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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Handies Peak

By Ann Driggers
Sunday, May 10, 2009

Since it was my birthday, I chose a family ski outing to celebrate. With the news that the Cinnamon Pass road had been recently plowed as far as the American Basin trailhead, I picked Handies Peak as the destination of choice. A relatively quick and easy 14er, the crux of the trip is driving the rough road to the trailhead at 11,300 feet. After bouncing around in the truck, it was a relief to be out on the skis and start the climb. As Chad and I skinned through the undulating terrain of American Basin we scoped out the snow conditions. Below 12,000 feet the dust, deposited by numerous storms over the last month, was now exposed and the snow rapidly deteriorating. However we could see that higher up and mostly on the north faces there was some white snow left from the last storm.

American Basin.jpg

The weather was beautiful, warm and sunny under bluebird skies. When we reached the final climb along the summit ridge, the wind really started kicking. It was cold enough that our summit celebrations were brief - hi-fives or rather hi-paws for Tikka on climbing her first fourteener.

Handies Summit.jpg

From this high vantage point we were able to examine the conditions on the neighboring mountains that I planned to ski over the next few days. Unfortunately the rapidly disappearing and dust covered snow did not make any of the lines look particularly appealing. The ski down from Handies is a wonderful cruiser. Despite the cold wind, the snow had softened sufficiently to provide us with perfect corn through which we carved big GS turns.

Skiing.JPG

As soon as we hit the ‘snirt,’ skiing became infinitely more challenging. Despite a drop of 700 feet in elevation we had to pole out of American Basin. In places the snow was so rotten it collapsed beneath our skis. A day out in the mountains is always good, but at some point one has to admit the ski season is about over. We decided to mothball the skis and take up other pursuits for the weekend.

Plowed Road.jpg

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Spring Ski Prep

By Ann Driggers
Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Assorted footwear required for spring skiing.

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Just about to head out for what will hopefully be four days of exceptional spring skiing. Its always a debate as to what is my favorite kind of skiing conditions. Nothing beats blower, coldsmoke powder faceshots mid winter, but spring skiing comes pretty close. Being part winter and part summer there is an inordinate amount of equipment needed. As I have been busy packing everything up, I have been reliving the spring skiing experience. Climbs start at dawn, in order to take advantage of the snow frozen by the overnight temperatures. Headlamps light the trail. As the sun rises and snowline is reached, trail shoes are replaced with ski boots, crampons and ice axe. On the summit, we rest in the warm morning sunshine, waiting for the sun to soften the snow and turn to velvety corn. When the snow is ripe, on go the skis for the descent. Just moments later and in time for lunch, we return to the trailhead. Hot and thirsty, now the sun is high in the sky. Flipflops, shorts and beer are the MO for the rest of the day. Spring skiing is a perfect combination of a winter start with a summer end. Hopefully I'll have a good trip report posted by the end of the week.

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Backyard Playing

By Ann Driggers
Sunday, April 26, 2009

With the high mountains shut down due to a weather system moving through, we decided to stay home and get some chores done this weekend. Funny thing is, I sometimes forget how great we have it in our own backyard. After laboring in the vegetable garden, Chad and I escaped for our first big(ger) trail run of the spring. Since the Fruita Fat Tire Festival was going on this weekend and we wanted to avoid the crowds, Chad and I decided on the Ute Canyon trail in the Colorado National Monument. An out and back from the Wildwood trailhead is 15 miles. Too much for us early season, so we decided to set up a car shuttle and run down Ute Canyon from Rimrock Drive. Throw in the Corkscrew trail too and its a nice 8 mile run in one of the most beautiful canyons in our backyard.

Upper Ute Canyon.jpg

Dropping off the rim was somewhat reminiscent of the Grand Canyon run we did last fall, though as Chad reminded me, about a 10th of the distance, elevation and pain. Sure enough the descent was over quickly. Once in the canyon we found the trees still bare but some indian paintbrush already poking through and water flowing in the canyon bottom.

Ute Canyon Running.jpg

For several miles we followed rolling singletrack through the sagebrush, until reaching the Corkscrew. Aptly named we followed the rocky trail through tight switchbacks down to the Wildwood trailhead. A short but sweet season opener. And the vegetable garden looks good too!

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2009 Inaugural Bike Commute

By Ann Driggers
Thursday, April 23, 2009

Despite an early false start, winter has been slow to release its grasp on the high desert. This week, spring finally got its act together and provided me with my first opportunity to start the bike commuting season. One evening I spent a few minutes in preparing my noble steed, a very old, first generation mountain bike, tricked out with the necessary commuter additions of slicks and a bell. Tires pumped and chain lubed I was ready to roll. Having waited so long to get the 2009 Inaugural Bike Commute underway, it was rather a novelty, and opened my eyes as if it was the first time I had ever ridden into work. In fact I enjoyed it so much I got to thinking that I have the best commute in Grand Junction. Here’s why. A Perfect Pseudo Workout The total distance round trip is 14 miles, which strikes the perfect balance between a full blown workout, and being too short to actually qualify as exercise. Better yet, on the way in it is mostly downhill, so I arrive at work smelling as fresh as a daisy, for which my co-workers should be very grateful. Of course, its uphill all the way back, so I do in fact get some semblance of exercise and nobody cares how sweaty I am. A Pretty Cool Route Starting at the base of the red rock canyons, I cruise down the new bike lane on Monument Road, until I reach My Own Private Bridge. Currently under construction, vehicles are required to detour the Redlands Canal Bridge, leaving it all to me and my riding pleasure. Although not quite as good as last year when I had My Own Private Road (aka Riverside Parkway) consisting of four lanes of asphalt for two miles, it’s still pretty nice to avoid the detour and the traffic. Unfortunately it looks almost complete so it wont be long before I have to share it with everyone else.

