I had a hike in mind in Summit County, but a storm system was moving in and snow showers and thunderstorms were expected there by noon. If the storm were 2 hours late, I would be OK, but if it were 2 hours early, I would be screwed. So, I decided not to go.
I decided to do something different, and take advantage of the foothills near Boulder, and make my first hike of the year a modest low-elevation trip. Bear Peak and South Boulder Peak are the next high points as you travel south from Green Mountain which houses the world-famous Flatirons. In fact, these are the two highest points of the immediate Boulder foothills, although you don't have to go far west or south of these peaks to get higher.
Looking at the Boulder Open Space map, I could see a pretty much continuous bike path route to a trailhead, with only a very short segment of biking on the highway south of town. So, at 0630, I pedalled away from my downtown duplex. After a 5.5 mile slightly uphill ride, I was at the South Boulder Creek trailhead. There's a shorter route that starts on the Eldorado Canyon road farther south, but since I was going to get no altitude training from this hike, I wanted to get a decent distance. (One can also approach these peaks from the north from various places on the edge of Boulder which can also be easier.) I chained my bike and helmet to a fence, and started hiking from an empty parking lot at 0709.
It was a sunny and unseasonably warm morning with a temperature of 42F when I left home. The first 1.9 miles on the South Boulder Creek Trail are very flat, and the next 1.8 miles are also pretty flat. (Well, for hiking. I saw several runners, and those 1.8 miles would have been a tough run for me.) The elevation gain to this point is about 1050 feet in 3.7 miles. However, at this point you turn left and head up the Shadow Canyon trail which gains 1600+ feet in just 1.1 miles. That's quite a contrast!
The Shadow Canyon trail is quite nice. We had been having warm weather, so despite the canyon living up to it's name, there was no snow left on the trail. At the top of the trail, in the saddle between Bear Peak and South Boulder Peak, a guy was resting, getting ready to hike back down, so I chatted with him for a few minutes. I had to decide which peak to do first, and for no particular reason chose to bear right, to Bear Peak.
Since Bear Peak is north of the saddle, it's trail mostly faces south, so it was dry. Also, parts of the trail are cut into a steep west-facing slope which is too steep and wind-hammered to collect much snow. The very top of Bear Peak is a jumbled pile of boulders that requires a little scrambling to ascend. If you want to stand on the highest boulder you have to balance on a narrow edge. If there was any wind I wouldn't have done it, but in the calm conditions I took my chances. Bear Peak gives a superlative view of Boulder, and on this day Pikes Peak could easily be seen 75 miles to the south-southeast.
South Boulder Peak ended up being much more challenging. Since it's summit route faces north, the trail was mostly covered with hardpacked snow and alpine ice. Especially early in the morning, this was treacherous. The angle is shallow, but you could still fall and hurt yourself. If I had had crampons with me, I would have used them. I slowly but surely inched my way up and finally reached this bouldery summit. It took me almost as long to inch back down the trail as it did to ascend.
The hike down from the saddle was uneventful, and the flat hike on the last 3+ miles got a little long, but was OK. The weather stayed good, albiet leaving me a little overdressed. The parking lot was overflowing with vehicles (and it holds something like 30). The downhill ride home was still a little tough after 11 miles of hiking, but I wasn't complaining. I arrived home at 1249, for a grand total time of 6:20, and 5:10 of hiking.
To the chronological trip index
To the Bear Peak page
To the South Boulder Peak page
File last modified: 28 December 2004