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.
By Ann Driggers
Thursday, July 9, 2009
As soon as the high country opens up for the summer there are so many trails to run, hike and bike, mountains to climb, rivers and lakes to fish, the list goes on and on, growing longer every year as I pinpoint more places to visit. But many times I can’t resist going back to some of my old favorites. Riding the road from Marble to the Crystal Mill is one of them. We did it again this past weekend. Sandwiched between the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness to the north and the Raggeds to the south, the scenery is, of course, breathtakingly beautiful. The road travels alongside the clear waters of the Crystal River along to the Crystal Mill, one of the most photographed locations in Colorado. Though double track, the ride is still fun what with dodging big puddles and a couple of short climbs thrown in here and there. It can be quite wet and muddy but somehow getting filthy makes me feel like I worked harder.
Sometimes we continue on from the ghost town of Crystal City to complete the Lead King Loop. Knowing it would be busy on the 4th July weekend we opted instead to visit the ominous sounding Devil’s Punchbowl, a few miles beyond Crystal on the ‘road’ to Crested Butte. Schofield Pass was still closed due to snow and so we had the road pretty much to ourselves. As we all know, punchbowl’s normally hold very tasty alcoholic concoctions of which I tend to consume rather copious amounts. Not this one. Being the Devil’s it was full of narrow, rough and rocky shelf roads, big and scary drop offs, steep climbs, raging torrents and piles of snow and avalanche debris. History recounts of more than a dozen deaths as vehicles have peeled off this, one of the most dangerous 4WD roads in the state. Sipping, not guzzling was definitely the MO here. Riding was slow with eyes glued to the road and hands gripped to the brakes.
As we tentatively peered over the edge down towards the river below, a beat up kayak stuck beneath a pile of logs caught the eye. No sign of a ‘maytagged’ kayaker who hopefully made it out of the washing machine before going through the full spin cycle. As the river enters the punchbowl from Schofield Park it plunges almost 1,000 feet before leveling out. An awe inspiring sight, it leaves you with no illusions as to the power and force of water especially running high as it was that day. On our return, passing through Crystal we stopped in at Roger Neal’s cabin. Having spent every summer since 1948 in Crystal, Roger knows the history of the area well. He told us the Mill, built in 1893, was actually a compressor station driven by a water turbine, providing compressed air to nearby silver mines. After our little history lesson and with thunderheads building we quickly headed on back to Marble.
By Ann Driggers
Monday, July 6, 2009
What better way to spend the weekend of July 4th than soaking in the beauty of the Elk mountains trail running, mountain biking and hiking! Day 1: A 5 mile trail run to an unnamed high mountain col between the Silver Creek and Avalanche Creek drainages. The wildflowers are just starting to break out though there is plenty of snow above 12,000 feet. Avalanche lilies recently unfurled were a reminder that the snow is still receeding. Beautiful singletrack, switchbacks to the sky and views across the rugged Elk Range as a reward. I was almost in danger of breaking out into a yodel, if I had enough breath. It was so great to be up high again and I'm looking forward to a summer filled with high mountain running.
Avalanche lilies along the trail.
Views of Capitol Peak from the col.
Descending from the col, Treasure Mountain provides the backdrop.
Chad tries snow surfing. Fast but a little wobbly!
Mountain running can't be beat!
