Tackling the East Wall at A Basin

The East Wall traverse gives way to a bowl

Any adult who spends time in Peter Pan-land will tell you: Even a bad day of play beats a great day at the office.

Hence a day in the Colorado Rockies that is fraught with 30mph winds, pelting ice pellets, icy patches, flat light, extreme terrain, anemia-induced dizziness and weird eye-floaties is better than closing the deal, grading papers, or overall wrappin-it-up at week’s end.  Let’s face it, with few exceptions, the best thing about work is time off from it. And I love my job(s).

So it was, on a random Thursday that I and my two partners in crime (one’s a nurse with an unorthodox schedule, the other is on what’s appropriately called funemployment) headed to A Basin, aka Arapahoe Basin, The Legend for a few hours of adult recess.

My two partners are not what I would call avid skiers. They stopped being avid years ago. Mr. Funemployment has put in over 30 days this year and I bet my nurse friend is in that same ballpark. These guys are warriors, not weekend warriors.

So it was with some trepidation that I headed up to the hills with the experts, somewhat leery of my recent cry day at Vail (not ready to write about that one yet) and somewhat wistfully remembering that magical day at Loveland where I boarded in my comfort zone all day and left the mountain with a rare sense of confidence. Being pushed is good, I agree, but some days ya gotta hang where you feel comfortable so you can practice the fundamentals, even when the pitch gets steep.

The day started with a three-day $138 A Basin spring pass. Rumors are A Basin will see the light of June, and April brings surprising powder dumps with its showers. Skies were grey, conditions were mostly icy with patches of powder, which were visible early morning but not afterwards. The flat light made navigating terrain difficult and seeing icy patches impossible. Flat light is a lot like April snow-showers: lot of surprises.

And the wind. The A Basin snow report predicted 25mph winds, but my virtual finger test called hogwash. By 11:30AM, winds were whipping through the Basin of A, sending icy snow pellets darting sideways and upward into my face. I hate icy, sideways hail.

By one o’clock, the anemia and hypoglycemia were winning, and the wind had turned just this side of ridiculous. So we raised the white flag halfway, caught some lunch at Black Mountain Lodge, and did our swan song turns for the day.

But not before hitting the East Wall. The East Wall at A Basin is hallowed in some circles, as it’s rated a double-black diamond. Now I can hang on blacks (as long as they’re mogu-l and tight-tree-free), but I don’t pretend to know or even care to know about double-blacks. The East Wall is hike-to territory, and the steep chutes, another 500-600 feet from the catwalk traverse, are what put the double in the black. We weren’t doing that, although we did see some folks hiking towards heaven.

The thing about the traverse along the East Wall is that it’s skinny, and I’m afraid of heights. So my clammy yet frozen hands are gingerly pushing me along the catwalk and these rocks, well, they jut out and make the margin of error of tumbling into the East Wall’s open bowl even greater. After charting a course and trying not to freak out by the “DANGER you will die” signs that greet you at the East Wall’s entrance, I dipped down into the bowl and realized:

The East Wall ain’t all that. The upper portion, sure. But I made it down alive, didn’t come near as close as I thought to any rock outcroppings or cliffs or any of that other nonsense. It was fun! There was this little funnel bit and a wide open bowl, with plenty of crust to turn in. I kept my speed up to the lift, and we turned around and did it again–minus the rock jutting out into the traverse.

And then the eye-floaties raised the white flag, all the way up, and we called it a day. For real.


Getting into the groove, coming out of the East Wall
All that's missing is a three-headed dog
Overprepping for a ride down some not double-black

Read about SheSpoke’s epic, six-hour road trip to hit Wolf Creek’s opening day in 2011 with three feet of powder!

Adieu, Thanksgiving…Hello, Fruita

I woke up the Sunday after Thanksgiving feeling exhausted and refreshed.  Hard to explain, but imagine your whole body feeling worked but relaxed.  And imagine waking up among miles and miles of sand but never feeling cleaner.  These are the reasons for my pilgrimages to the Moab area time and time again–soul refreshment.

