Sunday, September 7, 2014

Goodbye and Thanks for the Trails: The Boulder Skyline Farewell

With my leave from the Boulder looming, I wanted to do a fitting last horah to the trails of Boulder. I wanted it to encapsulate something iconic and so I settled on the Boulder Skyline for my big goodbye. While I know of trail runners who do this on a weekly basis (or more), for me this seemed a fittingly epic way to say goodbye (at least temporarily) to these trails.
The Boulder Skyline from the South Campus


As I am not an experienced ultra or trail runner, I opted to do a point-to-point course. I also decided to get the hardest part out of the way first by tackling South Boulder / Bear Peak. To do this south-to-north route, I would first go up Shadow Canyon and tackle South Boulder Peak and then pick up Bear. From there I would do the ridge between Bear and Green before going down and picking up Flagstaff. My plan also allowed for the possibility of picking up Sanitas if I had the gas (and time) left.

South to North Elevation Profile


I had Alita drop my vehicle off at the northern terminus near the Sanitas Trailhead and bus me down to the South Mesa Trailhead.

A few primer runs up Green had taught me that I need a lot of water at this time of year and that a trip up Green was enough to drain my water bottle. So in staging vehicles I also stashed a jug of water on the Flagstaff Road at the base of the Ranger Trail between Green and Flagstaff.

South Boulder Peak / Bear Mountain

I got off at 7:30 am. I would have preferred to start earlier, but this worked just fine. While the floods have left the Mesa Trail with some deep ruts, it is still runnable for me up to the cabin at the base of Shadow Canyon.

Here I crossed Shadow Creek by the little shack and started the real climb. At this point I should point out that when I (and most people) say they run up Bear Peak. . . we really mean go up as quickly as we can with minimal stopping. I suspect there are maybe a half-dozen people in Boulder who can actually run up Shadow or Fern canyon, but I am not among that number.

Looking South from South Boulder Peak

After a good bit of hiking I made the saddle between South Boulder Peak and Bear. Towards the top you get into a burnt-out area. It took me about an hour but the views were worth it.

Testing out the panorama feature on South Boulder Peak 
While South Boulder Peak is not really visible on the Boulder Skyline, it is so close to Bear that it’s an easy double peak bag. The trip over to Bear was just a quick jaunt down and up the Saddle.

Looking north from Bear Peak at Green Mountain and Boulder


With half the peaks done, it was time for my favorite part. The stretch between Bear and Green has great views and some nice running through the trees. The trail is not technical and you have already paid the elevation price to for the view and trees. I particularly like the Green Bear Trail from the Bear Canyon Trail to the summit of Green. It’s a nice and easy ascent through some nice woods with good-sized trees.

This is Bear Canyon, while I did not run this stretch, this is similar to the nice trails and trees of the Green Bear Trail
The Green Summit was where I saw my first other people for the day – and advantage of being able to run mid-week. Here I paused for a light snack before finish up the run.

Looking west at a trail intersection before the final push to Green

Green to Flagstaff

In comparison this one was barely an additional summit. However, my legs were getting tired at this point and my ankles, raised on pavement and dirt road trails, often have trouble on some of the loser sand / gravel of the trails down Green.

I stopped and filled up on some much-need water at the Flagstaff Road before going to the flagstaff on Flagstaff. While this is not technically the summit, it was close enough for my purposes.

Looking over Boulder from the Amphitheater near the Flagstaff Summit


Coming down from Flagstaff I took a wrong turn near Crown Rock. As I was looking at a biker going up the road and thinking I should be crossing soon, I tripped on a rock. My hand hit a rock and I heard a rather odd sound. When I looked down my right middle finger was bent sideways about 45° at the first joint. Not really knowing what to do I re-set it and kept going. I had feeling in the tip and it could still bend, so I hoped it was not too bad. As of this writing a few weeks later, things seem to be healing well. It was a good reminder that of the catch-22 that I experience on trails – even though you have stunning views, its best to keep in the moment and not admire too much.

With my worries about my finger, I decided not to try for Sanitas and call it a day where I parked near the Centennial Trailhead. I went home pleased to live in such a beautiful area.


Peaks: South Boulder (8,520), Bear (8,460), Green (8,080), Flagstaff (6,915)
Total Distance: 15 mi
Total Vert: 4,650 ft
Time: 3:06:11 (3:49:32 with breaks)

Pace: 12:37

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