By Ann Driggers
Sunday, August 26, 2012
As of this weekend the season has begun to change. For the first time I feel the finger tips of fall wrapped around the edges of the dog days of summer.
On a morning ride on the Snowmass Rim Trail the damp musty smell of dying grass and rain drenched sagebrush accompanied a little burst of yellow in the aspens and a tinge of gold across the mountain sides of oakbrush.
The afternoon did warm sufficiently we retreated to the river for a float. Still the warm days are now followed by cool evenings and crisp mornings.
Rabbit brush blooms in the meadows as a sunrise alpenglow strikes Mount Sopris.
No frost yet but cool enough for gloves until the sun rises. Low angle light hiking through the aspen glades:
Yarrow and fireweed are the only flowers we saw and the alpine tundra has taken on a brown tinge.
The air at 12,000 feet has a crispness that wasn't there three weeks ago.
We salute the opening of a new season.
By Ann Driggers
Tuesday, August 7, 2012
The waning Sturgeon Moon cast a silver gleem through the inky darkness, enough for us to hike out of the forest and up towards Half Moon Pass without headlamps. To the east, the teeth of the jagged Gore range sawed into the salmon glow cast by the rising sun while the bright orb of planet Venus dazzled in the dark sky.
Despite our bleary eyes and groggy minds the benefits of our alpine start were immediately apparent for there is no compare to watching the sun rise in the high mountains as ridges and peaks soar above. We continued our hike, now descending, back into the dark forest and the deep glaciated gorge of East Cross Creek. Twilight slowly loosened its grip and we caught glances of our ultimate goal - the Mount of the Holy Cross - looming far above, and other mountains across the valley such as Mount Jackson.
By the time the suns warming rays reached us we were above treeline on its north flank, Half Moon Pass off in the distance.
And the moon that had provided our early morning light now fading in the west.
Upon reaching the north ridge the rugged summit finally appears.
Being a Fourteener and probably the most well known in Colorado, we expected crowds. Pleasantly suprised, we found ourselves hiking alone, no doubt another benefit of the alpine start.
We were fortunate to spend 15 minutes on the summit before others showed.
Twyla celebrated her first Fourteener with a few yoga poses.
It was only 8:30 a.m. and not a cloud in the sky - a rarity for this heavy monsoon season we have had in Colorado.
Before leaving I peered down the Cross Couloir down which I hope to ski one winter. This is the couloir that gives the mountain it's name but devoid of snow the cross is not visible.
The hike out was long and hot and it wasn't until we were almost back up to Half Moon Pass that we saw the peak in its entirety.
I usually avoid Fourteeners in the summer, preferring the solitude, a good snow climb and an exhilerating ski descent one finds in winter months. I am happy that with Mount of the Holy Cross I decided to make an exception to my MO. It is a spectacular place and we had a spectacular day.
By Ann Driggers
Monday, July 23, 2012
Valhalla is a hall in Norse mythology where the chosen ones go upon death, a heaven of sorts. It's also a newly built downhill flow trail at Snowmass resort, a trail so good that anyone who rides it must surely feel they are indeed the chosen ones and have been transported to heaven.
Designed by Gravity Logic of Whistler it is a 2.75 mile descent full of bermed, banked, flowing trail with plenty of jumps, walls, s-turns and other features, all designed for the maximum amount of fun possible on a bike. Even better the Elk Camp Gondola transports you and bike to the summit without a single uphill pedal stroke. Of course most who venture onto this trail are on downhill specific bikes which are heavy and soft with more suspension than a Cadillac, and kitted out with full face helmets and body armour. We on the other hand were riding very light, titanium, hard tail cross-country bikes, and Chad's was even a singlespeed. Not that one needed gears on this trail, but it was pretty entertaining to see us standing in line with the hardcore downhill freeride crowd.
It didn't stop us from going out and tearing it up.
Although I didn't have the cojones for it Chad even rode up the wall several times.
His expression on the exit says it all:
After we lapped Valhalla a few times we decided to explore the rest of the lift accessed trails on Snowmass. The Vapor trail goes from the summit of the Elk Camp chair with great views towards the Maroon Bells and Willow. Having been up here countless times in winter it was strange to see it in summer, so beautiful and no one there.
The view from the cockpit heading out on Vapor, another worthy trail:
We also took the cross mountain trail and rode some super sweet, very narrow singletrack over on Sam's Knob, came back, rode the Valhalla trail again, then finished the day with Government, Sequel, Tom Blake and Owl Creek back to the base. All in all we rode for 7 hours and descended 10,000 feet, which for the first time on the bike for several months wasn't too shabby.
At only $18 for a lift ticket (half price due to winter pass) we will surely be back, especially as we saw several other trails being worked on, reportedly due to open next month.
