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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Canyonlands’ Needles District

By Ann Driggers
Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The timing is darn near perfect. No sooner have the leaves dropped in the high mountains, than the searing summer heat of the deserts vaporizes for good. With moderate temperatures and glorious sunny days, late fall is the primo time to be a desert rat. We have plenty of opportunities for that in our neck of the woods. This past weekend Chad and I spent several days ferreting around the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park, and immersed ourselves into the quintessential desert south west landscape. Despite its relative remoteness the area is rich with history of human habitation from 2,000 year old petroglyphs to 100 year old cowboy camps. On our first day we rode our bikes around the park roads visiting the points of interest along the way.

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On our second day we made a foray deep into the stunning landscape. There’s a huge amount to see so we tried to pack in as many sights as we could and set out with a fairly ambitious itinerary but with options to cut it short if needed. Leaving from the Elephant Hill trailhead we first hiked 5+ miles to Druid Arch. For the most part the ‘trails’ were cairned routes across slickrock and along canyon bottoms making for a more backcountry experience than we had expected from a National Park. Although the morning had started with a downright chilly 24 degrees, it wasn’t long before the desert sunshine had us stripping down to t-shirts. Upon reaching Druid Arch we stopped for lunch and basked in the warming sun for half an hour.

Druid Arch.jpg

Next we backtracked 2 miles to the reach the cutoff over into Chesler Park. Along the way we found a fissure in the rock and decided to follow it. It was a bit of a squeeze - if any part of your body is more than say 34 inches around or 7 inches wide, you are not getting through - but definitely worth it as we happened upon an incredible place.

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I was excited to finally arrive at Chesler Park, a grassland area surrounded by needles and other rock formations, having seen so many beautiful photos of the area. It lived up to my expectations and more.

At this point we were feeling pretty spry and made the decision to continue hiking on the Chesler Park loop trail which would add a few more miles to our day. The first section was the Joint trail which followed a ‘joint’ or crack between the rocks. Although not as tight as the previous slot and it was nonetheless a fun part of the hike with some scrambling involved.

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We finished up the loop and started on the trail back towards Elephant Hill, arriving back about 7 hours after we set out. We covered 15 miles, but surprising to us was the amount of elevation gain. Our GPS reported 3,400 feet of climbing on the route. I guess there were a lot of ups and downs between the canyons, parks and mesas. Luckily a summer of mountain adventures had prepared us well for being desert rats.

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Credit Card Ride to Crested Butte

By Ann Driggers
Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A credit card ride is named as such because only a credit card is packed to cover ones needs. Well, that’s the theory. In reality we carried quite a bit more as our group of seven headed out from Marble to Crested Butte to spend the night and return the next day. Packs were weighed down with food and clothing for the ride, bikinis and trunks for hot tubs, extra clothing for cruising the Butte, birthday gifts for one of the group, and even a fishing pole!

Mike Curiak and Susan Kishegyi are all smiles on the way to Crested Butte.

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The ride starts in the small town of Marble and follows the road to Crystal Mill, the Devils Punchbowl and then up and over Schofield Pass. The rough 4WD road requires some hike-a-bike and a creek crossing.

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Lenore Bryant and Krissy Steele take a run at the loose and steep hill in the punchbowl but it's not long before we are reduced to this.....

Mike Steele demonstrates the art of the hike-a-bike.

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After entering Schofield Park the road flattens out and we start to motor.

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After another couple of miles we reach Schofield Pass.

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All told it is about 25 miles and 4,000 feet of climbing depending whether or not the sweet singletrack of the 401 Trailriders trail is included. In this case we opted out as the weather was looking kind of nasty and our feet were blocks of ice after the creek crossing. Still, the descent down into the Butte was very beautiful as the aspens are really starting to turn and the surrounding mountains were dusted with snow. Arriving in CB we checked into our hotel and jumped into the hot tub to warm up. Later, as we headed out into town for the evening we discovered that it was the Vinotok Festival, a medieval style celebration of harvest and the autumn equinox. Various activities took place including a parade where participants stroll in and out of bars and restaurants, singing, playing instruments and reciting tales of folklore.

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We were lucky to be serenaded while enjoying our cocktails at the Princess Bar.

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Knowing the return ride was relatively easy, our celebrations of Krissy's pending birthday and general merriment continued unabated well into the night. The next day we returned to Marble, arriving cold and drenched from virtually non-stop rain. However I managed to snap a few shots of the beautiful fall colors along the way.

A cabin in Crystal

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Rain on aspen leaf Mike Curiak has a great slideshow posted over on his blog.

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Fall Backpacking and Climbing

By Ann Driggers
Tuesday, September 15, 2009

I've been wanting to climb Capitol Peak for a while now, but every weekend I had it slated for an attempt, the weather hasn't cooperated. This past weekend it didn't look too stellar either but since there are not too many opportunities left this year we decided it to give it a shot. In any case a backpacking trip up Capitol Creek into the heart of the Elk mountains is pretty darn sweet. So off we went, a happy band of five wannabe Capitol summiters, with a good supply of the necessary staples - bad weather gear, wine and chocolate.

Hiking In.jpg

The sun was shining and although the evening air was brisk and had a distinct autumnal feel, our spirits were high as we ate dinner and settled in for the night. Shortly after dark fell, the show began. Lightning flashed, thunder crashed and rolled from cloud to cloud. One clap was so loud I felt the ground shake beneath me as I lay hunkered down in my little tent and I felt the electricity in the air. Rain lashed the sides of the tent for what seemed like eternity. When the alarm went off at 5 a.m. the next morning I didn't feel like I'd slept a wink. By the light of our headlamps and the moon, we groggily hiked the switchbacks up to Daly Pass. As the sun rose the aftermath of the storm became evident. Capitol's north face was shining white and we crunched over fresh snow the higher we climbed.

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After an hour or so we reached the summit of K2, a 13,664 foot high bump on Capitol's ridge.

K2 Summit.jpg

To continue on would require some fairly sketchy climbing on snow covered rocks. I had on my flat soled, rock shoes so I opted instead to call it quits. Capitol will be there next summer and I want to be too, so the decision wasn't hard for me. Three of us decided to head back to camp and finish up some of the excess supplies while two of our group forged their way to the summit.

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We were relieved to see the successful summiters return to camp a few hours later, safe and sound, and just as the weather turned bad again. In the midst of a hail storm we quickly broke down camp and headed out. I don't think it was my imagination but the aspens had turned a deeper shade of yellow in the 24 hour period since we hiked in. Fall is definitely here.

Fall is here.jpg

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Independence Rock: A Classic Climb

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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

Overhang Move.jpg

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.

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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.

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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.

2 comments

Getting Some ‘Tude

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.

Treasures Long Summit.jpg

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.

Spine Walk.jpg

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.

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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.

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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.

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