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
Saturday, June 13, 2009
Lift, tap, kick. Lift, tap, kick. Every time I made a step, I had to tap my boots together to knock out the fresh snow balling up in my crampons. This wasn’t part of the plan but if I didn’t knock the snow out, the crampons front points would fail to find purchase and I would be sent sliding down the 40 degree slope. The extra tapping was tiring and slowing my progress up the 1,800 foot couloir. And time was of the essence.
An hour and a half earlier at 5 a.m., I had started up the Grays Peak trail. It was barely covered with a skiff of fresh snow. But as the moon set and the sun rose, casting the surrounding mountains with alpenglow, it became apparent the previous night’s heavy thunderstorm had dropped more than a few inches. It may have been mid June but the weather was more like winter. The clouds under lit by the rising sun scudded across the sky and swirled around the high summits. The wind howled down the mountain sides sending vortices of snow spinning across the willow flats and blasting ice particles into my face. Every few minutes I had to stop and brace myself against a particularly strong gust and cover my eyes from the needles of ice.
My goal was to climb and ski an aesthetic line on the east face of Torrey’s Peak called the Dead Dog Couloir. As I hiked closer and the 14,267 foot peak loomed into view, I could see it was plastered with fresh snow. I made the decision to keep moving and assess conditions as I went. If luck was in the cards I would ski the couloir in fresh powder - pretty epic for June. But I needed to be quick. I was racing the sun.
I headed to the base of the Dead Dog, stopping to put on crampons and helmet and swapping out a ski pole for an ice axe. Starting up the apron, the fresh snow was only 6 inches deep but covered the blocky debris of old avalanches. I made good progress at first. But quickly the snow became deeper and started balling up in my crampons. Each step I now tapped one boot against another to remove the snow. Slower, I continued climbing. Lift, tap, kick. Lift, tap, kick.
Settling into a quiet rhythm I ascended the ribbon of snow as it threaded its way up the rocky east face of Torreys Peak. As I climbed I continued to assess the safety of the new snow. It seemed to have bonded well with the snow underneath and there were no signs of dangerous wind slabs. I kept on climbing. Lift, tap, kick. After an hour of increasingly deeper snow, my calves and quads were screaming for relief.
I exited the Dead Dog and walked the final hundred feet to the summit where the wind was biting cold and the snow as hard as rock. It was a little after 8 a.m. But in the sheltered couloir I knew the sun was taking its toll. Just one week from the summer solstice, the June sun would be superheating the snow. The slightest trigger could send it crashing down. I was too late. I no longer felt confident the Dead Dog was safe to ski and decided to take a more mellow route down Torrey’s south ridge. In a whiteout of blowing snow I slowly skied the rocky ridge to the base of Gray’s Peak, Torrey’s neighbor. In the absence of skiing the Dead Dog a second 14er for the day would make a good consolation prize. I put the crampons back on and scooted up the ridge to bag the summit of 14,270 foot Grays Peak. From there its broad north east flank provided creamy dreamy turns for 2,000 feet back to the base of the Dead Dog. Looking up into the couloir I saw a recent sluff covering my uptrack. I had made the right decision and would live to ski another day. In any case June powder is quite special whatever the line. And on that high note I am hanging up my skis for the summer.
By Ann Driggers
Sunday, May 31, 2009
Top of the World is a trail near Dewey Bridge on the way to Moab. Starting from the Entrada Bluffs Road it is 5 mile grunt one way, climbing 2,000 feet up a rocky 4WD double-track. Wooed by the reportedly 'killer' views that would 'make your knees weak', I glossed over the section of the guidebook which described the trail as 'technically and physically difficult to downright masochistic.' I decided it would make for a lovely Sunday morning ride. It was. Or at least the summit views and the downhill sections were. The way up was a sufferfest. I used the designated trip photographer excuse frequently in order to catch my breath. Here Chad grunts up a smooth but steep section. The Bookcliffs are far off in the distance.