Sunday morning was beautiful–sunny with blue skies, few clouds, low winds, and a nibble of cold in the air.  Still, I always seem to know when it’s time to leave the desert before I do something stupid like get hurt or lost.  It was time to go.  I said goodbye to my friend the crow/raven (grr, why don’t I know the difference?),


Farewell, desert-friend
Farewell, desert-friend

who just happened to be picking over last night’s grilled salmon


Mmmm, crusty, desert-dried fish for breakfast
Mmmm, crusty, desert-dried fish for breakfast

and headed to Fruita.  Fruita has become, along with Salida, Moab, Winter Park, Sedona, and other places I’ve never heard of, a mountain biking mecca.  Dirt lovers descend upon Fruita in droves, drawn to it by its pristine singletrack.  This would be my third visit to Fruita, albeit my first (and hopefully last) alone.  Since the biking accident last summer, I have become incredibly cautious about riding alone.  Some would say I’ve finally smartened up.  Nope.  Fear and fear of pain are running my biking decisions these days, and I’m not exactly thrilled about it.

I digress.

For those of you who have a favorite place, a place where you go to gain peace and solitude, one of beauty that overwhelms you no matter how many times you’ve seen it, you know what I’m about to write.

As I drove the thirty miles or so to I-70, an east-west ribbon of road that cuts the northern section of Colorado from the southern, I felt sad.  I was leaving a place of contentment, never mind the rrrrr, rrrrr from the dirt bikers and the ATVers.  I was nearly brought to tears by every sunset.  I sat by the fire at night, just breathing and drinking green tea, exhausted but invigorated by the day’s adventures.  Now all that was over.  Yeah, yeah, yeah, until next time.  But it sucks that I even have to leave.

I-70 in eastern Utah is desolate.  There are instructions on what to do in a sand/wind storm alongside the road.  There’s one exit with services and many other exits with only ranches.  Fruita is about 90 minutes from Moab, depending on speed and exact point of departure.  Fruita boasts two great ridng areas, one on each side of the highway.  The northern section of trails near the Bookcliffs, which houses my favorite Chutes and Ladders trail, was too muddy, the folks at Over the Edge bikeshop informed me.  I was disappointed but understood.  Mother Nature had pounded moisture into the area over the past few days.  It’s not like water evaporates or nuthin’.

So I set off for the southern section of trails.  The temps were in the mid 50’s, but I suited up with wool, long-fingered gloves, and tights under my riding skort.  I hate to be cold.  I had 100ml of water with me, two Clementine oranges (a compact source of food and liquid), and two energy bars.  I would ride Mary’s Loop, part of the Kokopelli Trail System out by exit 11 near Loma.


Mary’s Loop is strictly intermediate stuff and leads into Moore Fun.  Mary’s Loop is unspectacular but safe, except for this section of trail.


Don't look down
Don't look down

Truth is, I’m deathly afraid of heights.  Fear of heights (which is genetic, I swear) kept me from snowboarding for ten years (couldn’t get on the lift) and induced a severe panic attack in the towers of Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona a few years back.  I hyperventilated the entire staircase climb up then had a nervous breakdown once back on the ground.

But that’s a post for another time.

So, I’m either incredibly brave or incredibly stupid.  Here’s a look from the other, safe side of the precipe.  Look at the right center of the photo

Should we stay or should we go?
Should we stay or should we go?

Yup.  That’s a couple on a TANDEM mountain bike.  I had passed them a few miles earlier but had paid them no heed I didn’t even notice they were two people on one bike.  Musta been all that *&^%$ climbing I was doing.  Anyway, I think they turned back.

Too bad.  They missed out on this view, which was just around the corner.

Overlooking the Colorado River from Mary's Loop in Fruita
Overlooking the Colorado River from Mary's Loop in Fruita

After this the trail gets fairly technical–lotsa skinny singletrack fraught with rocks, roots, and off-camberness.  I walked more trail than I usually do (fear and fear of pain kicked in).  But when Mary’s Loop turns into Moore Fun, things get a little less technical and much, much closer to the parking lot, which is where I ended up eating my Clementines.

On my next trip to Fruita (this spring), I’m doing Steve’s Loop and Horsethief Bench.  And I’m bringing posse with me, even if I have to drag them.