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
Thursday, January 8, 2009
Throughout the year I try to get out for a good run at least twice a week before work. That means an 'alpine' start of 5:30 a.m. During the summer, early morning is the time to beat the heat and a pleasant time of day to run. In the winter it’s a different matter. Especially right now when the temperature inversion plaguing the Grand Valley has plunged it into the deep freeze. With temps in the single digits, 'cool' running is an understatement. Frigid would be a more accurate description.
But running in the dark on a snow packed trail is actually pretty cool and I’m not just talking about the temperature. For starters packed snow is a great surface to run on as it makes for relatively fast travel and the trail is easily and well lit by headlamp. And at times when there is a full moon, it’s almost bright enough to run without. The views are great too. The city lights twinkle down below as we run along the ridge from Widow Maker to Lemon Squeezer and on towards Kurt's Lane. Later in the winter we will be rewarded with running towards the sun as it rises over the Grand Mesa.
Cool runners work their way up the hill towards Widow Maker.
I admit there are times when I wonder how cool this cool running really is. Like after a fresh snowfall, when finding the trail is hit and miss, and it's a tough workout akin to running in sand. (If you ever see bizarre tracks in the snow seemingly wandering aimlessly in the Lunch Loop area, you know who it is.) Or an icy and treacherous trail results in a rolled ankle. Or when it takes the majority of the day to warm your frozen body, despite wearing ski gloves, several pairs of socks, numerous layers of clothes and a balaclava. But overall the pros outweigh the cons. Getting outside, whatever the weather, there is never a day when I regret a cool run.
An icy Lemon Squeezer results in a fall, as shown by the abnormal headlamp trail.
By Ann Driggers
Thursday, January 1, 2009
One of the best locations for skiing steep terrain in bounds with good snow, and the bonus of a high mountain experience, is Highlands Bowl at the Aspen Highlands ski area. Known simply as the ‘Bowl’, it’s also a good workout. A mandatory 750 foot hike up the ridge to the summit of 12,381 foot Highland Peak is required to reach the top of the Bowl. The first day after yet another (yeah go Ullr!) big storm cleared out of the Colorado mountains, Chad and I headed up to Highlands for fun skiing and to work off some of the holiday excess.
The Bowl can be a popular destination with a long line of hikers strung out along the ridge racing to get the goods. A single-track boot pack provides few opportunities to pass making the hike slow going. This day it was relatively quiet and I took the opportunity to take it slow myself. Sparkling ice particles floated in the air and the fresh snow squeaked and creaked under foot as we marched upwards under bluebird skies. Between the huffing and puffing, and with a quick look around, one could observe the significant avalanche activity following the recent storms. Highlands Bowl itself is major avalanche terrain and the ski patrol works hard to ensure its safety for skiers. At times we walked over snow blackened with the residue of explosives from their control work. After about 40 minutes we arrived at the summit, prayer flags fluttering in the cold wind. The 360 degree views north to the Flattops, east to the Sawatch and south, close and deep into the Elks, were stupendous. Highland Peak provides a direct view up Maroon Creek to the deadly Bells and Pyramid Peak anchored at the end of the valley.
After taking in the scenery, we launched into the east side of the bowl and skied chopped, fresh powder through the glades of the North Woods. The 3,000 feet descent brought us to the base of the Deep Temerity lift and we signed on for another lap. Second time around we rode the snow cat a short ways up. Although it doesn’t save much time on the hike the line was non existent and therefore hard to pass up given our leisurely pace of the day.
The ridge was deserted on our final climb. The sun hung low in the sky casting the bowl into shadow for the descent. This time I skied the center of the Bowl and tried to stop as little as possible. Quads screaming for relief coincided with the closure of the lifts, giving us good reason to retire to the bar. While hiking Highlands goes some way in working off the excess of Christmas, maintenance of stamina for the New Year celebrations was deemed necessary.
