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, November 15, 2008
The rope, more than any other piece of equipment, has played an integral role in my formative years as I developed into a fully fledged outdoor junkie. I first used a rope and learned how to climb at the Westway climbing wall in London, almost 20 years ago. With the A40, one of the largest motorways into London, as its roof, it was a far cry from the majesty of the mountains I was seeking. Desperate as I was to escape the rat race in London, I realized this was only opportunity I had to learn the art of rope work. And so I did. At the first opportunity, I moved to the mountains, to Zermatt in Switzerland where I spent one long and incredible summer attached to a rope, mountaineering on alpine greats such as the Matterhorn and Monte Rosa and sport climbing on local crags. Later the rope even led me to meet my husband when I was hitch hiking to a climbing gym in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. And when we ended up in Arizona, many weekends were spent rock climbing in the deserts of the southwest at places such as Joshua Tree and the Cochise Stronghold. Since moving to the Grand Valley eight years ago, there have been so many other fun things to do, climbing has not been on my agenda and I count myself as one of those who has lost the art of rope work. This winter I plan on more technical mountaineering activities. So refreshing my memory on the fundamentals sounded like a fine way to spend a sunny afternoon. My friend and ski partner Pete Harris and I headed out into the Colorado National Monument, having identified an easy 5.7 climb which we could top rope. Over several hours we set an anchor, practiced the munter hitch, double fisherman’s, autoblocks, figure of eights, and other knots, and finally rappelled 30 meters down a slab into Monument Canyon.
Although the sunny warm rock was a good place to brush out the cobwebs, we will need to head up into the mountains soon to practice under full on winter conditions. Now, if only the snow gods would get their act together…..it’s been a slow start to winter in Colorado. That's the Mesa in the background and it's not the right color.
By Ann Driggers
Monday, November 3, 2008
As the days grow shorter and the temperatures drop, late fall is a quiet time for outdoor pursuits. Inside is a different matter. With winter on its way, excitement is building, and the mind and home of a backcountry skier is a hive of activity. There is much to do in preparation as the first flakes fall and the mountains take on their mantle of snow. Building the log pile. Cutting, hauling and stacking wood for the stove is the major outdoor activity for this time of year. And it’s hard work. After two days I am tired and sore. No need to hit the gym this week!
Preparing the quiver. Skis, boots and bindings for every possible scenario need to be selected and prepared. The workhorses of my quiver are a pair of mid-fat skis for deep mid-winter powder days and a slimmer but stiffer pair for spring ski mountaineering activities. Both will be equipped with AT bindings. Other equipment includes selection of appropriate packs, small for day tours, larger for hut trips, etc. All need to be filled with emergency and other supplies. Everything must be ready to go at a moment’s notice in case of (fingers crossed) an early season snowfall. Stoking the flame within. This happens naturally and requires no effort. As ski magazines arrive in the mail, ski movies show on the big screen, and ski swap banners hang across Main Street, anticipation of the season to come rises to a feverish pitch. Discussions with friends are dominated by reminiscence of last winter’s epic days and plans for the upcoming season. Brushing up on avalanche skills. Dusty books are pulled from the shelf and stacked on the coffee table for re-reading. Refreshing the memory on backcountry travel techniques and avalanche assessment is especially important.
Predicting and affecting the weather. This is by far the most important activity of the late fall. Long range forecasts from the Weather Service to Farmers Almanac are assessed. Significant internet discussion occurs on signs that could indicate a big winter. La Nina or El Nino? Extra woolly caterpillars or a proliferation of spiders in the home? (Yes. I have seen that!). Good signs are celebrated; bad signs are dismissed and ignored. And to ensure that nothing is left to chance almost every skier will undertake some activity to encourage Ullr, the Norse God of Snow, to perform to the best of his ability. Burning skis, throwing parties and any manner of activities take place that affect the depth of the winter snowpack. Now is the time to pray for snow.
