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Pole Pedal Paddle

By Ann Driggers

My new geography, here in the lower Roaring Fork Valley, is defined by two major features - Mount Sopris which stands sentinel to the south and, the Roaring Fork River which flows through and created the valley itself. Both mountain and river are ever present in my world, both visually and as primo locations for recreation. Mount Sopris looms to 12,935 feet, the highest point in my new landscape and the river, at its confluence with the Colorado, the lowest at 5,700 feet in elevation. To travel between these two points under my own power, using skis, bike and raft, seemed like a good way to spend a spring day here in the valley. Sharing in my dream was my frequent ski partner, Scott McCurdy, and we had the support of Chad and my friend Christy Wall who drove from Salt Lake for the fun. Once we had the logistics sorted out (requiring more than a few beers) all that was left was to implement the plan. Here's how we pulled it off:

0500 hours - Appropriately decorated, Christy and I start hiking up the Thomas Lakes trail towards Mount Sopris. Scott, along with three others arrive a little later, and Chad, the designated manager of the paddle section of our day, is happily (for him) fast asleep in bed.

 Sunrise in the forest:

Skinning across the lower of the Thomas Lakes, Sopris and our route Thomas Lakes Bowl above us:

Once under the warmth of the suns rays, we decided to wait for the rest of the gang, who were about 40 minutes behind us. We entertained ourselves with a tour of the bristlecones:

Christy had never seen a bristlecone pine before and declared the drive from Salt Lake worth it for this reason alone:

The others caught up with us and we started the climb up the center of bowl:

The summit in sight, with the yawning drop below into the Laundry Chutes:

1000 hours - Christy and I celebrate reaching the summit, the Elk mountain range spread behind us. Capitol Peak is on the left.

To the east we could see the Gore Range and the Continental Divide, to the south the San Juans, to the west the La Sals and Grand Mesa and to the north our ultimate ending point of the day. Behind Scott and I is the Roaring Fork Valley through which its namesake river flows and along whose path we would shortly be traveling to its end. Although both Scott and I have climbed Sopris many times each, reaching the summit of this magnificent peak never gets old.

Especially when the skiing was as good as it was! In the Winter That Never Was, this ranks as probably the best turns of the season. A series of storms last week dropped over a foot of snow and we were the lucky beneficiaries. Christy shoots through the cornice off the summit ridge:

Scott lays it out with the valley far below (top right corner):

Giggles and grins in creamy pow (me):

Me again:

Thomas Lakes bowl is massive and goes on and on, for almost 3,000 feet. The snowcover on the morraine at its base was sparse compared to previous years but we threaded through and had continuous skiing well into the forest below.

Finally, after a glorious run we reached the lakes far below and finished up the hike out:


1200 hours - time to drop the poles and pick up the pedals:

Scott and I jumped on our bikes and headed down the Prince Creek drainage towards Carbondale. Some nice little singletrack in the oakbrush:

And stellar views of Sopris down in the valley, where the budding grass and leaves are neon green:

1500 hours - After a brief refuelling stop in Carbondale - mexican food and margaritas - time to swap out pedals for paddles ( actually oars in this case):

Boys rowed and fished:

Girls partied. Or tried. Beer choice somehow got missed during logistics discussions but we did our best:

The river was real skinny and it took us a long time to float all the way into Glenwood Springs. As we passed into the faster moving waters of the Colorado River, the sun was setting on Mount Sopris on whose summit we had stood just 9 hours ago.

1900 hours - the end of our human powered expedition from the highest to the lowest point of my new geography. And what a blast it was. Thanks to my cohorts, Chad, Scott and Christy! This is surely the first of what will now be an annual event.

Pole Pedal Paddle By the Numbers:

  • Pole - i.e. foot travel (skiing and hiking) - 14 miles, 4,000 feet of climb and descent
  • Pedal - 12 miles, 2,500 feet descent
  • Paddle - 12 miles, 500 feet descent
  • Total distance - 38 miles
  • Time - 14 hours from start to finish, 9 hours from Sopris summit to rivers end.


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