Hiking around the Front Range of Colorado. If I can do it, you can do it. A quest to find quiet, friendship and possibly a smaller waistline through exploration of the amazing wilderness in my own backyard. Enjoy laughing at my mistakes and sharing in my adventures.
Hike 17: The physical Price of Hubris, South Boulder Peak
Date: June 11th, 2020
Hike Distance: 8.8 Miles
Location: Boulder, Colorado. South Boulder Peak
Hike Start Time: 5:30AM
Condition: Warm, Sunny
Total Miles: 91.6 Miles
I've been feeling great. The distances of my hikes have been steadily increasing and I felt it was time to up the ante and give myself a challenge. I've mentioned in a bunch of previous posts about how I've been eyeing up South Boulder and Bear peaks. The last couple of outings have given me a direct look up shadow Canyon and it has been calling to me for a while.
I decided I would go on a Thursday morning and I told the employees at my shop that I would be in a little late. I am going to try and go one day a week on a longer hike, and the summer actually works out well, because I never have to go and call on clients during this time. So I told everyone I'd be in at Noon and got excited to hit the trail when It shouldn't be as busy
I stayed up way too late the night before and started on my normal routine of hiking on just a couple hours of rest. I know it's terrible, but I'm the worst sleeper ever imaginable. It's like as soon as I actually lay down to go to bed, I start mentally planning the next day and rerunning all the events and mistakes of yesterday.
Anyways, that's a different discussion for an entirely different blog. I knew it was going to be a difficult hike, but I'd done things that looked to be comparable. I didn't expect this trail to kick my ass as thoroughly as it did. Here's the tale of that "epic" excursion.
I went down to the trailhead around 5:45AM. Luckily, the parking is still free while the Boulder Parks Department has their collection sites closed down, so I'm glad I'm able to take advantage of all these times for free. I started out up the Homestead and Mesa Trails. I had been on these starting legs a couple times before for other hikes, and so I was pretty familiar with the approach sections of the trail
Nice rolling open areas that ascended the whole time to the base of the Flatirons sections. I really love this park. It's a really nice area with a combination of open prairie grass Ponderosas and the trails are well maintained and navigable with great signage. This is also the starting area for the Mesa trail. It runs from here north all the way along the flatirons to Chautauqua Park. I want to do the whole thing some time when I can arrange for my wife to pick me up from the end and shuttle me back. Unless, that is, I'm feeling extra ambitious and want to do it both ways.
Areas of this park are closed right now because of nesting raptors. It's a very popular bouldering and climbing area, and I'm betting once we get nesting season over with, these trails will be packed with people coming up here to climb. You could see large rocks and steep faces that had the telltale remnants of climbing chalk on the notches and hand holds.
After heading up the Homestead trail and connecting with the Mesa Trail, an access road headed up to the base of Shadow Canyon. I presume that these roads were here originally for the couple of cabins found along the way. they were pretty cool little buildings that I would feel lucky to have access to. I often see places like this and wonder why on Earth people would abandon these places. One at the very end of the manicured trail, had an awesome porch and sat right on the edge of a creek at the base of Shadow Canyon proper. I can only imagine how the people that resided here felt as they sat outside and enjoyed the location; especially at a time when no one else would be traipsing past their doors.
At this point, I was feeling pretty good. It was uphill all the way, but I was ready. As soon as you get past the cabin, the entire path changes. This is where it becomes a real climb. Pretty much for the next Mile and half it was constant stairs. I'm not talking about little logs or stones, but good 1 foot push ups all the way to the top.
It's a gorgeous hike, with large boulders to walk around, under and over, and even on a warm day the namesake Shadow Canyon holds true, but man was it a slog. I'm not speedy hiker but I usually don't have to stop very often. I'm like a freight train. I just keep chugging along and eventually get to my destination, but this was kicking my ass.
Before I hit this section I was right on track to finish in the time estimate I had based on trail information and my previous experience. This uphill though gave me a true taste of actual climbing. Before now on all my hikes, maybe save for Mt. Sanitas, I had been on easy little strolls. This was now a challenge, and I wasn't about to let it defeat me.
