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
Tuesday, September 4, 2012
Descending the 401 trail in Crested Butte - photo by Chris Webster.
At this time of year, on the cusp of Fall, I am possessed by a feverish need to cram in as much as I can. As the days shorten and the shadows lengthen, like a critter preparing for the winter ahead, I pick up the pace squirrelling away more summer memories. Another trail to ride, a mountain to climb, there is simply not enough time to fit in everything I had hoped. Still I do my best and this past weekend was no exception. I need another day off from work to recover from the holiday!
We headed to Crested Butte, that fun and funky little town plonked in the middle of the most ridiculously beautiful places on the planet. Our core group of six arrived and quickly swelled with the addition of local friends. Camped on the edge of town in a meadow amongst the glowing aspens and circled by mountains, we had rain and we had sun. There was riding, much laughter and silliness, more riding, plenty of partying, riding again and somewhere in the middle of the social and adventure vortex I managed to cram in one of my most memorable mountain hikes of the summer.
Although Mount Owen is a CB classic and at 13,058 feet the highest peak in the Ruby Range, it's not technical, or long or even requires much ascent. Still its fun, and occassionally airy, ridge hike and magnificent views quickly put it right to the top of the pile of my summer memories. Good company made it even better. My homies, Brittany and Twyla:
It started out as an easy hike along a road above Irwin and Kebler Pass, but being the local mountain goat, Brittany decided to mix it up for us and we headed cross-country to reach Green Lake.
Onwards and upwards to the pass between Ruby and Owen we head. The ridge stretches out behind towards the summit of Mount Owen in the distance:
The views were so ridonkulous every which way I looked, my head nearly span off.
On the summit looking out towards the Elks with the Maroon Bells, Pyramid and Castle prominent on the sky line:
And as has become customary....some extreme mountain yoga:
Just this weekend, in the space of three days we really noticed the leaves changing and the nights cooler. They say fall is a week ahead of schedule and the peak is not far away.
So I am crammin' to bank a few more 'summer' memories.
By Ann Driggers
Tuesday, August 28, 2012
"Did you buy a lotto ticket today? ..... Well you should have!" the firefighter said as he put up a road closed sign immediately behind us. We were the last ones to be allowed passage to the Main Salmon River that day, and as it turned out the following also. He was right - we were extremely lucky - not only had we been fortunate to be invited on one of the most sought after multi-day whitewater river trips in the U.S., but we had snuck in by the skin of our teeth. Numerous wildfires caused by lightning were burning in the 2.3 million acre Frank Church - River of No Return Wilderness through which the Salmon flows. One fire was in close proximity to the road accessing the river put-in at Corn Creek. By the time we had our conversation with the firefighter we had already driven 30+ miles down a gravel road, through the Incident Command Post, observed the helicopters waiting to ferry loads and a hundred tents lined up in a meadow for firefighters to catch a few hours sleep and smoke billowed above. Now we were lollygagging at the confluence of the Middle Fork, enjoying clearer skies and marvelling at the stunning views reminiscent, to me, of New Zealand.
This was the location where, in 1805, William Clark had returned to Meriwether Lewis and reported "the river from the place I left my party to this creek is almost one continued rapid, five very considerable rapids the passage of either with canoes is entirely impossible, as the water is confined between huge rocks and the current beating from one against another". As a result the Lewis & Clark expedition detoured the Salmon river and continued overland.
For us however a detour was not possible, nor wanted. We were committed to the River of No Return, to 80 miles of whitewater through a granite walled canyon, more than one mile deep in some of the most wild and scenic country in the U.S. And with the road closed behind us there was no going back.
We arrived at the put-in to find half of our party (9) already there and... that was it. We had the run of the campground, the ramp and the first choice of campsites for the entire trip. For a river that sees 6 parties of up to thirty people launching per day we felt like we had indeed won a lotto ticket. Except for the problem half our party was missing. The road remained closed overnight and the next morning the ranger arrived to tell us it was to remain closed for at least another 24 hours. After exchanging messages with the rest of our party via firefighter and ranger radios we decided to launch.
We had six rafts and food for 18 so we were quite the overloaded convoy as we set off. We were not going to starve that's for sure.
As we moved westerly away from the fire the skies cleared but we could see the smoke from a second fire just a few miles away.
A couple of new rapids, formed late last summer, kept our attention on the river for the remainder of the day and we drew into the Devils Teeth camp with the skies still clear.
The next morning as we prepared to launch the winds changed and the smoke moved back in.
At times the smoke was so dense our eyes streamed and burned and ash fell on the boat. Rowing through some of the bigger rapids felt almost apocalyptic.
Reaching camp on the second night the winds picked up and cleared away the smoke making for a very pleasant cocktail hour. Having seen no one else all day we jumped up at the sound of a jetboat to wave at what we assumed to be passing firefighters (who traversed up and down the river quickly in this manner). Imagine our surprise when the jetboat slowed, stopped on the beach and the lost half of our party disembarked. It was quite the entrance and quite the journey for them having driven 400 miles to the take-out and then chartered a jetboat to cover the 60 miles of river upstream to meet us.
From there on out it was a classic river trip with the addition of conditions fluctuating between clear blue skies, haze and billows of smoke. Still it was off the charts in fabulous funtasticnous.
It was evident this area burns frequently. We learned that in 2007 the Salmon River was closed due to a massive fire.
When the smoke cleared the view of the canyon was spectacular.
The waters were too warm to catch much of anything on a dry fly but we tried.
We ate very well on the trip though I was quite thankful we didn't have to eat 18 persons worth of food.
There are lots of fun rapids on the Salmon River. Many unnamed, lots of II's and III's and also several class IV's though at lower water levels they were relatively tame. Here Chad tries to drop us in a hole in a small Class II rapid.
And here is one of the larger rapids - Elkhorn.
Ah, the games we find to entertain at camp. Paco pad slip'n'slide:
And of course last night costumes:
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: