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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Glacier’s Highline Trail

By Ann Driggers
Sunday, August 9, 2009

We had it all planned out. Four days in Glacier National Park, where to camp, where to hike, when our rest days would be. All so our visit who be maximized to the full. We would enter from the west side, drive through the park and spend a few days on the east side. But we didn't factor in the National Park Service who threw a wrench in the works by deciding our truck camper was just a weenie bit too tall, long and wide to drive over the Going-to-the-Sun (GTTS) Road. Now, in Colorado, I think we know narrow, windy, mountain roads pretty well. Independence Pass and Red Mountain Pass, to name just a couple, make the GTTS Road look like I70! But the Park Service turned us around and we had to drive the southern perimeter of the park to reach the eastern side. Consequently we arrived in Glacier in the wrong place (per our plan), way late and with no campsite. Campsites are first come, first served and the most popular ones fill up early morning after a serious rugby scrum. The glacier gods must have been smiling on us as despite it being late morning we did score on a campsite and we then set about salvaging our plans by going on a hike. It was already noon but we figured we had just enough time to catch a shuttle bus up to Logan Pass, hike the 12 miles of the Highline trail past the famed Glacier Park Chalet and on down to the Loop to catch another shuttle bus back, all before they shut down for the evening at 6 pm. Logan Pass is the highpoint of the GTTS Road with towering peaks, snowfields, meadows, wildlife and lakes and it was from here the Highline trail began. It was a zoo. The first mile or so because of the masses of people but once we motored through the melee it was a wild animal wonderland. The trail clung to the side of an arete named the Garden Wall, and passed through meadows of wildflowers. Eagles, goats, deer, very fat marmots and ground squirrels greeted us along our way.

The Highline trail with beautiful views through the smoke/haze drifiting from wildfires in British Columbia.

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Several miles from Logan Pass we finally felt as though we were truly in wild country. As we turned a corner I glanced down into the meadow 150 yards below and saw a large grizzly sow and her two cubs. They did not seem to be aware of our presence and as we were a safe distance away we watched them for a minute before quickly carrying on our way. It was a gift to see the bears in their own habitat, though I had my hand close to my pepper spray for the rest of the hike.

A very friendly goat. I DID NOT get anywhere close to the grizzlies, hence no photos of them.

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Before reaching the Chalet we decided to take a detour to the Glacier Overlook, adding 1.2 miles and 1,000 feet climbing to our original plan. We realised that we might be hitch hiking back to camp but couldn't pass on the view over Grinnell Glacier and into the west side of the park. We made the right decision - it was stunning.

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Speed marching we arrived at the Glacier Peak Chalet and slammed down some water before setting off for the Loop on the GTTS Road. The hut warden looked a little doubtful as we left saying we intended on catching the last shuttle bus. We were now well over 10 miles into our short little afternoon stroll and I was having foot problems having forgotten to use by beloved Injinji toe socks. But the thought of sticking the thumb out kept us moving. The 2,400 foot descent was through areas of forest and thick vegetation and we raised our bear alert noise even higher. We made it just in time and caught the last bus back into camp. Suffering from sore feet and tired legs that night, I hoped I hadn't jeopardised the next three days of our trip as we planned several other substantial hikes. The next morning however the clouds quickly rolled in obscuring all views and within an hour rain started falling. The weather forecast was more of the same and worse for the remainder of the week as a low pressure system moved in. We hung out at Many Glacier for a day hoping the weather would improve but it did not. Glad that we had hammered out the Highline hike the first day and made the extra effort to add on the Glacier Overlook, we decided to head south in advance of the cold front.

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Lazy Feet in Whitefish

By Ann Driggers
Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Some of you may wonder what kind of vacation I am really on, given that all I ever seem to do is ride, run, or hike. Well I am happy to report I finally started to slow down and take it easy in Whitefish, a really cool town near the west entrance to Glacier National Park. First off I did something I have never done before - downhill only mountainbiking. Big Mountain at Whitefish has two good singletrack trails from the summit giving over 2,000 feet of descent for zero uphill effort. Well, other than lifting the bike onto a nifty little rack thingy they have on the chairlifts.

