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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The Commando Run

By Ann Driggers
Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Commando Run is a ski tour from Vail Pass to Vail which, according to the Falcon Winter Trails guidebook, is named for the U.S. Army's 10th Mountain Division soldiers who used the route for training in high altitude skiing combat and for the commando raids during world war II. An excellent history of the 10th Mountain Division can be found over on Lou Dawson's Wildsnow website.

For us it was an opportunity to spend a big day out on skis on what is considered to be one of the most challenging and best ski tours in Colorado. Pegged at 18 miles with 2,800 feet  of ascent and 5,000 feet of descent it's fairly stiff. We decided to switch it up and swapped out the prescribed descent down the Vail ski area with the more adventurous Minturn Mile. The additional distance was more than compensated by ending up at the Minturn Saloon which functioned as a big fat carrot throughout the day.

Just before 8:30 a.m. the Flying Five Troop departed Vail Pass as a storm cleared leaving behind a few inches of cold fresh snow.

Headed west towards Shrine Pass:

The new snow was just enough to freshen up the surface but not enough to slow us down. In fact we were surprised at the cold temperatures on what was forecast to be a warmish spring day. We had every kind of weather during the trip - sun, snow, rain, and wind - but ultimately the conditions were excellent for fast travel, unlike my previous time on this route when we were bogged down in gloppy snow and searing heat.

After five miles or so we reached the ridge which gave us panaromic views of the Gore Range to our right and lofty fourteener Mount of the Holy Cross to our right. Trooper Malone catches a glimpse of the legendary mountain through the swirling clouds:

As we descended the north west flank of Battle Mountain we enjoyed some nice powdery turns. Here Trooper Tibboel is dwarfed by the old growth trees:

After our peaceful time wandering in the woods we entered the Vail ski area. It was like another planet and it was harsh. We plowed through the mass of seething humanity and beat a hasty exit into the Minturn Mile. Although a popular 'backcountry' run we found some nice untracked chalky snow and a dearth of spring breakers. Back in heaven Trooper Gingrich lays sweet telemark turns into the Game Creek drainage:

We traveled all the way down this valley with the evergreens on the left and aspens on the right until it ends high left of picture center in Minturn. As we progressed the snow conditions became more spring-like requiring surfing of snow bridges through beaver ponds, some rock hopping and removal of skis at one point. Yours truly, Trooper Driggers, practices her best snowplow on the narrow trail at the end of the renamed Mudturn Mile:

After 6 hours and 45 minutes and approximately 19 miles, we reach the end of the Commando Run. Trooper Gingrich is stoked:

As are the rest of the Flying Five with celebratory beers at the Minturn Saloon.

Job well done, my fine soldiers!


Between the Moon and the Sun

By Ann Driggers
Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Many mornings I rise early to ‘dawn patrol’, skinning up and skiing down a nearby mountain before work. Some days, in the depths of the winter, it’s too early to see but a glimmer of sun rise and headlamps are needed as we ski through the inky darkness. Other mornings it’s snowing hard in huge fat flakes and I revel in making deep powder turns as I ski back down. Every time is different and enjoyable in its unique way. But this morning was exceptional for I experienced a beautiful moon set and the most exquisite sunrise I have ever seen.

It was below -5F as I started out with the light of the waning gibbous Snow Moon illuminating the mountain. I climbed fast, trying to warm my chilled body. Upon reaching the summit I looked to the west, as the moon sank through the earth’s shadow, its umbra cast into the deep indigo sky.

To the east, Mount Sopris and the peaks of the Elk Range pierced through a bank of cloud as the golden orb of the sun slowly rose.

The cold night air had formed hoar frost on every surface - snow, trees, shrubs and rocks - which glittered and sparkled in the blue and orange light.

It was, quite simply, magical. I thought it wouldn't get any better until I looked to the north and into the aspens.

The bank of cloud was now rising and billowed through the enchanted forest...

It was so spectacular and such a spiritual experience I almost cried!

