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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San Juan Redux

By Ann Driggers
Saturday, February 14, 2009

Winter is back! And so were the San Juan mountain’s, as the destination when I played hooky from work last Thursday. The previous time I went to the San Juan’s it was early season and conditions were marginal. But since then the snow has been falling and my ski buddy Jack Brauer has been taunting me by posting photos on his blog of some incredible conditions and lines down in his neck of the woods. Having decided we could take it no more, Pete Harris and I drove south and Jack kindly obliged in showing us the goods. In advance of the coming storm the winds were kicking up high, so we headed for some sheltered tree runs called the Destroyer Chutes. After a steep 1,800 feet climb up the skin track we dropped in. The snow was deep, untouched and oh so much fun. We managed a couple of laps before we had to head back to GJ, and me to work.

Pete Harris slaying the Destroyer Chutes.

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Jack is a (real) photographer and is usually the one snapping the pics. Although no substitute for his talented photography I was nevertheless pleased that I got some half decent shots of him riding.

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It’s Official - Mud Season Is Here

By Ann Driggers
Sunday, February 8, 2009

Now brace yourselves. This is going to be a bit of a shocker. I actually spent one day of my weekend not skiing. Yep that’s right, NOT skiing! Instead I went trail running. Or rather trail slopping, slipping and sliding. The warm temperatures that have trashed the snowpack and turned me away from the mountains until the next storm, have also created a muddy, icy, snowy mess of our beautiful high desert trails. However, I was oblivious until Tikka and I set off to do one of our favorite runs on Saturday morning.

Devils Canyon trail in the McInnis Canyons NCA

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McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area has many great trails including mine and Tikka’s favorite, the Devils Canyon loop. At about 7 miles with 800 feet of climbing over rolling terrain it’s a great little run. Plus it follows the stream for at least a mile so there’s plenty of water for dogs. And the scenery is outstanding. After the first short stretch of graveled and dry trail we dipped into the canyon narrows. The floor of the canyon was either rock or ice, not a bad running surface, though Tikka was a little disappointed at finding her wallowing holes frozen over. But as soon as we climbed out of the canyon floor, up into P & J (pinyon and juniper) country, the trail became a slick and gloppy mess.

Tikka doesn't care about the mud.

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Alternating between ice, snow, mud, and occasionally, but not enough, dry single track, I tentatively skidded my way around the loop. Tikka, of course, couldn't have cared less. Although I didn’t get my usual work out, the slow going was a great excuse to stop often, cast my eyes up the towering red rock canyon walls and poke around the old sheep herders cabin at the trails turning point.

Old sheep herders cabin towards the head of the canyon.

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It seems mud season has officially begun. So if you go out, be prepared. Have the garden hose at the ready for your return. It will likely take as long to clean up as it does to run the trail. As for me, this 'not skiing' malarky doesn't sit well in winter. Hurry up storm, we need more powder.

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Recipe for Perfect Backcountry Ski Day

By Ann Driggers
Monday, February 2, 2009

Being a weekend warrior, it is a rarity that all the key ingredients come together to make the perfect backcountry ski outing. This past weekend I was lucky enough that the recipe could be followed to a T. Ingredients Avalanche danger rating of moderate on most aspects Unlimited amounts of powder Bluebird skies and warm sunshine Five skiers well matched in terms of speed, ability and interest Method Place key ingredients in classic backcountry ski terrain of the Raggeds Wilderness. Set skiers to slowly rise on skin track for 2,300 feet.

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When fully risen at summit, prepare skiing utensils.

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One at a time drop skiers into large bowl allowing each to carve turns in deep and steep powder.

Photo: Pete Harris

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At sounds of hooting and hollering, drop another skier into bowl. Repeat with remaining skiers, beating snow well with each addition.

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Once all five have settled at base of bowl, sprinkle with PB&J and water. Leave to rise again. Repeat above process as many times as desired. If snow becomes chopped due to excessive beating or whipping, place skiers into fresh bowl.