My Own Private Bridge.jpg

After crossing the canal and then the Colorado River, I hop onto the river trail which takes me to the Botanical Gardens. The river trail is awesome. Once the site of heavy industrial activity it has since been cleaned up, returned to its natural state, and provides habitat for many birds and critters. More often than not I will see a heron standing at rivers edge as I stop and check the size of the waves at the ‘Grand Junction’, the confluence of the Gunnison and Grand (Colorado) rivers.

The Piece de Resistance.

River Trail.jpg

Leaving the river trail, I follow 7th Street into the heart of downtown, and directly to the source of the absolute highlight of my entire commute. As I approach Enstrom's Candies, a mouth watering aroma of gooey melted chocolate, caramel, and other delightful confections ooze into the air. Nostrils flared like a racehorse I wait at the stop light, praying that it will malfunction for several minutes, allowing me to continue to soak that sumptuous smell into every pore of my body. Once in a while I lose total control of my bike. Completely of its own volition the bike steers itself into Enstroms parking lot and forces me to sidle up to the counter while justifying my indulgence with my pseudo workout.

Many pieces de pas de resistance.

Piece de Resistance.jpg

My Other Bike If there is a downside to my commute it is the return journey, late in the afternoon. As I labor up Monument Road, with the relentless sun beating down on me I start to question the sanity of declaring my commute the best in all Grand Junction. Not only is it much hotter and harder than the morning trip, there is no wonderful aroma to encourage me on. Even worse I am frequently embarrassed as I am passed by riders on their way to the Lunch Loop trailhead. As they sail on by riding their high-end mountain bikes I consider shouting out “My Other Bike is an Ellsworth!” which is really true, but then I feel bad for my faithful commuter bike and I don’t.

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Climbing the Palisade

By Ann Driggers
Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Bumping along a rarely used dirt road in the desert of the Dolores Valley, I cranked my head upwards and peered through the small window of the Jeep. A towering wall of desert sandstone loomed 2,000 feet above. Perhaps it was my restricted view that made the fortress of rock look impenetrable? Yet, a few minutes later and disgorged from the vehicle, the route up the Palisade seemed no clearer. The Palisade is a narrow fin of sandstone, an iconic formation which stands guard above the hamlet of Gateway. From every angle its appearance is imposing, but it can be climbed, so I was told.

The Palisade.jpg

Luke Reece of Gateway Canyons Adventure Center generously offered to show Chad and I the route, an old uranium miners trail which provides the only access to the summit. With Gateway guide Nick Kroger leading the way, the four of us set out across the desert, a mile from the base of the wall.

Headed to the Rib.jpg

Crossing several arroyos we headed for a rib of steep and loose talus which connected the valley floor to the base of the cliffs. We scrambled up the spine and after an hour and 1,000 feet of gain reached the wall, a more solid surface, albeit close to vertical. Despite our now intimate position, the way up was no more obvious. “If you can’t go there, it’s not the route” was Luke and Nick’s simple response to our questioning. In reality the route unfurled before us and our path through the labyrinth became clear as we went. No doubt because we followed Nick who traced the bold footsteps of the old miners up the rock face. Although more than half a century has passed since the original trailblazers forged their way upwards in search of riches, evidence of the intrepid miners abound. When the rock failed to give a solid foothold, they chiseled their own or hammered a piton into the soft rock. The route consisted of a series of ledges which we climbed and traversed. Though not technically difficult the climbing was exposed so we roped up occasionally. With the security of the rope, climbing was fun. We pushed our hands into cracks between slabs or smeared our boots onto the sticky slickrock, gradually making our way higher.

Climbing.jpg

With no protection and the penalty for failure quite high, traversing the wall was a more nail-biting experience. As I tentatively inched my way across the smooth sandstone ledge, I forced the precipitous drop to the periphery of my vision and focused only on the placement of my feet.

Ledge Traverse.jpg

Adding to the pressure, the longest traverse was interrupted by the debris of a recent rockslide. The smell of sap from the broken limbs of pinions, still clinging to their improbable foundation, hung in the air. Fresh rocks and dirt were covered with a layer of green pine needles. With danger from above as well as below, we hurried through this section, and took the extra precaution of going one at a time, in case of another ‘incident’.

Rockslide Traverse.jpg

Two hours later we made the final climb of a bulbous rock face and popped out onto the top of the fin.

Topping Out.jpg

Expecting the crest to be flat and barren, I was surprised to find a desert garden in the sky, a combination of slickrock domes and crytobiotic soil scattered with pinions. Treading carefully we made our way towards the ‘point’, the summit of the Palisade as seen from Gateway. Here the fin narrows to about 30 feet wide.

Palisade Point.jpg

The exposed point generated wind gusts of 30 mph, enough to guarantee a tummy wriggle along the ground in order to peer over the edge.

Peering over the Point.jpg

The views were ample reward for our several hours of effort. Gateway was a long 2,000 feet drop below. The Dolores River glistened as it wound its way along the valley floor and sliced through the canyon walls towards Utah. Far in the distance the snowy peaks of the La Sal Mountains rose above the desert landscape. Clouds were building and a storm forecast to move in, so we quickly retraced our route. Traversing wet slickrock was not high on my list of preferred activities. Luckily the weather held off and the descent was as much fun as the climb. Arriving back at the Jeep seven hours after we left it, I stopped and turned to look back at the seemingly impenetrable fortress. Although I could now see where we had been, I marveled at the improbability of our route and at the fortitude of the miners who had pioneered it. It had been an outstanding day and one of the the most interesting desert adventures I have had in a long time.

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