Riding the Chair.jpg

Look - no climbing! And no skis on a chairlift! Both are very strange feelings for me. Normally I am almost exclusively into self propulsion whether I'm skiing or riding, earning my right to a descent by climbing an equal amount. Consequently it felt weird. Kind of like I was cheating. And I didn't get a good workout in. Which probably explains why I did not feel well and only completed one run before calling it a day. Pretty pathetic, huh? Chad made up for it though by doing so many laps it made me even more dizzy. Fortunately I was feeling much better for a boat outing on Whitefish Lake the next day. We cruised up and down marveling at the beauty of the surrounding mountains including Glacier National Park and the ski area whose runs are just 8 miles away and, very optimistically, fantasized what it would be like to live in one of the beautiful lake side homes. I did practically nothing other than steer the boat and open the lid of the cooler (frequently). Oh, and watch Chad fish.

Whitefish Fishing.jpg

My most strenuous activity was swimming, which I did only a couple of times to cool down. It was hot, almost triple digits! Here is a sign of a Western Coloradoan in summer......a Chaco tan!

Summer Feet.jpg

After a wonderful time in Whitefish we are onto Glacier, a park I have never visited before and is reported to be full of grizzlies. More sleepless nights and the bear spray will have to come back out again!

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A Busy Day in Missoula

By Ann Driggers
Sunday, August 2, 2009

Given we only had one day in Missoula we packed in as much as we could. That was easy as, like Grand Junction, this is a city whose character is defined in many ways by the outdoors. So we spent the day doing as Missoulians do.

The M and Mount Sentinel watch over Grizzly cubs in their daily practice.

Mount Sentinel.jpg

First we ran the M Trail which leaves directly from the University of Montana campus and home to the Montana Grizzlies (but of course what else would their teams be called?). Many people hike and run this every day as it is so close in to town. The trail reaches the M in less than a mile and carries onto the summit of Mount Sentinel in under two. With great views of the city and valley it also packs in a good workout.

Running up the trail with views of the Rattlesnake Recreation Area in the right background.

Running the M.jpg

After lunch in town we headed out a few miles north to the Rattlesnake Recreation Area which has many trails for hiking and riding. We chose to ride a 10 mile loop called Spring Gulch with a summit lookout over Montana Snowbowl, the local ski area. The trails were exceptionally buff and provided a ripsnorting fast descent.

Big smiles from Chad on the buff singletrack.

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In the evening we heard that there were free music concerts in a park alongside the Clark Fork River in the center of downtown. The music and the scene was happening, as was the river. One of the hottest days of the year the water was a very popular place to be. There was a wave adjacent to the park and a big party going on in and around the river.

A kayaker surfs the wave on the Clark Fork River.

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The water was teeming with kayakers, tubers, swimmers, bridge jumpers and rafters, all watched by the well lubricated crowd on shore who seemed to be as entertained as those in the water. It was the perfect ending to a very active day in Missoula.

Happy Hour in Missoula.

Happy Hour in Missoula.jpg

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Highlights from the Gallatin Range

By Ann Driggers
Thursday, July 30, 2009

A moose takes a dip in the Gallatin River.

Moosey.jpg

We spent four days exploring the outdoors paradise between West Yellowstone and Bozeman along the Gallatin River. Numerous trails provide access to the beautiful Gallatin range. The day after the epic ride, we decided to take it easy and go for a short run up to Lava Lake.

Lava lake Trail.jpg

The trail was in the forest all the way to the lake.

Lava Lake.jpg

Of course we couldn't stop at the lake and decided to continue on to Tabletop Mountain. And as usual our eyes were bigger than our legs. We ended up covering 13 miles and almost 4,000 feet of climbing. My quads got shredded on the run down and I'm still sore.

Tabletop.jpg

Luckily the next day it rained so we were forced to take a rest, hanging out in Bozeman and catching up on things like laundry, which was very necessary after our muddy exploits. Our final day we met up with some GJ friends who happened to be in the 'hood. The boys went fishing on the Madison River and had a great time. They actually caught some big fish. Pictures do exist but I don't have my hands on them. I will try and post one later. The girls, me and my friend Krissy Steele, went on an awesome ride to Emerald Lake above Hyalite Canyon, just south of Bozeman. The trail was rocky, rooty and wet and a lot different from the terrain we are used to in the Grand Valley.

Krissy climbs a switchback on the Emerald lake trail.

Krissy Emerald.jpg

Emerald Lake was very pretty but we didn't hang out for too long as the mosquitos were bad, the first time we've really seen them out in force on the trip. Now we are headed north again, to Missoula, a town I'm excited to check out. I hear it has a lot of similarities with Grand Junction so I know I'm going to like it.

