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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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.
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.
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.
By Ann Driggers
Friday, July 24, 2009
All hands were on deck amidst a flurry of activity this week in preparing for our summer road trip. The Blue Buffalo is prepped and the camper mounted on its back, our home for the next two weeks is packed to the brim. The road is calling us northwards to explore new places and sights unseen. First we will visit some of our old stomping grounds in the Wasatch and Yellowstone before moving onto new territory in Montana. Our goal? It's about the journey, not the destination. Or rather the series of destinations and experiences we will happen upon along the way. Catch a few fish, ride sweet single track, climb a peak, hang out in cool coffee houses, discover a great book, some fine wine and dine, it's all good! Trip reports will be forthcoming along the way.
By Ann Driggers
Monday, July 20, 2009
I recently signed up for Twitter. I will tweet whenever I post on this blog, amongst other twitterings. If you haven't already discovered Twitter, it's fun! To follow along click here.
By Ann Driggers
Sunday, July 19, 2009
There was a strong turn-out at today’s Crag Crest Trail Run hosted by the Mesa Monument Striders. I estimated over 30 folks lined up for another round of trail camaraderie and competition in the same vein as the recent Turkey Flats event. I like these ‘races’ for their simplicity. Just show up, put the shoes on and go. To me that’s what running is all about. And instead of moseying around the woods on my own stopping to look at every flower, animal or view as an excuse to take a breather, here I start running and keep running. I can get a quality workout on a very fine trail. The Crag Crest is a spine of rock extending across the top of the Grand Mesa and reaching 11,189 feet at its highest point. The trail takes a loop up the west end of the Crest, along the top, down the east side and returning through the forest along its base. Sounds like a simple run - up, flat, down and then more flats? Nope, not a chance. The Crag Crest trail is a tough one. And rubbing salt into our wounds, oxygen is in very short supply. The entire 10 miles of the trail, from beginning to end, is above 10,000 feet. As expected it starts out with a real kicker, the beefy switch-backed climb up the Crest, which quickly spreads out the field. The problem is it just never lets up. Even traversing the Crest requires several steep and very rocky climbs with the stiffest coming right at its eastern end. I wasn’t sure if the hazy views were due to sweat running through my eyes or the smoke from the forest fires currently burning on the Uncompahgre Plateau to the south-west. Either way, the end of the Crest seemed to be a mirage, as I huffed and puffed, up and down countless false summits. (Ok, so I’m exaggerating here. There’s probably only four, but it felt more like forty.) At around the half way point, the descent of the Crest finally appears through the sweat/smoke fog. It’s sweet but sadly too short, barely enough time to restore the ragged breathing of the ascent to something inaudible from half a mile away. The return to the trailhead alternates between the shaded forest, meadows of wildflowers and glorious lake views. The scenery may be forgiving but the rolling terrain is not, as the several stomach punching hills testify. As I run, I am concerned for the hikers enjoying a Sunday afternoon stroll, who must fear for their lives as they hear a slobbering, gasping wild beast thundering up behind them in the dark forest. Luckily for them it is I who is being chased, my sweaty grimy flesh now a magnet for blood thirsty mosquitoes. Also hot on my heels was Kelsey Slauson, who at 15 years old and with an abundance of talent surely has a great running future ahead of her. Amazingly I managed to hold off the young whippersnapper and finish in a time of 1 hour and 52 minutes for 6th overall and 2nd in the women’s. The fastest time of the day was logged by Glenn Randell in 1 hour and 29 minutes. Christie Aschwanden topped the women’s field with a time of 1:46.
Standing around the rock aka women's podium from L to R: Kelsey Slauson, Yours Truly and Christie Aschwanden.
By Ann Driggers
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Second time was the charm for Hagerman Peak last Sunday. A week before, Chad and I were turned back barely two miles into the approach as a ‘20% chance of showers’ developed into a sustained and drenching sheet of rain. This weekend, with an identical weather forecast, the rain held off and we successfully reached the summit of one of Colorado’s centennial peaks. At 13,841 feet Hagerman feels like a fourteener but without the crowds. In fact we barely saw anyone all day apart from our cohort Mike Steele who we suckered into joining us for a ‘nice little hike.’ Truth be told at days end, annihilating was a more accurate description of our days exertions. Plans started to go awry right from the start when I decided to lead us on an unmapped shortcut trail which was rumored to reduce the vertical of our route by 1,000 feet. Ha! After quite some time traveling cross country, up hill and down dale, in search of the cairns and game trails which would lead us through cliffy terrain to the promised land, it was evident that this was going to be a long day.
Smiles early in the day as a distant Hagerman comes into view.
When we finally reached the base of Hagerman Peak, 6 miles, 3,500 feet and several hours later, it was debatable if we would rally for the summit. Mike wisely decided to keep some gas in reserve for the return journey and found a sheltered rock to rest up. As is typical, Chad and I were committed to continue. It was unthinkable we could come so far and not bag the summit. So up we went, scrambling hand over foot for 1,500 feet.
The south face of Hagerman Peak.
We followed a rib of somewhat solid rock directly up the south face, solid being a relative word in Colorado’s mountains. Relative to the scree, talus or crumbly face that one usually ascends. Although I frequently tested my hand and footholds they held good, made for enjoyable climbing and reached the summit within the hour.
Hagerman's summit ridge, Maroon Bells in the background and Snowmass lake to the left.
Always spectacular, the views from this summit were also a little thrilling as the north side of Hagerman sheered away into the Snowmass bowl hundreds of feet below. We did not loiter long, aware of the long trip back and Mike waiting for us below. Quickly descending a gully of scree, we plowed through small rocks as we attempted to slide and run at the same time. After emptying our hiking boots of pebbles and debris we lumbered back towards the trailhead, stopping only a few times to fill up on water and take photos of bear tracks and marmots. It was a bit of a slog and as Mike accurately remarked “towards the end my Up and my Down weren’t working much anymore”. In the final analysis we made it, and the 12 miles and 5,000 feet of climbing left us beaten, but not down. Far from it. After many years of absence from summer mountaineering, I’m inspired to jump right back in. So what’s next?