By Ann Driggers
Wednesday, October 24, 2012
In the mountains the air is cold, the sky is full of ragged clouds, grey like raw wool, and snow has fallen on rotting leaves and barren trees. Winter is closing in and autumn has fled down river, to the desert where the light is still bright and the trees are blazing. We follow the eddy line, the seam between the seasons, as far as we can in western Colorado and beyond. We take to the river, for what better way to experience the remainder of fall and, if we are honest, hanker for the summer that is gone.
The cottonwood trees at rivers edge are on fire. Bald eagles, more than we can count, settle in to overwinter. They perch still and majestic on the dark gnarled branches amongst the ochre leaves, watching as we silently glide beneath on the languid river.
In thick golden light we camp. Kick off shoes, dig and wriggle our toes in the cool sand. The song of a canyon wren cascades down the walls as the river quietly flows on.
In the evening hours, as shadow settles over the earth, the departing sun paints the colors of the desert into the sky.
The dark curtain of the cool night falls as the Hunter's moon burns bright above. We gather around a fire, warm light flickering on the canyon walls.
Sunrise gilds the river. A heron wades in shallow waters while high above a formation of honking geese fly south. We will the sun closer as the line of warmth creeps ever so slowly towards us shivering in the shade.
Plying the oars we take to the river again. We emerge from the deep fissure in the earth and into open pastures. The sky is bigger here and all around, the sun is warm and I am thinking I will never get tired of looking at golden leaves and the big blue sky and floating on the river. And I am thinking how can it be the winter will come and chase away the fall?
And just as I am thinking all this, it ends. Our eddy line is no more and we take out for the final time.
By Ann Driggers
Tuesday, October 9, 2012
On a short hike in the high country last weekend it was apparent winter is closing in: frozen ground, leaves and grasses brittle, streams and springs rimed with ice. Even at the relatively low elevation of 9,000 feet the thermometer struggled to break 40 degrees at high noon. A harsh north wind blew, shaking the few leaves still hanging on, a death rattle in the forest. The mountains, just a few days ago a riot of glorious color, are now washed to a dull brown while a cap of white begins to accumulate on the highest peaks.
It is only a matter of weeks until we will be skiing these mountains, Ullr willing. In the meantime there are plenty of desert adventures to be had. We wait, some of us not so patiently, while winter bears down.
By Ann Driggers
Thursday, October 4, 2012
Summer has officially ended and, despite my love of fall and the season which follows, I am sorry to see this summer gone. It was a good one.
Adios Summer, thanks for your great times and we'll see you next year.
Above, Avalanche Lake in the Elk Mountains, early summer, we reveled in beachlife at 10,000 feet.
By Ann Driggers
Monday, September 24, 2012
This past weekend we headed to the Grand Mesa for a friends wedding party held at their family's idylic mountain cabin, in a grove of aspen trees near Powderhorn. The autumn colors were off the hook - brilliant oranges, glowing yellows and vibrant reds. Perhaps its because we were shortchanged last year, but they do seem to be some of the best we've ever seen.
A wonderful afternoon and evening were spent in this gorgeous location with many friends old and new, celebrating marriage, family and friendship. Wine and beer flowed, bar-b-que was consumed. The band, local favorites Straygrass played, as we danced under the rising moon amidst the luminous aspens.
The next day, despite the excesses of the night before, we rallied for a mountain bike ride on the classic Grand Mesa trail, West Bench.
Running from Jumbo Lakes across the top of Powderhorn ski area it is fairly mellow singletrack with a few rock gardens thrown in. Although only 11 miles out and back it took an inordinate amount of time due to the fact we kept stopping to take pictures. Here's why:
All photos of Krissy Steele by me ^. Chad ...
Lift Two group photo. We gave ourselves trail names based upon the sign. I was Snowcloud (of course), Krissy was Hooker (haha), Mike was Hooligan and Chad was Warning! No one wanted to be Tenderfoot.
After finishing up West Bench we headed back down to Powderhorn on some secret singletrack Chad knew. I quickly saw why it was so secret.
