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.

Follow Ann Driggers on Twitter by clicking HERE.

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Proper Clag

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.

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Where Rivers Change Direction

By Ann Driggers
Saturday, September 14, 2013

Note: This is the second installment from my 8 day backpacking trip through the Weminuche Wilderness. Read the first one, Adventures in the Weminuche, here.

 

On the third day of our trip, having dispensed with our mountaineering activites for the time being, we awoke ready to fully immerse ourselves in our multiday wilderness journey. At three quarters the size of the state of Rhode Island the Weminuche is, by far, the largest wilderness area in Colorado and covers a sprawling 499,771 acres. Although our proposed route took in parts of the classic Needles Mountains circuit we would deviate for a couple of days to take us further and deeper into the wilderness on trails less traveled.

As we hiked the 3,000 feet up Elk Creek drainage, on the Colorado Trail, the scenery was spell binding. Huge granitic domes towered above with ragged arretes etched against the sky. From hanging valleys, waterfalls cascaded thousands of feet and in grassy meadows elk bugled and moose grazed in the willows.

After a relentless climb, we finally emerged from the glaciated canyon and onto a bench scattered with sapphire blue alpine tarns.

The vistas were beyond superlative - widely considered to be the scenic climax of the Colorado Trail upon which we were traveling. With all my rubbernecking it was all I could do to keep one foot in front of the other and not fall flat on my face. Thankfully the trail was smooth and ascended evenly through switchbacks, like a zipper, to the crest of the rolling ridge at 12,700 feet. Here we arrived at the Great Divide, the Continental Divide of the Americas! To the west, watersheds flow into the Pacific Ocean and to the east, the Atlantic. We had reached the place where rivers changed direction.

For the next two days we followed the Continental Divide Trail, mostly above treeline, zigzagging up and down mountainsides and crossing the Great Divide four times.

Although less dramatic than the soaring peaks of the days previous, this landscape had its own unique stark beauty. We wandered across rolling alpine tundra, touched with the golden tinge of fall. Great expanses of uninterrupted space spread before us, with horizons so distant that the blue ridges melded with the sky. Miles and miles from the nearest road, days away from habitation, completely self-sufficent, these times on the trail were about solitude and following the rhythm of the earth. We saw very few souls of the human kind. Each day we arose with the sun, we walked along the Great Divide, and turned to bed as darkness fell.

The outside world was far far away. In the words of Kate Wolf:

"And it's gone away in yesterday

Now I find myself on the mountainside

Where rivers change direction

Across the Great Divide"

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Adventures in the Weminuche

By Ann Driggers
Monday, September 9, 2013

I just returned from the Weminuche Wilderness where myself and two friends, Holly and Christy, embarked on a long (for us) backpacking trip. Seven nights were spent sleeping under the starry skies, 80 miles were covered under foot, and 4 14ers and 1 13er were scaled for a total of 22,000 feet of climbing. It was quite the most amazing and special time for so many reasons and I am going to share some of the highlights of the trip over several blog posts. 

Usually I go on backpacking trips that are for shorter periods of time, a long weekend of two or three nights but over the summer we hatched plans to do an extended trip, one that would push the outer edges of what would be feasible self-supported and without resupply. Originally our thoughts were to attempt the Continental Divide Trail from Wolf Creek Pass to Stoney Pass through the Weminuche Wilderness but the West Fork fire changed our plans. Instead we decided to focus on arguably the most scenic portion of the Weminuche - just south of Silverton - and explore the Grenadier Range and Needle mountains. Unbelievably, despite having lived in Colorado for over 12 years, I have yet to visit this area. It was long overdue.

Having set up a shuttle, leaving a vehicle at Purgatory Flats, we started our trek at Molas Pass. Here we began the trip by descending two thousand feet  down to the Animas River and the Durango Silverton Railroad. We declined to take the train, as many do, to access the area on account of our four legged cohort Keira. But that was just fine - this was a backpacking trip after all. As we set off the afternoon storms typical of summer monsoon season in Colorado began. We were a little concerned especially as the long range weather forecast wasn't looking too great but we were prepared for wet conditions. The shower was shortlived however and in the end this was only one of two times during the trip we hiked in rain. In fact overall we were extremely fortunate and experienced good weather with above average temperatures throughout our whole time on the trail.

Our packs weighed between 30 and 40 lbs each, Christy's being the heaviest as she was carrying some things for Keira. Although we had some quite lightweight gear including packs, tents, pads, cookware and so on, there was no escaping we were carrying 9 days worth of food at 1lb and 3 oz per day. We also carried helmets for our climbing adventures and other 'non-essential' items' - for me a book, a pair of Crocs as camp slippers and of course a big camera.

Our camp for the first night was on the edge of some beaver ponds in Elk Creek with spectacular views of our goal for the following day - Arrow Peak - on the right in the photo above. Arrow, and its neighbor Vestal Peak in the Grenadier Range are two of Colorados most dramatic mountains - their north faces sweep upwards and as they rise to their towering summits become ever narrower and steeper. Although we harbored a desire to climb Vestal's Wham Ridge, a technical climb, carrying the required and heavy gear on our long backpacking trip wasn't in the cards. So Arrow Peak's northeast face, a classic scramble, was our route and a worthy alternative. Topping out at 13,803 feet meant we had a 4,000 foot climb from camp so we departed early in the morning to avoid any monsoon activity. On the climb the views of Wham Ridge were amazing.