By Ann Driggers
Sunday, December 21, 2008
During the last 10 days a significant amount of snow has fallen in the high country, adding a heavy load to and burying an old and rotten layer at the bottom of the snowpack. This has created a precarious and hazardous situation in the backcountry. The avalanche danger is rated high by the Colorado Avalanche Information Center meaning both natural and human triggered avalanches are likely. Indeed, two people have died in avalanches during the last week in the Elk Mountains. Now is not the time to push the envelope. The Grand Mesa, while not immune from avalanches, has plenty of low angle terrain to satisfy powder hounds who seek to avoid exposure to the current high danger. It’s also a quick and easy drive from Grand Junction. Today the clouds finally broke after almost two weeks of snow. It was an ideal day to hit up one of my favorite areas for backcountry skiing, the Big Top. Here, my fellow members of the circus and I, found enough powder to keep us clowning around all day long.
Krissy and Mike Steele skin towards a run down Dumbo.
Twyla Gingrich plays in powder on low angle terrain.
As today was the winter solstice, these north facing slopes were long in shadow and short of sun. After four laps of the skin track, the sun dipped below the horizon. An early end to a perfect day of playing it safe.
By Ann Driggers
Sunday, December 7, 2008
The San Juan mountain range in south west Colorado is steeped in mining history. Roads, relics and structures dot the landscape, evidence of miners searching for gold and silver during the 19th century. Now, in the winter months, the area creates a fantastic backdrop for ski touring. This past weekend Pete Harris and I made a foray into the mountains around Red Mountain Pass, mining for our treasure of choice - snow.
Early season backcountry skiing can be fraught with somewhat tricky and dangerous terrain however. Although avalanches are always a consideration, the lack of snow is usually a greater cause for concern. The heavy winter storms have yet to arrive and fill in unexpected obstacles which lurk disguised beneath the surface. This became apparent as we first headed towards a steep treed slope south of the pass at Chattanooga. Reaching the base required negotiating the open waters of a babbling Mill Creek and our first run we cut short, finding the snow pack too shallow for comfort as we bottomed out on rocks and stumps. We decided to retrace our tracks and mine for snow elsewhere.
We returned to the pass, 800 feet higher, in the hopes the snow cover would be better. At 11,000 feet the official Red Mountain Pass snow stake reported a depth of 18 inches. Not much improvement but we slapped on the skins anyway and headed westward and upward. The sun was shining, the skies were blue and touring for turns is always a worthy endeavor.
Occasionally picking our way through rocks and grass we followed an old mining road, a notorious summer time 4 wheel drive route, which climbs over Black Bear Pass before plunging down to Telluride. With only a thin mantle of snow, the shapes of a bygone age were visible all around. Reaching Mineral Basin at 12,500 feet, we stopped for lunch and ripped off our skins before skiing the basin headwall back towards the highway.
The snow was heavily wind affected, alternating between breakable crust, soft but sculpted recycled powder, and an impenetrable sheet. Ski conditions could only be termed ‘challenging’ as it was difficult to predict what each turn would bring. Jump turns were necessary to launch out of, and land back in, the crud without catching an edge. But it was great fun and a good workout with mountain scenery second to none.
We modern day snow miners returned to the pass satisfied with our treasure haul and, of course, celebrated the day with a beer or few before heading home.
By Ann Driggers
Sunday, November 30, 2008
The Outdoor Junkie's first turns of the season.
The snow has finally begun to fall, without a doubt entirely due to the exceptional celebration conducted in honor of Ullr last weekend. My eyes have been glued to the weather station reports during the recent storm. Up to 22 inches had fallen in the Elks, easily enough snow to warrant an expedition in search of the first turns of the season. Sunday morning I headed up into the mountains and despite the somewhat nasty weather found a few other diehards out there, including my ski partner Craig Burger. After an hour and a half of skinning through sheltered trees, we had a descent of 2,000 feet below us. Although somewhat marginal below 10,000 feet the conditions were a huge improvement over the previous week. On the northerly aspects we found fresh snow, blown in 18 inches deep and enough to satisfy my immediate hunger for powder turns. The full-on winter blizzard conditions added to the excitement of dodging rocks and snow snakes (deadfall) in poor visibility. But it was great to be back on the skis after four months off, and with no injuries and our equipment returned relatively unscathed, the day was deemed a success.
Craig Burger shows how it's done on skinny tele skis.