Beavers had blocked the trail with their dams, water flowed down, there was lots of deadfall. It became a little adventuresome for a short while and I was thinking secret might not be good so after all. More than a handfull of riders a year would certainly help clear the trail a little.
After thrashing through the undergrowth and lugging our bikes through the jungle gym, finally it opened up and super sweet singletrack unfurled through the glowing forest.
^ Me, photo by K.
K, photo by me....
And then it was wheeeeeee all the way home. Or back to Powderhorn for more beer and bar-b-que. Grand!
By Ann Driggers
Tuesday, September 11, 2012
Fall in the high country. A melting pot, both a juxtaposition and fusion of seasons, where the mountains shed their summer mantle, layers peeled away, before being stripped down bare, to the bones of winter. Warm sunny days are followed by cool nights and crisp mornings. Lush greens are overtaken by golds, yellows, russets and vibrant reds, all set against a deep blue sky. The bright fragrance of flowers and frenzy of growth is replaced with the ripe aroma of decay, both sweet and musty. Leaves are brittle and dry, rattling in the breeze, and the majestic bugle of an elk echoes across the valley. The cadence of the earth is slow and heavy.
This is fall and into the high country we go. Like the diversity of the season, a 30 mile loop circumnavigating the mountain which gives the Holy Cross Wilderness its name, provides a perfect tour of autumn in the mountains. From rugged, windswept passes well above tree line, to dense pine and aspen forests with dappled sunlight shimmering through the golden quakies. From faint paths scribbled across the spongy alpine tundra to rocky trails tracing the ridges and knolls of the valley sides. From pure blue tarns set in granite bowls fed by crystal waters cascading down like tears, to the meandering creeks which languish into muddy swamps on the valley floors. This is our world for a weekend.
We set out into the dusk, weighed down with heavy packs. An occasional break in the dark evergreen forest affording views as late evening light casts long shadows of purple and umber into the distant peaks of the Gore Range.
By nightfall we have traveled four miles and reach Lake Constantine. Cold hands struggle to function as we stumble around in the dark pitching our tents. A quick dinner and we are tucked in for the night, a vain attempt of sleep for we toss and turn at this high altitude of 11,300 feet.
Daybreak. A hard frost, the ground brittle and white. We shiver and coax our stoves to life. Sunrise brings streams of pale light spilling through the trees and mist rising from still waters.
As we lean into the climb, the sun rises higher and its warm fingers finally pry layers of clothing from our chilled bodies.
At Fall Creek Pass rocky ridges soar and a waxing crescent moon hangs above, like thin rice-paper in the bright midday sun.
The trail drops off sharply below us into a jumble of granite, a string of lakes, aquamarine and emerald jewels sparkle in the distance.
Fancy Pass, a steep but steady climb through fractured rock, the debris of old mining claims lies around.
From this elevation of over 12,000 feet we can see the shape of the Collegiate Peaks, the Elk Range and even further where they disappear into the mountains of southern Colorado.
We are on top of our world, walking through the sky.
And then it's down again. The upper reaches of the Cross Creek drainage are a perfect bowl rising gradually from smooth grassy meadows up forested flanks to high benches.
After 14+ miles on the trail we wearily pull into camp, our feet leaden but our minds and hearts full.
The last magic hour of light. The glassy surface of the lake filled with cloud and sky, as alpenglow lights the distant peaks.
And then darkness. A velvet night. We lie on the ground our eyes filled with the Milky Way and shooting stars.
Another cold frosty morning quickly gives way to warm sunshine as we continue our trek following the bipolar Cross Creek, one minute roaring through boulders, the next still and languid.
Golden aspens frame the Mount of the Holy Cross towering above us at over 14,000 feet and at our feet, if eyes are sharp enough, we find forest treasure, boletus mushrooms.
The trail is long and rocky, endlessly climbing and then dropping up the sides of the valley, through thick pine forests scattered with mouton rochees and large granite boulders left by a retreating glacier. It's a slog and in deep contrast to the previous day where we walked through the sky. It's hot too, at these lower elevations - a reminder that summer has not yet officially ended.
With the final crossing of the creek and after two days and two hours of hiking our tour of the high country draws to a close. This was our world for a weekend.