And only got better on the summit as the entire Vestal Group and Basin unfolded below us.

Yes, I was pretty stoked! Not only were the views superlative but the climb was a fun challenge. What a great way to start off our Weminuche adventures!

Looking up at our route which followed the ramp curving across the peak:

We returned to camp and packed up to move a few miles up valley to be further along our route for the next day. Along the way I found lots of porcini growing in the forest so after a refreshing dip in a swimming hole in Elk Creek I sauted up a delicious gourmet appetizer. We set camp at the edge of a meadow where we watched a pretty sunset before turning in for the night, looking forward to the adventures ahead. 

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Waning Summer

By Ann Driggers
Monday, August 19, 2013

A splash of yellow in the riverside cottonwoods, a tinge of burnt orange in the oak brush on the hillsides, and bushes laden with berries dot the meadows of brittle, golden grass. Summer is on the wane, noticeably by the day. Just a week ago we were enjoying the last of the flowers in the high alpine, the grass a bright green and the lakes a shimmering blue.

Now the blue skies of early morning are quickly overtaken by towering thunderheads and sultry afternoons. Gunpowder skies produce cold rain and a dusting of snow has been sighted on the loftiest peaks. In the late evening hours there is a slight nip in the air and post mountain bike ride tailgating requires a puffy for warmth.  High in the mountains the first frost has arrived. The big leaves of skunk cabbage are burnt brown and black, twisting and falling down towards the earth. Most remaining blooms are more than ragged around the edges, save the fireweed, its vibrant purple so dominant at this time of year.

I wander the forests hunting for mushrooms still, but the season has passed its peak and my bounty becomes less each day. The berries are coming in and that is where I will turn my attention now.

 

At home racks are lined up in the laundry room drying the fruits of my foraging, to be savored in a stew on a dark winters night.  Talk of buying an air conditioning unit has been dropped as quickly as the temperatures at nightfall. Meal prep begins with an expedition into the jungle aka vegetable garden, to select produce most ripe for the picking - cauliflower, broccoli, tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, beets, peas, salad, herbs, chard, kale, kale and more kale. Kale for breakfast, kale for lunch, kale for dinner. I'm turning green! But enjoying it while I can - fall is just around the corner and summer will shortly be shut down for good.

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Sopris Shuffle

By Ann Driggers
Sunday, August 4, 2013

Anybody who follows me on Twitter knows that at least 30% of the photos I post are of Mount Sopris. (The rest are split half between alcholic beverages and other scenic places I visit on various adventures - exciting stuff!!). My love of Sopris is not unusual as most who set eyes upon this peak can attest - it's a pretty compelling sight here in the Roaring Fork Valley, rising to almost 13,000 feet and with great prominence from the surrounding area. I have climbed it many times but all, bar one, have been in the spring when covered in snow and I skied down which was the real reason for climbing in the first place. That being said there is nothing quite like being on a lofty summit, even if you have to hike down, and I decided it was about high time I got myself up there.

So this Sunday morning I rolled out of bed and headed on up, determined to see how fast I could make it to the summit. The method best employed for me is to alternate between running and  speed hiking depending upon the terrain, a technique I like to call the marmot shuffle.

As I set off up the trail the sun rose, casting long shadows through the aspen forests and across the meadows glistening with rain from the previous night's monsoon. It was a gorgeous morning. The sky became an incredible cerulean blue, it's reflection in the millponds of Thomas Lakes almost seemed as though the world had flipped upside down.

The switchbacking trail up the north east ridge remained runnable and so my only chance to draw breath was to stop and take photos. Here Thomas Lakes from tree line:

Despite being slowed on steeper more rugged terrain on the ridge, I was suprised, and pleased, I made it to the summit in one hour and 50 minutes from the trailhead, a distance of 6.5 miles and 4,600 feet of climbing. Not too shabby for a shuffling marmot! In fact this was the fastest I had ever climbed Sopris. A marmot shuffle PR!

Summit cairn:

Looking north down the Laundry Chutes off the east summit is the rock glacier:

Mount Sopris has one of the best examples of a rock glacier in the US. More info can be found on NASA's website here.

I spent a half hour or so hanging out on the summit all alone, enjoying the 360 degree views before heading back down. I ran into a nice group of lads who took a photo of me running off the summit ridge:

With my orange top I think I look like a yellow bellied marmot. Here's the real deal:

This little guy was hanging out on the saddle overlooking Avalanche Creek drainage and with views of Capitol Peak in the distance. He seemed quite undisturbed by my very close presence as I shuffled on by, which only leads me to believe he recognized a compadre.

In the end it took me almost as long to get down as it did to go up. Which just goes to show I'm much better off with skis on my feet. But also that I can improve on my time. I may well be shuffling on up there again soon to see if I can do just that.

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