By Ann Driggers
Monday, October 20, 2008
All summer long, every time I pulled on my running shoes, I walked past my mountain bike collecting dust in the garage. I have not been out riding once this year. This has never happened before, not since I got my first bike well over a decade ago. In preparing for the Grand Canyon trip, my heavy running schedule has pushed the bike to the back of my mind, as well as to the back of the garage. Festering in the corner, my extremely nice bike (of which I am not worthy) developed a serious pout. And now, having wrapped up my running for the year, it was giving me a major guilt trip as there was no longer an excuse not to take it out. Since the weather this weekend was better than perfect for desert riding, I headed out to the 18 Road area with a few friends. The plan was to do what my friend Mike calls the ‘M’ loop. He claims that its traces the shape of an ‘M’ through the network of trails in the area. I have to confess it’s the strangest shaped ‘M’ I have ever seen. It bears so little resemblance to the letter that I am convinced that Mike calls it ‘M’ because he wants to name a trail after himself.
Naming rights aside, there is no doubt that the 'M' loop is an excellent way to spend a few hours, linking some of the best rides in the Grand Valley. Not only that, it has a great flow with a perfect beginning, middle and end. Starting out, we headed west into the desert on double track for a couple of miles, a nice warm up. Then a steady climb on Western Zip elevates the heart rate before hitting the Front Side trail. This is where the fun really begins. Smooth, swoopy single track took us across the base of the Bookcliffs. It is interjected with one tough but short climb leaving you reeling and gasping for air, and that's just from pushing the bike up. After a few miles of more ripping on the roller coaster we hit Kestle Run, a super fun trail that flows down a shallow drainage like a half pipe. Kestle Run is my favorite at 18 Road and never fails to put a big grin on my face. All the trails were in fantastic shape and surprisingly so after a long dry summer.
Giggles and grins on Kestle Run: Krissy Steele is followed by Jen Rapiejko
However there is a problem with the ‘M’ loop. Having finished the first part of the 'M', in order to connect to the next section, one has to ride directly through the parking lot. And that was a problem because there was a cooler with cold beers in my car and on this particular day I was very thirsty. Even the awesome riding on Prime Cut and Chutes and Ladders could not entice me to ride past my car and continue on. Like a pin to a magnet I was drawn to that cooler. After sinking a few it’s even more difficult to go back and ride again. So in the end we did half of ‘M’, which really is an ‘A’ and since my name begins with ‘A’, that’s what I’m going to call it. And may I also suggest that the 'M' loop should now be known as the double 'A', because it really is a grade ‘A’ ride, twice over. Sorry Mike.
By Ann Driggers
Monday, October 13, 2008
The first time I stood on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, I laughed. I laughed at the insanity of the grandiose plan I had hatched over the past six months, the plan I had to run across the Grand Canyon. The logistics of organizing such a trip are difficult enough that I had almost forgotten about the running portion. Securing lodging in the park on a prime fall weekend and finding someone to deliver my vehicle from one rim to the other was a significant accomplishment in itself. As I stood above the abyss, the final destination barely visible but seemingly winking at me on the far horizon, the enormity and the insanity of the plan finally sunk in. Crossing the ‘big ditch’ would require me to cover 24 miles with a total elevation gain and loss of 11,200 feet in some of the harshest and rugged terrain in the southwest. My laughter was an attempt to disguise the anxious thoughts now coursing through my mind. Had I trained enough? What if I hadn’t packed sufficient food and water, or the weather turned bad, as was forecast? What if I simply couldn’t run anymore and my legs ceased to function? But as I watched the shuttle driver take my car away, I knew there was no option but to follow my plan through to the end.
Luckily I was not the only one who had signed up for my insane and grandiose plan. Shivering alongside me in the freezing wind was my husband Chad, and friends Will and Shawn Hays. So as the sun rose, we launched into the abyss. During the first five miles the North Kaibab trail drops like a stone, falling 3,600 feet. In the excitement of setting off (and going down) taking this section fast would be tempting. But locking up my quads and jarring my knees would result in a suffer fest for the remainder of the day. So I took it easy at first.
As the grade leveled out I opened the throttle and joined the others as they flew down the trail towards Phantom Ranch. The scenery and terrain was both varied and spectacular. The trail took us down steep switchbacks, across ledges cut out of towering red rock walls, beneath cottonwood stands on the canyon floor and finally followed the rowdy Bright Angel Creek through a narrow canyon to its confluence with the Colorado River.
