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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Escalante Backpacking

By Ann Driggers
Sunday, May 25, 2014

Every spring I like to briefly escape the mud season in the mountains and head to the desert for some warm sunshine, sand between my toes and to see the desert flowers blooming. This year my friend Holly and I set our sights on the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, specifically Coyote Gulch, a particularly spectacular tributary of the Escalante River. I had been part way down several years ago on a daytrip but wanted to go back and explore the gulch in its entirety so plans for a three day backpack were hatched.

Coyote Gulch, justifiably so, is one of the premier backpacking destinations of the desert southwest. It runs for 13 miles or so from close to the Hole-in-the-Rock Road (I like to call it Hole-in-the-Head Road on account of its horrible washboard which after 32 miles gets extremely tiresome). For a three day trip we decided to do an out and back so we could cover some miles - we do like to hike, not sit around - from the Redwell trailhead. The weather forecast wasn't too bad - highs in the low 70's, chance of rain one day, and some wind. Actually to be precise 'blowing dust' was on the agenda for the first day and evening. And boy oh boy did we get it. So much for the sand between the toes - there was sand between and in everything. The first night we lay in our tent at the trailhead, we were relentlessly buffeted by the wind and waves of sand blew through the tent mesh and into our sleeping bags, ears, eyes, everywhere.

Arising after a sleepless and gritty night the weather was calmer and as we entered the gulch were able to enjoy the incredible scenery for which we had come, and appreciate the winds role, along with water, in creating it. Jacob Hamlin Arch and the surrounding deep alcoves:

We spent one night camped under the arch before moving further down the gulch. On the second day we walked beneath Coyote Bridge:

We were pleasantly suprised by the lack of crowds only seeing approximately 10 people per day - unusual for Coyote Gulch in the spring but we did go midweek. We had our pick of the campsites and the second night scored a gorgeous spot in an alcove which kept us dry from the rain sprinkles and also out of the wind which, although not as aggro as on the first night still had a tendency to show its face every now and then.

The third day on our trip was actually my birthday so Holly and I had planned some treats with which to celebrate - really just an excuse for carrying in a birthday cake and a bottle of rum. I had found Crystal Light mojito mix at Target the week prior - score! Diluted with the cold water we found from springs gushing out of the rock and added to some Colorado Montanya rum and a little lime and mint, these mojitos are the backpacking cocktail of choice. I swear it tastes a lot better than it looks:

Delicious coconut chocolate ganache cake:

We cut it in half and had one night before my birthday (after all I was born in the UK which is seven hours ahead) and one the night of. So delicious despite the extra crunch added by sand. The mojitos we had every night. hic.

Nearing Coyote Gulch's end and its confluence with the Escalante River we decided to climb up and out of the gulch to get a view of the surrounding country. This was accomplished by a fun little trail called Crack-in-the-Rock. Since we had set up camp earlier in the day and left our backpacks at the bottom of the crack it was not an issue for us to squeeze through:

Up on the rim the views were expansive. We could see the Escalante River far below as it wound its way through the redrock and on the distant horizon we could see big rain clouds. It seemed as though we were in a donut hole of storms around us for which we were thankful.

On the final day of our trip we retraced our steps. Everything looked different coming back - the twists and the turns of the canyon, the angle at which the sunlight bounced off the walls and the water flowed in the opposite direction. I'm not always a big fan of an out-and-back hike or backpack but in this case I had no was stunning at every turn:

And then we were off on the second part of our desert adventure. Stay tuned.... 


Ears of the Earth

By Ann Driggers
Thursday, May 15, 2014

This spring it appears pasqueflowers, also known as the prairie crocus, are all over the place. I don't remember them being so prevalent in previous years. Exclamations of joy at their sight are a common occurance on our trail runs. Not only are they so beautiful and delicate they are the first flowers that we really see here in the high country. The Ute indians called them the "ears of the earth" as they listen for the coming of spring. The indian legend of the how the crocus came to be is here. In short the flower, then a simple white one, was granted three wishes for giving friendship to an indian boy during several cold early spring nights. The flower said "I would like to have the warmth and beauty of the yellow sun at my heart, the grace of all the purple mountains around me and a heavy fur robe to keep me warm."

My friend Janis is quite the poet so I challenged her to write a poem about the ears of the earth. Here are her wonderful words:

Romanticizing Nature

Natives named them
"Ears of the earth"
The purple-blue petals
Putting on alluring armor
Pushing, through frosty soil

Angelic hairs around each
Perfectly freckled flower
Resemble ears of cats or deer
It isn't entirely unbelievable
That flowers listen to the wind
For a rustle of summer
Or something...
Perhaps the hungry hum
Of hovering wings

The ripping cold winds
Encourage delicate heads to
Pull protective petals inward
Pasques are amongst
The first to risk
Remnants of winter