 Now the sun was marching upwards, the world full of bright white light  and the moon had slid behind the Mesa on the western horizon. So I skied down.

The wonderous moment where I stood between the moon and the sun was over. But as I carried it with me, I felt as though I was floating on one of those beautiful clouds all day long.


Spring Teaser

By Ann Driggers
Monday, February 18, 2013

Touring long and high in the Elks this weekend, the conditions had me thinking of spring more than winter. Despite blustery winds and ragged clouds scudding across the sky, the promise of the next season was tangible. The warmer weather, longer days and a deeper snowpack are conducive to long distance travel to places of solitude, to reaching lofty summits and encourage exploration into the unknown. Yesterday we had a little teaser of what is to come with a foray deep into the mountains, gaining a high peak and completing a loop using GPS and knowledge of terrrain gleaned from summer hikes.

Love me some *almost* spring high mountain touring. Stoked for more to come!


Into the Backwoods

By Ann Driggers
Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Again, for the second year in a row, we have a dodgy snowpack to deal with here in Colorado. I have not ventured out into the backcountry as much as usual but this past weekend we hit up one of my favorite zones on the west slope. Here, in the backwoods, the snowpack is deeper and perhaps a little less tender than most other areas of the state. Still we kept to north west aspects and lower angled terrain, playing it safe in the trees. The aspens and evergreens were still loaded with snow even though it was four days after the most recent storm. The shaded aspects kept the snow cold and smooth and we reveled in the joy of skiing laps through untracked glades under a brilliant blue sky. Giggles and grins abound.


The High Life

By Ann Driggers
Saturday, January 26, 2013

In the realm of Colorado hut tripping, our weekend at the new Opa's Taylor hut had just about everything one can hope for - travel through stunning scenery, bluebird weather, excellent company, delicious food and a well built and beautiful new hut with spectacular views. Completed in the fall of 2012, we lucked out when reservations opened in November and scored two nights for the eight of us. Situated at 11,800 feet Opa's is the highest hut in the Tenth Mountain/Braun hut system. The altitude doesn't necessarily make for sweet slumber but in every other aspect we certainly experienced the high life. Here's how:

A 7.5 mile skin through a stunning high alpine valley with ragged rock walls towering 1,000 feet above us:

Enjoying watching the baguette mule aka the Doctor of Intoxicology as he crests Little Italian Pass, and wondering what gourment food and beverage delights are stuffed into the deep recesses of his pack:

Arriving at the hut and stoked to find it to be the nicest one we have ever visited - think beautiful wood floors and walls, well designed and efficient use of space, three private bedrooms, snowflake flannel sheets, an oven, an espresso maker, blow your socks off views - up close Taylor and Star Peaks and further away the Sawatch Range and Taylor Park, and an 'outhouse' with the same views through its floor to ceiling windows. And celebrated said arrival with Aviations (thanks Dr!!) and smoked salmon and fixings for starters.

After a long night of partying and fitful sleep, watching sunrise, especially at this elevation and with these views just never gets old:

Despite the sub par snow conditions still enjoying turns:

The comraderie of our gaggle of girlfriends, their hutslippers and leis:

Viewing local wildlife off the deck:

A high alpine tour for lunch: 

Which was followed by 1,000 feet of turns on sastrugi and therein was the cause of our abandoning any aspirations of finding good snow and returning to the hut early in the afternoon in favor of drinking Brandy Alexanders:

And some yoga:

And then deciding we should in fact be skiing when on a hut trip and heading out for a few happy hour laps with Cognac and Blackberry Brandy:

And returning to find the purpose of the baguettes - fondue!! and the Dr's pack had also harbored an entire fondue set! which we didn't leave at the hut so you will have to bring your own. This was accompanied by  Old Fashioneds made with bacon-infused bourbon (thanks Rob!):

And finally, watching the sunset over the Sawatch Range and remembering a friend whose life was cut short in an avalanche less than a week before. His spirit lives here in these mountains:

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