By Ann Driggers
Sunday, June 28, 2009
Now that summer finally seems to have kicked in I decided to show up for the local Turkey Flats Trail Run. High up in the cool air of Pinon Mesa, 2,500 feet above the Grand Valley, Turkey Flats is my favorite trail to enjoy a respite from the heat. The 9.6 mile run was organized by local club Mesa Monument Striders who host a number of similar events in the area. The low-key ‘race’ was perfect. No entry fee, no prizes, just a great trail, a little healthy competition and beer, burgers and brats to wrap it up. Even Tikka my four legged running partner was able to join in the fun. Work on the Fruita Reservoirs required a re-route of the traditional lollipop. Instead we continued on the road past the trailhead for a few miles on a steady climb through dappled sunlight. Swinging left we hit the Ridge trail with its distant views of the La Sal Mountains in Utah keeping us company for a short portion of the run. After a few miles dodging massive puddles we turned onto the Haypress trail. Always wet and boggy this section had the added obstacles of huge amounts of deadfall over which we had to clamber, some of it higher than us. (Note to mountain bikers - you might want to wait until this gets cleared up). The final section of the run was on the true Turkey Flats trail, a ripping and mostly downhill singletrack through aspens and meadows. Back at the start line a welcome sight greeted us, where Chris Schnittker had the bar-b-q fired up and ready to go. Local speedster Rob Reece had the men’s fastest time. Top of the women was Tara Suplizio. Tikka came in 6th overall and 2nd in the women’s with a time of 1 hour and 32 minutes. She and her mommy were tired and muddy but had a great time.
By Ann Driggers
Monday, June 22, 2009
Spotted Wolf Canyon. Head of Sinbad. Old Woman Wash. Little Ocean Draw. The names of the features of the San Rafael Swell are as varied and interesting as the terrain. From towering red rock walls, mesas, wind-weathered buttes, plateaus of grassland and deep slot canyons, the two thousand square miles of some of wildest and emptiest country in the lower 48 is a diverse and stunning display of nature.
This last weekend saw Chad and I, and friends Pete Harris and Holly Malone, set up camp to explore this remote and lightly traveled area. Of course two days doesn’t even begin to make a dent but did give us a good flavor of this very special place. As we drove across vast grasslands to the start of our hike, we felt as though we were on safari. Pronghorn antelope darted across the double track in front of our vehicle while in the distance a herd of wild horses galloped playfully, swooping up and down the sides of a hill. At the end of our safari treat we parked the truck and began our hike across the pristine landscape, following narrow trails forged only by the local inhabitants of the four-legged kind.
The only evidence of man was a few rusted cans under a pinyon tree - an old cowboy camp. Headed to a remote slot canyon we relied on map and GPS to navigate our way through a series of draws cutting through grasslands dotted with pinyon and sagebrush. Refreshed by the overnight rains the earthy smell of sagebrush wafted around as we made our way downwards into a gravelly floored canyon. Gradually the canyon walls closed in and after three miles of hiking we arrived at the narrows.
As the slot twisted and dropped its way through the rock, we slithered through, contorting our bodies to follow the shape of the earth. At times we removed packs passing them along the line as we squeezed through a really tight spot. The previous night’s downpour had collected in deep pools requiring cold wading.
As we moved slowly into the bowels of the canyon we cast our eyes to the ever shrinking slice of sky above. This particular canyon has a large catchment area and is highly susceptible to flash floods. As we noticed clouds building we began to question our continuing on. To complete our planned loop would require another 2 hours in the slot and several rapels from which it would be impossible to return. There were also many unknowns ahead - perhaps deep pools requiring swimming or a chockstone or debris blocking our way. In the face of a potential storm we quickly came to a conclusion: although it is a lovely place to visit, none of us wanted to be flushed into Lake Powell. It was time to backtrack.
Having climbed upstream and exited the narrows we stopped for lunch and dryed off our feet and clothes. We slowly made our way back, taking time to investigate every nook and cranny along the way, experiencing the beautiful land of the San Rafael Swell to its fullest. As we hiked up the draw we were rewarded with a close encounter with a beautiful mare and her foal. Although they wouldn’t let us get too close they were quite inquisitive and followed us for a while.
Further along we found more evidence of sheepherders or cowboys - a very old cairn, spotted with lichen and moss, standing sentinel over the valley below.
Even the drive back along the interstate is so spectacular it blows the mind. Here the road cuts through the 'reef' at Spotted Wolf Canyon as it heads back east, less than two hours from Grand Junction.
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.