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
Monday, June 16, 2014
All of a sudden spring has finally arrived here in the mountains. Unlike years past where it seeped in a tepid and steady trickle, it fairly exploded on the scene. A super intense, bright, neon, fresh green is saturating the earth. Now snow lies only above 10,000 feet and the lower mountains are open for business. Believe you me I am taking advantage of it!
Long slender trunks rooted in the earth soar upwards and touch the sky where wind whispers in the tree tops. The sun falls through shimmering leaves, dappling the forest floor and the trail winding through it. As my feet tap out the steady rhythm of a long run, I am held spellbound, captivated by the magic of an aspen forest.
Wheels roll over bumpy ground pocked by elk, hop over fallen trees and brambles smart my legs as we are some of the first to ride the trails this spring. Although it has barely started its growth the forest floor seems lush already. Skunk cabbage slowly unfurls its massive leaves and the first of the wildflowers punch through the earth. Larkspur seems to be especially abundant this year, carpeting meadows a deep blue.
The heady scent of the white blooms of the mountain serviceberry fills the air. Around every turn a budding flower, a new leaf unfurled, and the fresh smell of spring. Even though the summer solstice approaches there is not enough time in the day for me to drink it all in. We ride and run until sunset.
By Ann Driggers
Sunday, June 8, 2014
We set off as the sun was creeping over the horizon, stomachs fluttering with excitement and legs fresh. Here at 7,500 feet the spring air was cool and aspen leaves were just beginning to unfurl. As the suns warming rays flooded the forest with light we fell into a steady rhythm, slow but purposeful, cognizant of the long day ahead and wanting to have full immersion in our surroundings.
Our goal was to run from the west rim to the east rim of Utah’s Zion National Park, a total distance of 27 miles, essentially traversing Zion Canyon, one of the most spectacular landscapes in the U.S., if not the world. Many miles had passed beneath our feet to bring us to this point, training in the cold and snowy months of a Colorado winter, dreaming of this beautiful and warm red rock country. Like a golden carrot dangling before us this run was greatly anticipated by Holly, Janis and myself.
Finally we were here! The skies were blue, the sun was shining and we were running across this incredible place! Or hobbling in my case. Unfortunately the weekend prior, on my last training run, I turned my ankle, suffering a Grade II sprain. It was likely against all medical advice I embarked upon this run. I say likely as I did not seek medical advice, for I knew what I would have been told and I did not want to hear it. So I strapped on an ankle brace, inhaled ibuprofen, and went anyway.
As the sun rose higher in the sky we ran up and down rolling hills, through forests and open meadows, and after seveal miles reached the western rim proper. Here we could look far down into the depths of the side canyons that eventually lead to the biggest one of all - Zion Canyon. At this elevation of around 7,000 feet the first flowers of the year were opening. The trail was decorated with vermillion paintbrush, pink and white plox and the showy yellow Arrow Balsamroot. Every which way we looked the scenery was spectacular. In fact it was hard to focus on the trail as I rubbernecked my way along and stopping frequently to take photos. Once we left the rim and began our descent it was no less dramatic as the trail followed a cut in the side of the canyon wall.
As we dropped lower the canyon walls turned from white to red.
Down, down and down we went. Every turn and twist in this trail revealed another superlative view and more flowers for us to exclaim over. In one location we found three different colored penstemons within a couple of feet. If this was not peak wildflower season then it was darn close. In short, they were off the hook.
As we got closer to Zion Canyon proper we began to see more people. At this time in the morning - about 9 a.m. - they were all runners, who had started at the East Rim and were headed west to complete the Zion Traverse, a 48 mile link up of trails in the park. Our plans for a paltry 27 miles made us (or me at least) feel a little weak. Speaking of which, my ankle was doing fine but my achilles tendon was complaining on the uphills - no doubt having to work harder to make up for the weakness in the rest of my ankle.
After about 12 miles or so we came up to Angels Landing - a narrow fin of rock which projects into Zion Canyon. To reach the top involves a 3/4 mile scrambling traverse of the fin with 1,500 foot drops on either side. This exposure and the views make it a unique, and popular, hike.
We decided we couldn't pass it up, even though two of the three of us had done it before. So we headed up.
On the summit the views were mind blowing. We butt-scooted to the edge and dangled our feet off.
On the return trip, as we negotiated the crowds of hikers, scrambling and slidding down the slick rock, Janis turned her ankle. Oh no! It's catching. :(
After resting up for a few minutes we carried on and began the descent on the paved but steep trail that would take us to the canyon floor.
We crossed the Virgin River and arrived at the Grottos trailhead, 15 miles into our run. Here we could fill up with water before embarking on the final 12 miles and 3,000 foot climb that would take us to the East Rim trailhead. It was the climb that was worrying me. With my achilles complaining on any hills I really did not want to aggrevate it further - this one had a history of problems. So I made the difficult decision, but the right one, to call this the end of my run for the day. Janis, who when taking off her sock, saw her swollen ankle, wisely decided to join me. This left Holly the sole finisher of the Zion Rim to Rim and she slayed it in appropriate fashion (by the time we had driven over to the East Rim to pick her up, she had been waiting for us for half an hour).
For me and Janis it was to be Rim to River. But as we soaked our swollen ankles in the beautiful waters we decided that we would be back. There will be a Zion Rim to Rim - Take 2, and hopefully that will be a wrap. As in complete, done, finished. Not an ankle wrap.
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 complaints...it was stunning at every turn:
And then we were off on the second part of our desert adventure. Stay tuned....
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:
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
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.
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.