif. The crux of the climb is to avoid private property and so there was some bushwhacking and cross country travel involved. Having navigated our way to the summit ridge, it is an easy stroll on alpine tundra for several miles at over 13,500 feet. I'd read that Treasure has one of the best views in Colorado and I certainly couldn't argue.
Twyla and Greg hike the long summit ridge.
Luckily we hit it up on a really warm, sunny day as this is no place to be if there is an electric storm in the offing. The four of us spent over an hour lounging around on the summit, snoozling in the sun and searching for crystals and fossils. A rare treat to be at that altitude and not be shivering or running scared from potential electrocution. We even saw a herd of mountain goats who rapidly disappeared down the north face on improbable terrain. On the return we explored ribs and monoliths of white rock extending west from the summit.
The views were really some of the best with the Maroon Bells and Capitol looming closeby, and the distant and distincitve shapes of Uncompaghre and Sneffels, to name a few, on the southern horizon. To the west the Bookcliffs and the Colorado National Monument were even visible. Although a long day, over 9 hours and 12 miles, it was one of the best hikes I have done. The second 13er of the week was Vermillion Peak, the highest point in San Juan County which we 'climbed' on Sunday. The approach passes through Ice Lakes basin where turquoise lakes of an almost unbelievable hue lie at the base of a cirque of crumbly peaks. Although stunning from afar, one does not have to get too close to realise these peaks are Colorado Crumble at its best. Even Class 2+ moves can be a little nervewracking when your feet and hands are on terrain of questionable stability and there's exposure involved. Luckily the route is fairly well traveled and the majority of the loose rock has been cleaned off. Well, kind of.
In the end we turned around 30 feet shy of the summit. This time we were not so fortunate to avoid any weather. As we poked our heads out over the top of the Vermillion Dollar Couloir we were greeted by a rumble of thunder a little too close for comfort. A flurry of snow confirmed our decision to turn it around and get the hell out of there.
Despite being a potential lightning conductor I am smiling, in part because, as an outdoor fashionista, I have coordinated my attire with the scenery.
We made it down safe and sound and probably in record time. Of course the sky cleared as soon as we got below treeline. But that's life and expected along with another great day in the Colorado mountains.
By Ann Driggers
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
After yesterday's somewhat depressing post, I have emerged from my injury induced funk and have rustled together the final highlight of our road trip earlier this month. We left Glacier National Park, racing to keep ahead of the cold front sweeping down from Alberta, and landed for a few days in our old stomping grounds of Jackson Hole. It has been over 12 years since I lived there though I have been back for a few visits. I love that place! We found a great campspot with what has to be one of the best views of the Tetons. Herds of buffalo roamed the meadows around us. At sunrise the classic skyline pierced its girdle of clouds.
Throughout the road trip I have been savoring Jack Turner's wonderful book "Teewinot: Climbing and Contemplating the Teton Range". Jack Turner lives and breathes the Tetons and his love for these mountains is infectious. As a guide for the famed Exum Mountain Guides he spends his summers climbing the Grand Teton and in his book describes lovingly and in great detail the route and its history. I have never climbed the Grand or spent much time in Garnet Canyon at its base, but the sense of place projected through Turner's inspiring words drew me to follow his footsteps. The standard approach to climb the Grand Teton follows a popular trail from parking at Lupine Meadows to the Saddle where a base camp exists for many climbers. From the car to Saddle is at least 5 miles and 5,000 feet up. And, as usual we left insufficient time in the day to complete the route as a hike, so out came the running shoes. With hindsight that was a wise move as we would need to get out more quickly than anticipated. We started up the switchbacks on the lower slopes before turning off into Garnet Canyon. Immediately the terrain changed from sunny, wildflower splattered meadows to a rugged and rocky valley.
In Garnet Canyon the vegetation struggles to grow not only because of the challenging terrain but also the harsh weather. No sooner had we reached the Platforms, a flat spot popular with campers, than the skies turned dark and menacing as thunderheads bubbled up and over the mountains.
The squall quickly passed and we continued upwards the trail now quite steep and our run reduced to a speed hike. On our way to the Saddle we passed many climbers and their guides returning from a successful climb of the Grand. Clouds continued to build again, thunder started to rattle around the summits so 1,000 feet shy of the Saddle we decided to turn around and head back. Half way down it really started to dump heavy rain and then huge hail stones. We took shelter again - running in hail, in fact doing anything in hail, is painful! Sheets of rain, sleet and more hail pounded the rocks around us as lightning and thunder cracked ever closer. We ran from shelter to shelter, from rock to tree, until we reached the cover of thick forest at the mouth of Garnet Canyon. From there we let it rip, running the four miles back to the trailhead as fast as we could. After pouring the water out of our shoes and wringing out our clothes we headed to Dornan's in Moose, the bar with perhaps the best view around. It is traditional to sit and enjoy a drink there, looking up at the Grand and toasting one's successful climb. Not quite the same situation for us but nonetheless we toasted our success at experiencing, surviving and enjoying the best the Teton's and their fickle weather could throw at us that day. As we watched the sunset over the Tetons it seemed a very fitting end to a truly amazing road trip.
By Ann Driggers
Monday, August 24, 2009
Although the dog days of summer officially ended on August 11, their presence is still felt. The sultry air presses down on the earth, everything beneath now tired and weary of the weight of the summer heat. The languid flow of the rivers and creeks appears almost viscous yet still reflects the harsh glare of the lower angled sun. Limp leaves barely rustle in the infrequent and feeble wafts of balmy air. Grasses are burnt crisp and dry. Although seeming to languish, the earth does slowly creep towards fall. Days grow shorter and the first splash of yellow has appeared on cottonwoods deep in shaded canyons. We wait for cooler air in the valleys and frosts in the mountains. For the swansong of summer, a final burst of energy and glorious explosion of color before winter descends. Like the earth, energy is sapping from my own body. I carefully coax it to bear the fruit of my labors, a wonderful but long summer of trail running. But I have pushed it hard, run too fast and far, to survive another big outing uninjured. It too is ready for rest. As a soak my tired feet in the cooling river, nature rejuvenates both soul and soles. I am reminded that being outside is enough. Even dog days are good.
By Ann Driggers
Sunday, August 16, 2009
That new trail race up at Powderhorn
on the Grand Mesa is the thingy what I’m talking about.
Somewhat difficult to pronounce, Thigunawat is the Ute name for the Grand Mesa and means home of departed spirits. How appropriate I thought as my spirit did indeed depart my body while running today’s First Annual Rocky Mountain Orthopaedics Thigunawat 10k
. The unexpectedly long and strength sapping climb during the final two miles was somewhat contradictory to what I had read about the race. Billed as ‘not a hill climb but a base area ramble’ I thought it would be a walk in the park. Not true. In fact it was quite challenging and had plenty of climbing. Needless to say, I loved it!
Rob Reece has designed a very good course which in some ways reminds me more of true cross country rather than a ‘trail’ race. There were plenty of obstacles - ruts, rocks, roots, logs and bogs- as we ‘rambled’ or should I say ‘scrambled’ through the scrub oak. I tripped more than a few times and I heard there was plenty of carnage during the race. The technical terrain added to the excitement!
After the final big climb over from the West End lift it was a fast ride down to the base area where beer, food and music were waiting to restore any departed spirits. There were some fantastic raffle prizes too. I was stoked to win some great goodies including a Camelback and a free haircut!
Best of all there was a big turnout with around 140 folks showing up, who hopefully will return next year +2. Even if it’s both a tongue and ankle twister the Thigunawat race is for sure a keeper.
No pictures but the results for the race are here