A rare photo of me on the Vapor trail:
By Ann Driggers
Sunday, July 1, 2012
Inching slowly, the line between light and dark crept down the face of North Maroon as we climbed steadily towards it. The brightness of the rising sun washed the color out of the red rock and cast long shadows across the meadows, even from the smallest flowers. It was the golden hour of morning, the time when the earth was born anew and we were lucky enough to be hiking through it. As Karlie said later, “The hours before 9 a.m. are free hiking hours”. She was right for these were the early miles, we were fresh and it felt as though we were transported upwards, treading lightly on the trail, floating toward the first of the four passes we would cross that day.
Earlier, as we had approached the trailhead at dawn, the Maroon Bells were burnished a burnt umber, steadily and almost imperceptibly turning to a glowing vermillion as we shouldered our packs. In the dark forest below our giddy excitement was tempered with a slight apprehension at the magnitude of the day ahead - 26 miles and 8,000 feet of elevation gain over four passes of over 12,000 feet. Having completed the Four Passes Loop as a three day backpacking trip a couple of years ago I have long harbored a desire to nail it in a day, a whirlwind tour of one of the most scenic places on the planet, the Maroon Bells Snowmass Wilderness, and a decent physical test. So when I received a message from my winter ski partner Scott, asking if I wanted to hike it in a day with his wife Karlie, my response was to the point, “YES!!!”.
So here we were a week later - one day, two gals and four passes....join us on our Grand Day Out....
The quitessential mountain scene of Colorado is our starting point - the Maroon Bells and Maroon Lake. Gracing many a postcard, so overexposed, but as always, too beautiful to resist taking a photo:
We decided to hike anti-clockwise and thus tackling the two largest climbs early in the day. The first, just shy of 3,000 feet was stiff, but with the companionship of Tosha and Hobbs, and using two of the three golden hours available to us, we quickly reached Bucksin Pass (12,462 feet).
Our second pass of the day lies to the left of Snowmass Peak and Mountain on the horizon at the edge of the picture. If you think it looks a long way off, you wouldn't be wrong. The camera never lies.
Snowmass Lake, again a mind bogglingly spectacular place. Hobbs has the right idea and goes for a soak before we say goodbye to him and Tosha.
Karlie romps up the 1,500 foot climb towards Trailrider Pass with Snowmass Lake below.
Karlie is in fact a beast for underneath all that prettiness lies a hiker of steel. Several years ago she completed the Pacific Crest Trail, hiking from Mexico to Canada in one summer and earning the title of a PCT Thru-hiker. This is a big deal and my knowledge of it contributed somewhat to my apprehension about the day - Would I be able to keep up? Would my legs turn to noodles in the company of this hiking machine?
On Trailrider Pass (12,420 ft) the columbines were off the hook carpeting the north side of the pass.
From the pass looking south into familiar territory for me - Lead King Basin with Treasure Mountain behind - the trail wending its way downwards again:
Making our way up the North Fork of the Crysal River, 7 miles to the next pass, behind the red rock on the right.
At the base of Kings Falls before switchbacking up around them and into Fravert Basin.
Fravert Basin, yet another place I am going to call one of the most beautiful I have every been. The trail switchbacks up to Frigidair Pass (12,420 feet) just to the left of the cloud, through a carpet of high alpine tundra and flowers. The recent rains have much improved the flowers in the high country. Just a few days seems to have made much of a difference providing a tour de fleurs for us. I wish I knew the names of them all but I don't. I can tell you they look real pretty though.
One of the local residents hanging on his front porch just below the pass. I'd say he has one of the best views in the land - that's the south west face of Maroon Peak.
On the final climb of the day:
The hiking machine is still going. And I am somehow keeping up! 20 miles down and 6 to go.
Although we were definitely starting to feel that we had not in fact been lounging around for the past 10 hours we were still quite spry and in excellent spirits. At our final and highest pass of the day, West Maroon (12,500 feet) we look forward to the downhill back to the trail head. Karlie spreads some ashes from her old hiking partner, Jake, who had joined her on many adventures past, his four paws having padded over this very spot in years past.
Despite building clouds, the rain held off, barr a couple of drops. The last 6 miles flew by as we picked up the pace and soon enough we were trotting around Crater Lake, dusty, sticky and dreaming of beer and nachos.
Four passes in one day - yep we are stoked.
By Ann Driggers
Thursday, June 21, 2012
The Summer Solstice is upon us. Sun high and bright in the sky. What better way to celebrate the longest day of the year than an evening float on the Roaring Fork.
I ply the oars, trying to read the water with a fisherman's mind. Let's just say it's a work in progress with a lot of opportunity to improve. What I have learned - lining up for the funnest ride down the rapids is *not* the best way to position the boat for fly fishing. Still, just being on the water for a three whole hours, after work, is to be savored.
As we pull in to the take-out, the last of the Sun's rays warm the western sky and the Earth has tilted and begun the slow slide of shorter days towards Fall.
Happy Summer Solstice!