We kept up a good pace and covered the 14 miles to Phantom Ranch in less than three hours. As expected it was much warmer at the bottom of the canyon, and we were further encouraged as the bad weather forecast had not materialized. Phantom Ranch is a busy spot with hikers, backpackers, mules and rangers taking advantage of the various facilities and available drinking water. We quickly refueled before trotting off towards the Colorado River and the Silver suspension bridge. We spent a few minutes gazing in awe at the power of the river flowing beneath our feet before continuing on the Bright Angel trail, beginning what we thought was the major climb of the day. But after running up several hundred feet, I was aghast to see the trail descend once again to the river. Although not a significant descent it was nevertheless demoralizing, having persuaded myself that we were reaching the final stages of the run.
Running beside the massive Colorado River having crossed via the Silver Bridge
But sure enough the climb began. I crawled slowly up a rocky and steep section of switchbacks appropriately named the Devil’s Corkscrew. The sun beat down from a cloudless sky and despite the slow pace I worked up a sweat for the first time. After another thousand feet of climbing, the trail became run able again following the floor of a riparian valley to the Indian Gardens. Here we encountered our only mule train of the day which required us to scramble up on to a rock to keep our feet from being crushed.
Last ditch effort up the final switchbacks. Our starting point is beyond the horizon in the background
Departing Indian Gardens, our second and final fueling stop, the mile marker read 19. My tank was almost empty and running becoming more difficult. The final four miles were the most challenging of the day. The trail kicked upwards several notches. Switchbacks endlessly reached towards the sky. The added obstacle of a large number of people, between which we had to weave, resulted in a speed hike. But for the last 100 yards I dug deep and managed a feeble attempt at running that popped me up and onto the South Rim. It was about 6 and a half hours after we dropped in from the North Rim. My insane and grandiose plan was completed with no adverse affects other than extremely sore and tired legs. In sum it was a blast. As we discussed our epic and fun adventure over medicinal martinis in the cocktail lounge of the El Tovar Hotel, I laughed again. This time my laugh was for real.
By Ann Driggers
Wednesday, October 1, 2008
After a long summer with a busy schedule of trail running, my body has recently reminded me it is time to ease off. And with the fall being so short I knew this past weekend was likely one of the few opportunities to get a peek at the leaves changing at elevation. A high altitude hike was therefore in order. Our destination was an unnamed pass between Siberia Peak and Snowmass Mountain. Only one of several maps of the area showed a semblance of a trail to a 12,600 divide which would apparently provide unrivaled views of the south ridge of Capitol Peak.
As I hiked up the steep trail in the North Fork of the Crystal River drainage, the sun beat down, reminiscent of August. The snow covered peaks in the background reminded me of winter closing in, though the trail was dusty and hot. And I wondered why I had decided to carry a large pack with a wardrobe fit for a multitude of seasons. With 3,300 feet to climb in an estimated 4 miles, the trail was a grunt but easy to follow. Well traveled, it took us to the base of the west face of Snowmass, a popular ascent route for this 14er. Forgoing the 3,000 feet of loose talus climbing on the face, we headed up valley in search of Siberia. After clambering up a rocky knob of tundra we reached Siberia Lake. Almost immediately the weather and the terrain became more rugged and ominous clouds rolled in. While boulder hopping around the lake we quickly took shelter, putting on rain jackets to fend off the graupel pelting down. Now I was glad of my pack and all it contained. The lake was small but deep and cold. An icy slab of snow descended into it, never to melt this year. The clouds continued to build in, dark and foreboding.
With haste we covered the dangerous large and loose scree of the final 1,000 feet up to the pass and were rewarded with looming views of Siberia, Capitol and Snowmass. Despite a short break in the weather, it was still chilly, seemingly a different season from just two hours ago when leaving the trail head. Lunch was hurriedly eaten while hunkered down behind a rock. At 12,600 feet the terrain and weather were both harsh. A fresh dusting of snow covered many of the surrounding peaks. Winter was definitely coming at this altitude.
On our return journey we saw fresh snow underscored by the vibrant orange of the aspens. A carpet of gold coins now covered our way back to the trail head. Gloves and hats covered our heads. After a long hot summer, change is in the mountains.