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Devoured by Grizzly Country

By Ann Driggers
Monday, July 27, 2009

Note to self: a good night’s sleep is not best accomplished when reading “Bear Safety Tips” right before bed. It does however guarantee a restless night. I tossed and turned, haunted by phrases from the ‘useful’ pamphlet such as “if a bear ‘pops’ its jaws, it’s agitated”, “snaps its teeth”, “intends to eat you”, “bear mauls you continuously”, “fast as lightening”, and finally and rather obviously I thought, “you will panic”. I hadn’t even ventured out of bed and I was on the verge of panicking. The next day Chad and I planned on riding the Little Wapiti Creek trail in the prime grizzly habitat of Big Sky country, Montana. The ride was supposed to be incredible. “If there is an afterlife for mountain bikers it will include singletrack downhills like this” quoted the guidebook. It also happened to mention “this area is serious grizzly country! Make noise!” Riding fast and quietly in such terrain was a recipe for a bear encounter. So that evening, we entered the tourist town of West Yellowstone and armed ourselves with Bear Defense Pepper Spray and bells for our bikes. After mounting the weapons in the optimal position for rapid deployment, we read the accompanying propaganda and fruitlessly tried to sleep. The next morning, groggy and anxious, I tried to calm my mind as we drove towards the trailhead. The sun was shining, the sky was blue, a perfect day for a beautiful ride. I was just being silly. The chances of a bear encounter were slim to none. The crystal clear Gallatin River wound its way through lush meadows of tall grasses and wildflowers over which butterflies flitted. The sereneness of the scenery started to work its magic and I finally felt more settled. And then there it was! A real live grizzly bear! Just 200 feet away! For real! A magnificent beast, its shiny brown coat rippled over its massive body as it lumbered through the meadow. Beautiful. And scary. Holy moly, we weren’t even off the road and the place was overrun with grizzlies! They must be really hungry or something. My heart immediately leapt back into my mouth. A few minutes later we arrived at the trailhead. I pushed thoughts of grizzlies out of my head and focused on the 2,400 foot climb that started off the ride. Evidently the buff singletrack of the downhill wasn’t going to come without prepayment. For an hour we pedaled in our granny gears up a hillside covered with vibrant green grass and wildflowers. It was steep and hot and we were continuously attacked by swarms of nasty flies, crawling between eyes and sunglasses, in the ears and biting our scalps through the holes in our helmets. It was an unwelcome distraction from the bear prevention tactics we were trying to employ. One hand on the handlebars, the other alternated between swiping flies and ringing the bell. As we climbed spectacular scenery behind us unfolded but unfortunately stopping to take in the views only encouraged more vicious fly attacks. We kept on pedaling.

Top of Climb.jpg

During the final two miles of the climb we left the open, sunny meadows and entered the dark forest. On the plus side the flies left us, but now every brown tree, brown stump and brown rock took upon the appearance of a bear. Ringing my bell, I noisily and nervously made my way through the trees. Without incident we finally arrived at the top of the downhill portion of the ride. The journey to mountain bike nirvana was about to begin. But not quite yet. While in the forest, thunderheads had built to the west and now started to rain on our parade. No matter, we would wait it out. Taking shelter beneath a stump we were still buoyant and giddy about the ride ahead. The rain stopped. We remounted our bikes and made the turn onto the singletrack downhill. This was going to be special ride. An incredible six miles of trail rolled out before us. We just had to make enough noise and the bears would afford us safe passage through their country. Unfortunately we had missed the Hot Tip in the guidebook “Dirt turns to gumbo mud when wet and your bike will not move; do not go after (or during) a rainstorm”. There is no better way to describe what happened next, only to say it was a suffer fest. I have never had to work so hard to go downhill in my life. First we tried riding on the trail but the wheels completely clogged up. After we scrapped off the mud with a stick, we rode through the meadow at the side of the trail, which at least meant we were moving. But every so often we would be unceremoniously dumped to the ground by a log or rock lurking beneath the grass. It was slow going. After a while we thought the trail might have dried out a little. We tried the trail again. Bad idea. Drying mud was even worse than wet mud and harder to remove with a stick. We carried our bikes, now twenty pounds heavier. Throughout it all we tried to remember to ring our bells as we traversed from meadow to forest. In hindsight the foul language emanating from our mouths was probably more than sufficient to scare the bears away.

Note bear spray and bell mounted on very muddy bike.

Muddy Bike.jpg

At last we were in sight of the finish. A mile of trail stretched through the sagebrush, now dry enough with hard pedaling the wheels would finally move. Arriving back at the parking lot we were a sight for sore eyes: absolutely filthy muddy, red welts swelling from fly bites and close to exhaustion. In the end it was the grizzly country that devoured us, not the grizzlies.

Grin and bear it. I manage a smile at the end.

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