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
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.
By Ann Driggers
Monday, September 29, 2008
It seems that every September I fall in love all over again. With fall. The exquisite colors and smells, the unpredictable weather, holds me rapturous for a brief but blissful time each year. The shortness of the season seems to heighten the senses and the intensity of the experience. Knowing that I have but a few weeks to soak it all in, I take every opportunity to do so. If there is a better way to spend a day than wandering through an aspen forest, dappled sunlight shimmering through the golden quakies, I don’t know it. The crunch of leaves underfoot, a ripe and musty smell rising from the vibrant undergrowth, a breeze blowing soft and warm one minute, turning to a cold downdraft from the snow-dusted peaks the next, the mountains are preparing to sleep. And I can’t get enough of it. Here are some pictures of my weekend of romance with autumn.
Tikka likes to get out as much as I do. Chasing chipmunks and searching for water are her priorities though.
By Ann Driggers
Monday, September 15, 2008
Shivering in the crisp 36 degree fall air I found myself lined up at the start of the Lead King Loop 25k trail race. Billed the most scenic race in Colorado in 2006, it is also a monster, its 16 miles looping through mountainous terrain in the Maroon-Bells Snowmass Wilderness. With 4,000 feet of climbing, most of it in the first five miles, I admit to being a little nervous too.
As the sun crept down the mountain sides in downtown Marble we were off. The first mile, rounded Beaver Lake, its spectacular views up the Yule Creek drainage a forecast of the beauty to come. This ‘flattish’ half mile section was the short warm-up. Soon enough the rough road raised itself towards the sky, its steepness reducing many, including myself, to a walk. For an hour and 15 minutes the road switch backed its way towards Lead King Divide, alternating between the dappled sunlight of the cool aspen forest and the frosted open meadows. Likewise we mere mortals alternated between an asphyxiating attempt at running and a lung-searing speed hike. Just as I thought my wheels were about to spin wildly off into the forest, I crested the Divide. The elevator shaft had finally delivered me to the penthouse suite of the Elk Mountains. And what a sight it was. The storms of last week had left a mantle of snow on the highest peaks. The undergrowth and leaves were starting to take on their autumnal orange and yellow hues. The sky was a piercing blue and the sun was finally starting to warm my chilled limbs. To top it all off, the trail started to snake its way downwards into sublime Lead King Basin. A huge smile spread across my face as I flew down a few miles of smooth road towards the Crystal River.
After crossing the river on a somewhat precarious log we left the Basin and headed down towards Crystal City.
The road into town (population one) was rocky, loose, steep and hard going. Having passed a few racers on the climb up, I now found them speeding past me on the downhill. I was heartened however when I succeeded in passing an older gentleman in Crystal, although he had actually stopped. Apparently to drink a pale ale, he told me as he later sped on by. Blame for that embarrassing moment I laid entirely on his ‘performance-enhancing fuel’. The last five miles followed a rocky and wet 4WD road back into Marble. Weaving in and out of the puddles, and two and a half hours out of the starting gate, my legs started to complain. But at least the road was relatively flat, and followed the aquamarine waters of the Crystal River providing me with a beautiful distraction to the pain. I crossed the finish line in just under three hours, for about 12th place. So no marble medals for me though I did take full advantage of the racers trough, foraging on bar-b-que pork, cookies and beer. Along with the scenery, the finishers feast is one of the rewards of running such tortuous races. The Lead King Loop is top of my list.
By Ann Driggers
Saturday, September 13, 2008
After the tough run on the Hay Park trail we settled on a short hike into the Maroon Bells-Snowmass wilderness to loosen our tired and sore muscles. The trail to Geneva Lake has incredible scenery in all directions. Somewhat reminding me of the Alps, the trail clings to the mountainside, switchbacking ever upwards. We were fortunate to see the last of the wildflowers in full bloom, since they have now been pushed above 10,000 feet. Arriving at the lake we settled in to fish against one of the best backdrops ever - Snowmass mountain's rocky west face. While I relaxed on the shore drooling at potential winter ski lines on the surrounding peaks Chad was busy catching plentiful trout.