Hike Distance: 4.8 Miles
Location: Boulder, Colorado. Mesa, Upper Bluestem, Towhee Trails
Hike Start Time: 6:50 AM
I stayed up WAY too late the night before this hike. I had a lot of my projects that I usually do in the evenings that I procrastinated and so I was up pretty late. To compound that, I had my Dungeons & Dragons group coming over at 10:00AM to play. Part of my late night cram session was preparing the next section of their adventure for them. Coincidentally, they were storming a Frost Giant Lair.
We have had some snow in the last couple weeks and the temperatures hadn't really warmed up afterwards so I knew I couldn't do anything too steep or anything up in the mountains, so I settled upon some of the trails that hug the front of the flatirons in Boulder. My alarm didn't go off, so luckily my wife woke me up and asked if I was still going. I got dressed super quick, filled a bottle with some apple juice and grabbed a couple donuts to eat on the way to the Trail
The original plan was to hike Doudy Draw park. I've heard it's a really nice hike that gives great views of the El Dorado Canyon area. When I got to the parking area though, it was posted as closed due to muddy trails.
Luckily, the Mesa Trailhead is literally across the road. There's a great network of a variety of trails in this area that I was going to hike some time anyways so I decided to find a route that I could do in about 2 hours so I could get back on time.
This particular park requires a parking permit if your car isn't registered in Boulder County, so luckily I hard 5 dollars in my wallet. Otherwise, I would've had to leave a twenty or go somewhere else. I felt a little rushed to get out on the trail and so I filled out the form, got all the money ready to go.....and promptly left the money int eh trunk of the car. I realized this about 1.4 miles into the hike, so I just crossed my fingers that a ranger wouldn't be up this early checking for payment.
The trail starts by crossing a couple small creeks. I made a mental note to bring my daughter back this summer to hike around and wade in the creek. There are some cool old homestead buildings and then you have a number of choice as to how you want to explore the area.
It was a pretty overcast say, so if there was one day that I arrived late for the sunrise, this was the one to have it happen for. It was cold and windy on the flats to start but warmed up as I got moving and got into the cover of the trees. There were moments along the way that the sun peeked through the clouds and it looked rally nice, but in general it was a different tone than I had grown accustomed to in the morning.
I proceeded counter-clockwise around the loop and onto the Upper Bluestem Trail. It headed straight towards the bottom of the wall of stone in front of me meandering through some really pretty switchbacks and forests. I had seen the "Devil's Thumb" from a little further away on the Stranahan Trail, and I got a really good close up view of it while hiking today. When you see it on the horizon it looks like a little nub coming out of the skyline, but up close you get to see it's a pillar of stone that goes much further up than you expect. One more thing you can only find out if you're willing to get up close and get out there.
I'm not sure if it was the fact that this was the first "real" hike after coming back to altitude from California, or if it was because I've been focusing on keeping a brisk pace as of late, but I was huffing and puffing a little more today than I have lately. My ankles and calves were also really stiff for some reason. I might need to add stretching into my morning repertoire more, especially in the name of recovery when I start doing longer hikes.
I met up with the Mesa trail at the back end and headed south. This is the second section of the Mesa trail I've got to explore, and I'm already planning on doing the full length of it some day. It's a great and interesting north to south trail that goes from El Dorado Canyon to Chautaqua Park. This section started my first real encounter with ice on the trail
I've been trying to keep the cost of this activity to a minimum. A lot of things can become a money pit so I've been trying not to get sucked into the trap of wanting all the gadgets and toys and things, but if I want to guarantee an opportunity to hike every weekend in Colorado, I might need to seriously consider investing in some grips for my shoes. I had my trekking poles with me and I never felt like I was in danger, but I definitely had to tiptoe more delicately on the down hills, and I dug the poles in hard going up.
I was saving up my "funny money" for a ENO hammock to use this summer, but I think the more immediate need will be some Microspikes. I'll go shopping for them soon. I'd rather put off a hammock purchase than twist an ankle.
The trails were hard packed down snow that had compressed into ice, and were a little muddy in some parts. I tried to keep in mind to always walk in the most worn areas of the trails and to not shy away from mud in order to keep erosion and trail widening down.
I made my way back to the parking lot and found that I had dodged the long arm of the law, and placed my penance in the toll box. The trails are in fantastic condition, and the reroute for restoration areas were amazing on the Towhee trail section. I felt my money was being well spent.
I was really glad to spend time in the pines again, and I can't wait to continue to explore my area and beyond as the spring comes in.