Now they are opening, offering
Sweet parts to pollination
To something like love.

~~~ Janis


Run to Rattlesnake

By Ann Driggers
Sunday, May 4, 2014

Last week I enjoyed a beautiful run to see the Rattlesnake Arches in the Black Ridge Canyons Wilderness, outside of Fruita in the Grand Valley. Just minutes from I70 and adjacent to the Colorado National Monument, this area gives you quick access to the best red rock canyon country in Colorado. Extra bonus is the arches found along the rim of Rattlesnake Canyon which are the highest concentration found outside of Arches National Park. Janis, Holly and I chose to start at the lower trailhead, known as Pollock Bench, so we could log some miles underfoot and take in the incredible scenery along the way.

Lower down the trail traverses a number of mesas and canyons, up and down, with a couple of fun little scrambles and creek crossings. Early spring flowers were out in force, the first act of an incredible show the desert will put on over the next month. A kaleidoscope of color unfolded before us. Set against the cerulean blue sky and red rock walls was a carpet of bright green flecked with vibrant red paintbrush, white primroses, purple milkvetch, yellow daisies, white pepperseed, lavender phlox and blue scorpionweed. It was spectacular! The desert is such a rich environment in the spring.

Having started at the Colorado River and with Rattlesnake Canyon up 1,500 feet higher, we knew we'd have some climbing to do. Sure enough the trail morphed from being very runnable and rolling to a steep, rocky incline.

When we reached the top the views were pretty awesome. The Bookcliffs far off in the distance stretch deep into Utah and in the foreground the Colorado River carves its way through the earth's folds.

After 6 miles we reached Arches Alley where 7 arches line up one after the other along the rim of Rattlesnake Canyon.

We cruised along the trail taking in the sights before it dead ended and we returned the way we came. We were greeted on the homestretch by fields of primroses - a lovely way to end a fifteen mile run.

The whole way we did not see one other person. If solitude amongst beautiful scenery is what you are after (and I don't know who isn't) this trail comes highly recommended.


Spring in My Step

By Ann Driggers
Thursday, May 1, 2014

Spring! The battleground between winter and summer is no more apparent than when I'm out on the trails which I've been hitting hard for the last six weeks. At the beginning of the trail running season I tend to be optimistic as to conditions. More often than not I end up slipping and skidding my way around in mud and snow.

Patience! Soon enough the snow has melted at lower elevations and I can claim the trails back from winter and from the elk. I have been beating a path around my regular haunts to replace hoof prints with my own, smoothing out the pock marks while the soil is still soft. The elk have moved higher, following the green line as it creeps up the mountainsides.

Trails, which last fall seemed old hat, are new again. It’s a joy to run a trail for the first time in the spring. And then again and again, each time something new to see and smell as the earth awakes. The bones of winter are gradually being dressed in a cloak of green. Leaves bud and then unfurl. Tiny green shoots poke through the earth. Every day I see new flowers, at first tiny yellow buttercups and dwarf bluebells. But then, as the snow banks recede from the pinon and juniper forests, the lovely pasque flowers emerge. This beautiful lavender bloom is a sure sign that spring is here.

As spring ramps up so do the miles I cover. More trails open up and my weekly mileage increases as my running legs get stronger. Goals are set, races are signed up for and plans laid out. Goals and long runs are even better when shared. A run shared is a run halved? More like a run shared is double the enjoyment. My friend Janis has been joining me for many runs which has been super fun. Here she eats up the trail on a 12 miler out on Carbondale's Red Hill:

Janis on Glenwoods Boy Scout trail, high up on the side of Lookout Mountain with great views of the Colorado River as it snakes its way through town:

Some days it seems as summer is winning the battle as we run in warm sunshine and under blue skies. And then winter is back again with its freezing temperatures, biting winds and snow squalls blurring the mountain views.

Well that's spring for you! And I'm not complaining especially when I get to run in places like these. 


Spring Powder

By Ann Driggers
Saturday, April 19, 2014

As we move through spring the opportunities for skiing fresh powder become less and less. The key is to get out as the snow is falling or immediately following. It's a race against the sun - if its rays touch the fresh snow it turns to mush in a heartbeat. Being a weekend warrior it can be hard to get the timing right but a couple of weekends ago I lucked out big time, scoring a line I've wanted to ski for eons in the most delicious conditons imaginable.

My friends Amy and Marti and I had it in our minds to drop off the right side of Highlands Ridge into Maroon Bowl, but as we hiked into the storm we were engulfed by roiling clouds, fog and snow. The visibility was terrible and when we left the Highlands backcountry exit gate conditions seemed to get worse. We poked around for about 45 minutes, in the wrong place, looking for entry to our line and praying that the storm would abate so we could see where we hoped to go. Finally it did!

We had a fun little butt scooting down a chute to get to the top of our line:

Then we were salivating at the untouched powder that lay before us under clearing skies:

It was as incredible as it looked:

In fact it was one of the best runs of the year. Most delicious!

As is often the case, in the spring, exit from lines such as these always has an entertaining log crossing to add a little more spice. Actually this one was not too bad.

As long as you don't drop a ski pole in the water....and you have to chase it down while your ski partners roll around on the bank in laughter....

Either way, scoring a line like this in all time spring powder conditions will stay in the memory bank for a long time.

Post Script: A video recently appeared on vimeo which appears to be two snowboarders we dropped in right behind. Their tracks are visible in one of the photos above. Check it out, it's pretty sweet: Maroon Bowling

If I had known they were fiming I would have totally pulled some of those moves. Massive cornice problem. wink

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