I was slow. I mean, REALLY slow. People were passing me like I was the tortoise in his nominal story. Everyone was very encouraging and told me to keep going and that I was doing great. This is what I love about hiking. No one was there to shame me for my fitness. They had all been there before, and they were happy to share the experience with anyone else willing to put in the work.
Near the top the trees started thinning out. The altitude wasn't nearly high enough for it to be the treeline, and as I got higher I could see that what had happened was a recent wild fire. All the trees were scorched and laying down. At first, it had a feeling of death and destruction, but as you looked closer it was actually a setting of rebirth.
The shaded cover of the forest down below kept the undergrowth sparse and mostly small saplings and lichens, but now without the trees up top, I was treated to a refrain of the wildflower meadows that greet you at the trailhead. There was a plethora of grasses and flowers and newly sprouting trees. It was all I could do to stop myself singing "The Circle of Life"
The trail rises to a saddle that sits between South Boulder and Bear Peaks. A trail goes in both directions to each summit. The goal today was South Boulder. In my head before I started, I thought that maybe I'd be able to bag both of them. The way I was feeling; that wasn't going to happen
I turned to the southwest and began the final climb to the top. The summit is deceptive as you approach and one area looks to definitely be the higher area, but as you get closer you are able discernthat the right hand pile of stones is the true summit.
When I reached the top, a group of people were heading back down and I got the place all to myself for a few minutes. A yellow butterfly greeted me as I accomplished my goal. and I found a comfortable place to sit right near where the USGS marker should've been. I could tell because there was a little bit of concrete and sealant, but the medallion was gone.
Getting to the top of a mountain is certainly gratifying but I think what takes my breath away more is the vista that confronts you as you look over and past your current placement. The possibilities of what lie beyond, and the prospect of ascending further and further into the mountain are what truly excite me when I get to the top. I was able to see all of the interior of El Dorado Canyon and beyond, and even got to see a train go up the grading to the mountains and the mines.
There was good cell reception so I called my wife and daughter to tell them hi and that I was doing okay, even though I was going much slower than I thought. While I was talking to them a couple friendly chipmunks came to visit and say hi. I presume they were waiting for some treats. I didn't feed them, as I don't think that's right, but I'm certain they pounced on any stray granola bar crumbs that my beard didn't catch.
I started down and actually dreaded the descent more than coming up. Due to my bad knees, going down can be trickier and actually a little more draining. Add to that the sun was much higher in the sky than I anticipated. It was getting hot. Like, really hot. I was drinking a lot of water and I was glad to be down from the sun-swept peak area and into the relative cool shade of the canyon.
I slowly hopped down the larger steps and tried to keep an okay pace while watching a bunch of people struggling up like I had only a while earlier. I tried to impart the same encouraging words to them that I received.
When I got out of the canyon I knew any kind of technical hiking was done, but I also knew that my shade and cover were about to be all but gone. It had gotten really sunny and there were no clouds save for a few to the west behind me, but none of them offered relief.
This is the first time I've had to deal with this, because every previous trip I was done and back before it got too far into the day, but I was fast approaching noon at this moment.
Thankfully the gods gave me respite in the form of a breeze and then a well timed shower at the end as I approached the parking lot. I have a 3 Liter Osprey Bladder for my pack but I usually only fill it up to about 2 liters. Knowing it was a little longer and harder hike I put in 2.5 liters. I am not exaggerating to say that I finished the last sip of that water when I crossed the last bridge 30 yards from my car. I couldn't believe it. I also drank 2 Gatorades (one in the morning, one on the summit) and I was still thirsty.
I was back at the car and I knew I was going to be sore. I took the rest of the day off, and went home, took a nap and drank water. I was so proud of myself for completing it. There were a lot of times when I could've easily given up, but I persevered. To a lot of you out there, this wouldn't ahve been a big deal, but it was for me.
It's one of those peaks you can see from all around the front range, and now every time I look to the horizon I can proudly say that I've been there.