After over an hour and a half of steady climbing we reached Killer Viewpoint, a very apt description of the Top of the World. Although my knees were severely weakened by the climb, my legs buckled even further, as promised, when I wiped the sweat out of my eyes and looked over the edge. Immediately below were the Fisher Towers and a little further off the Colorado River meandered its way through Professor Valley. The 360 degree views stretched from the Uncompaghre Plateau in Colorado, to Utah's Canyonlands and beyond.
The trail down was plenty of fun with lots of slickrock and ledges. This one was the crux of the climb as well as the descent.
In the interests of preventing even further damage to my knees :) I walked this one and took pictures.
By Ann Driggers
Monday, May 25, 2009
Given that the season for riding H20 in its solid state is about fully cooked, I figured I might as well get after it in its liquid form. The Colorado River is officially cranking, as it takes our snowpack (and hopefully some of the dust) off to the west. Running just shy of 30,000 cubic feet per second (CFS) and about 8 miles per hour, a speedy float of the mellow but beautiful Ruby Horsethief section seemed like a good way to spend Memorial Day.
Chad and I put our two man ducky in at the Loma boat launch around 10 a.m. The river was heavily swollen with snowmelt, laced with debris and fast. Although we dipped our paddles only to steer, we zipped right on through to Black Rocks in time for lunch. When done as an overnighter, Black Rocks is the main camp spot, being around the half way point and very scenic. It also has plenty of sandy beaches, rock outcroppings for sunbathing, and a good viewpoint of the small rapid that provides the most excitement of the trip. This time, with the high water, the rapids were washed out and the beaches submerged. More than adequate compensation though, the wildflowers were blooming superb.
Having enjoyed sunshine for the first part of the trip, we noticed dark clouds were quickly building. We cut our lunch short and jumped back on the river in the hopes of making it to the take-out before being struck by lightning or battling brutal headwinds for which the next stretch is notorious. Despite a few sprinkles, we escaped electrification, sailed over the Utah state line and reached the Westwater take-out in short order. Total trip time was four and a half hours which, for 26 miles of river and a lunch stop, was really cruising.
Sweet! River days are here.
By Ann Driggers
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
I'm back in England seeing family for a few days and in comparison to my normal outdoor activities, taking it rather slow. I have tried to get out as much as possible, either running or hiking, but the outdoor lifestyle is a little different here, though still good. For one, the weather is very changeable and unpredictable compared to Colorado, especially at this time of year - sunny one minute and cold winds and showers the next. I would set off on a run under blue skies and within 20 minutes I would be drenched in a downpour. Secondly, when one is reunited with family, there are large get-togethers celebrated with somewhat excessive amounts of eating and drinking. However we always justify the indulgence by playing a game of croquet or going for a long walk after a big feast, weather permitting. Walks are a big part of the english country lifestyle and I am fortunate that my family live in a very beautiful part of England, the North Yorkshire Moors National Park. One walk we did was up a valley called Farndale which is famous for its daffodils in the spring. Since the weather was rather cloudy my scenic shots didn't turn out so well. So I took pictures of some entertaining signs along the way. At the beginning of the walk we were advised not to 'injure daffodils' otherwise a fine of $5 would be incured. Incidently there was also a sign saying the fine for not picking up after your dog was $1,000! Perhaps it was $5 per daffodil?
Although the walk was only two miles one way, the food incentive was needed to coax people along the hike. This sign was posted on a fence in the middle of the hike.
Unfortunately the cafe was closed when we arrived and we were concerned that we had been without food and drink for at least two hours. Fortunately there was a pub serving traditional english fayre and Black Sheep ale, a few steps away, and we were able to reach the finish line in strong shape. Although all these walks seem rather tame, there is one family activity which is more on the extreme side.
The phrase 'only mad dogs and englishmen' came to mind as I watched my father prepare his gyrocopter for take off. Luckily this particular contraption has only one seat so I happily watched from the sidelines as he performed a demonstration.
He landed safe and sound, by the way.
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.
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.
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.
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.