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When fully cooked or darkness falls, whichever comes first, remove skiers from bowl and decorate with sunburned noses and goofy grins. Serve with chilled beer from snow bank. Makes five tired but extremely contented skiers. Memories can be kept for weeks in airtight container.

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Wipeout!

By Ann Driggers
Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Here are some recent shots of my friends and family (probably ex after this post), who shall remain nameless, demonstrating the fine technique of the skiing wipeout. Please note they are all extremely good skiers and were performing these wipeouts purely for demonstration purposes. The following photos are not representative of their typical performance on skis. No one was injured during the demonstration. Disclaimer: Do not attempt to try this at home or without the supervision of professional wipeout artists such as these. Wipeout #1: A nice cruise through the shaded woods, a flat forest road lurks to capture the joyous but unsuspecting skier.....

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Wipeout #2: A fun little jump looks good from above, but the landing angle was a recipe for disaster...strange the photographer didn't point this out from her vantage point below....

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Wipeout #3: My favorite of all. This person just loves snow so much that they rather be at one with it. Not satisfied with faceshots while skimming along the surface, they prefer to flip upside down for a complete immersion experience. The problem with this technique is they eventually stop moving. And it gets awfully wet and cold if you make a habit of it. Still, makes for a cool photo.

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Fowler-Hilliard Hut Trip

By Ann Driggers
Sunday, January 18, 2009

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Ski. Eat. Sleep. Repeat. We just returned from a fantastic three days at the Fowler-Hilliard hut, located above Camp Hale. Owned and operated by the 10th Mountain Division, it is a cozy but spacious hut, and beautifully situated at 11,500 feet where excellent skiing and touring opportunities abound. Nothing beats a good hut trip for an extended dose of the high mountain experience while staying in relative comfort. Normally I would load myself up with a heavy pack and ski the 5 miles and 2,500 feet climb into the hut. With the Vail Pass Recreation Area close by and numerous motorized trails we chose to access the hut via snowmobile over the summit of Ptarmigan Hill. Arriving at the hut we snagged the private bedroom, ate lunch and headed out to get some turns in, all before our hut mates showed up. The sun was shining and for the first time in several weeks the weather was warm - hand warmers and frost nipped feet became a (not so distant) memory. We made a run from the hut on south and east facing slopes where the snow was getting baked by the sun, knowing that the crust would eliminate these aspects from the search for quality skiing the next day.

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Back at the hut we found the rest of our party installed and we spent the evening feasting on copious quantities of pasta, melting snow for water and playing hut Scrabble. Hut Scrabble is significantly more challenging than regular Scrabble since critical board letters and important pages of the dictionary are invariably missing. Although intensely frustrating it is an integral part of the hut experience.

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The following morning the sun rose in a cloudless sky and we set out for a long and fun day on skis. The snow was deep and light on the shaded northerly aspects. Powder turns were accompanied by a tinkling sound as we sliced through the big hoar frost flakes on the surface. To call it good would be a ridiculous understatement.

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We carved our signatures into the bowl behind the hut many times before stopping to refuel. Basking on a sunny ridge we snacked on cheese and crackers with a stellar view of the Mount of the Holy Cross off to our west. Next we took a longer run into McAllister Gulch, an area with tight trees but plenty of good snow. My new GPS rescued us from the deep, dark woods and had us skinning back up for yet another run before heading to the top of 12,000 feet high Resolution Mountain for a pre-arranged rendez-vous with the rest of our group.

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On the summit we watched the sunset over the Sawatch and Gore Ranges before skiing back down to the hut at dusk. With almost 4,000 feet of vertical under our skins for the day, we were whipped.

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Another fun evening was had, involving delicious food and great conversation around the fire, including a debate on the merits of either a slipper crampon or skins, designed to prevent skidding and falling on the icy path to the outhouse. The final day dawned, again sunny, warm and reminiscent of spring. Tired from the previous days exploits we took just a couple of short runs before retiring to the deck for sunbathing. In the afternoon we regretfully packed up our gear, cleaned the hut and headed back to civilization. 

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