By Ann Driggers
Monday, February 18, 2013
Touring long and high in the Elks this weekend, the conditions had me thinking of spring more than winter. Despite blustery winds and ragged clouds scudding across the sky, the promise of the next season was tangible. The warmer weather, longer days and a deeper snowpack are conducive to long distance travel to places of solitude, to reaching lofty summits and encourage exploration into the unknown. Yesterday we had a little teaser of what is to come with a foray deep into the mountains, gaining a high peak and completing a loop using GPS and knowledge of terrrain gleaned from summer hikes.
Love me some *almost* spring high mountain touring. Stoked for more to come!
By Ann Driggers
Tuesday, February 5, 2013
Again, for the second year in a row, we have a dodgy snowpack to deal with here in Colorado. I have not ventured out into the backcountry as much as usual but this past weekend we hit up one of my favorite zones on the west slope. Here, in the backwoods, the snowpack is deeper and perhaps a little less tender than most other areas of the state. Still we kept to north west aspects and lower angled terrain, playing it safe in the trees. The aspens and evergreens were still loaded with snow even though it was four days after the most recent storm. The shaded aspects kept the snow cold and smooth and we reveled in the joy of skiing laps through untracked glades under a brilliant blue sky. Giggles and grins abound.
By Ann Driggers
Saturday, January 26, 2013
In the realm of Colorado hut tripping, our weekend at the new Opa's Taylor hut had just about everything one can hope for - travel through stunning scenery, bluebird weather, excellent company, delicious food and a well built and beautiful new hut with spectacular views. Completed in the fall of 2012, we lucked out when reservations opened in November and scored two nights for the eight of us. Situated at 11,800 feet Opa's is the highest hut in the Tenth Mountain/Braun hut system. The altitude doesn't necessarily make for sweet slumber but in every other aspect we certainly experienced the high life. Here's how:
A 7.5 mile skin through a stunning high alpine valley with ragged rock walls towering 1,000 feet above us:
Enjoying watching the baguette mule aka the Doctor of Intoxicology as he crests Little Italian Pass, and wondering what gourment food and beverage delights are stuffed into the deep recesses of his pack:
Arriving at the hut and stoked to find it to be the nicest one we have ever visited - think beautiful wood floors and walls, well designed and efficient use of space, three private bedrooms, snowflake flannel sheets, an oven, an espresso maker, blow your socks off views - up close Taylor and Star Peaks and further away the Sawatch Range and Taylor Park, and an 'outhouse' with the same views through its floor to ceiling windows. And celebrated said arrival with Aviations (thanks Dr!!) and smoked salmon and fixings for starters.
After a long night of partying and fitful sleep, watching sunrise, especially at this elevation and with these views just never gets old:
Despite the sub par snow conditions still enjoying turns:
The comraderie of our gaggle of girlfriends, their hutslippers and leis:
Viewing local wildlife off the deck:
A high alpine tour for lunch:
Which was followed by 1,000 feet of turns on sastrugi and therein was the cause of our abandoning any aspirations of finding good snow and returning to the hut early in the afternoon in favor of drinking Brandy Alexanders:
And some yoga:
And then deciding we should in fact be skiing when on a hut trip and heading out for a few happy hour laps with Cognac and Blackberry Brandy:
And returning to find the purpose of the baguettes - fondue!! and the Dr's pack had also harbored an entire fondue set! which we didn't leave at the hut so you will have to bring your own. This was accompanied by Old Fashioneds made with bacon-infused bourbon (thanks Rob!):
And finally, watching the sunset over the Sawatch Range and remembering a friend whose life was cut short in an avalanche less than a week before. His spirit lives here in these mountains:
By Ann Driggers
Sunday, January 6, 2013
January has come and with it brilliant blue skies and cold clear air. Dreams of fresh powder are, well, only dreams. We tour into the mountains for exercise and views of the high alpine and its rugged peaks. In these short days of winter the trees throw shadows longer than they are tall and in the aspens the world is full of stripes, black and white and blue.
The snow sparkles still but now decorated with frost and underneath we know depth hoar grows, silent and deadly, eating away at the stability of the snowpack. Slopes of silky, recycled powder tempt us but we stick to our plan and travel a forested ridge to a wind blasted rocky summit.
Around us the mountains of the Elk Range soar high. Mount Daly, Capitol and Clark Peaks have front and center stage and from here the jagged Willoughby ridge stretches in the distance where it meets the Maroon Bells, sawtooths in the sky. On our high, barren perch the slightest breeze cuts like a knife as it seeps through the icy peaks.
We don’t stay long as the sun sinks even lower on the horizon. We glide back down, making turns in glades and meadows cast with long, dark shadows and slalom through the aspens now streaming with golden light. As we reach the car the sun is gone.
By Ann Driggers
Wednesday, December 26, 2012
Under the cover of darkness the snow fell in thick folds, piling high, light and deep on a cold windless night. And I sleep, dreaming of the beauty and joy of powder skiing and what the next day might bring. As dawn breaks, the alpenglow illuminates the high peaks etched against a sapphire sky and the earth lies quiet and heavy enveloped in a fresh blanket of glittering white. The promise of a bluebird powder day is born.
As we climb, plowing our way through the knee-deep snow, flakes tumble gently from the sky, like feathers delicately landing on my eyelashes and in marshmallow clumps in the aspen boughs. The storm is clearing and wisps of clouds float through the valleys and drift around the mountaintops. Deep in the forest the air is still, cold and brittle, and my breath is a frozen swirl in the pewter light. A frosty sunbeam streams through the thick evergreens and suddenly the space becomes luminous, filled with floating sparkly pixie dust and I am thinking it is enough to be just there, in the mountains traveling through this kaleidoscope of color and light.
Still there is more to come, as a pristine canvas of virgin velvety powder awaits. After topping out we rip skins from skis and glide silently downwards beneath laden stands of old growth trees and into the open glades. We carve arcs through the silken meadows and cold smoke roils up our chests, whirls around our heads, and sprays frothy plumes in our wake. In the eddy that follows, spindrift swirls and slowly settles. A hushed sigh is the only sound, a mere echo of the passing skier.
It is here where time stands still, suspended. There is nothing more than being in that very moment. Life is both amplified and focused in the bright magical space when floating between the sky and snow, dancing weightless through a blur of blue and white and, beneath my feet, feeling the rhythm of my turning skis. This is where my dreams become reality. And the reality of powder skiing on this day will become my future dreams.
Photos of James Lindenblatt (in blue) by myself. Photos of me (in orange) by James.