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St. Vrain Mountain Epic Fail- Hall Ranch Park To the Rescue 5/18/13

24 May

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Last week was a perfect week here in Denver, very warm and sunny with the mountains taunting us all week with their insane beauty.  We really wanted to climb up high and see it for ourselves up close, I know it was our naiveté but we made the decision to try another high hike above 10,000 feet and one that was on the edge of Rocky Mountain National Park which got twice as much snow as the Continental Divide.  I have been wanting to hike St. Vrain Mountain since last fall and by the time I had the confidence to even think about trying it, winter had settled in.   This was the hike we decided to try on Saturday.  We talked about it all week and so were extra anxious to get started but nervous we wouldn’t get very far.

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We were right to be nervous, it took us almost 2 hours to go just 1.2 miles and the last time I post-holed it was pretty bad, up to my hips and it took me like 20 minutes to get out…. What we did see was amazingly beautiful and just got us excited for when we could actually finish it.  In that 20 minutes of digging me out, we decided that the only way to salvage the day was to get down as quickly as we could and hit Hall Ranch (Hike Details here) which we had passed on the way up to this hike.

Here is the little bit we caught of what we could see of this trail:

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We rushed to the Hall Ranch trailhead deciding to just do as much of the Nighthawk trial as we could and we were kind of excited because the first time we were here it was in the middle of a snow storm so all of our promised views were obscured.

We started at noon and finished at 3:30, the trail had a surprisingly low volume of other hikers.  Which was nice in that it allowed us to cruise up the trail, I think this is the fastest we have ever hiked.  The wild flowers were amazing and the weather was perfect in that is was cool little cloudy but warm enough for us to wear shorts and short-sleeved shirts!

When we got to the top this time the views of Longs Peak, Mt. Meeker & Rocky Mountain National Park were really amazing.  Actually the views all around were amazing.  South, East and North all had different stunning views to offer more than I had hoped for to be honest.

Best view at the top

Best view at the top

Longs Peak & Meeker

Longs Peak & Meeker

In the end we made it exactly to the trail break of NightHawk ( 4.7 miles) and then turned around and headed back.   The whole day of hiking gave us a total hiking of 12 miles with 2300 total feet of elevation gain it was sadly 7 hours of hiking with a 30 minute gap to drive from one trail head to the other.  At first it was a little disappointing to have to turnaround on the first trail, but if I think about where I was 2 years ago or even last year, I never would have made it through one of these trails let alone stopping one after 3.5 hours only to do another one for 3.5 hours.  It felt pretty awesome!

Eastward view about halfway back down

Eastward view about halfway back down

We decided it was a pretty huge win and so celebrated with lunch/dinner at Oskar Blues Grill & Brew.

Here are some of our favorite pictures from the hike!

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Mesa Trail – Boulder Co Hiked 2/2/13

2 Feb
View at the start of the hike

View at the start of the hike

Bluebell Road > Mesa Trail

Starting Elevation:  5700Ft

Highest Elevation: 6482 Ft ( but the trail goes up and down the whole way like we covered  8 ascents and 9 descents, giving an overall elevation gain of 2600- ish for what we completed)  It is a great leg workout!

Trail Length:  Officially the Mesa trail is 6.7 miles from Chautauqua Park all the way south to the Southern trailhead just outside Eldorado Canyon State Park for 13.4 round trip and our goal was to do the whole trail round trip.  What we managed to hit was 5.7 one way, 11.4 miles round trip according to the map, but my fit bit said 6.5 miles.  So I am taking the middle of the road and saying we finished 12 miles today. It took us 5.50 hours 8AM-1:30PM to finish.

Trail Uses: Hiker, Running and I think horses….NO BIKES

Degree of Difficulty:  For the first time, Aaron and I cannot agree – my assessment moderate to difficult, Aaron’s = Moderate the book says easy

Bathrooms:  At each end North and South.  Otherwise this thing is insanely busy all year round so use good judgement…..unlike me

Pets:  Yes, but dogs must be either on leash or have the green tag indicating they passed the voice control test for Boulder.

Fees:  None!

View of the Front range from Bluebell Road

View of the Front range from Bluebell Road

We were feeling pretty awesome after last weeks hike and decided ambitious was the best way to jump into this weekend’s hike.  I picked this hike because it was long and while it is considered an easy trail, I think that rating is only given because if you do any one section it is easy compared to where you are going.  The Mesa Trail is the main artery along the Flat Irons of Boulder, it leads to the some of the best and hardest hikes on the front range.  It goes to Shadow Canyon, Fern Canyon, Bear Peak ( Closed due to fire damage until 7/31/13), Bear Canyon among others.  The total up and down elevation gain is around 3200 feet, which is a pretty tough butt burner, calf builder or cardio challenge.  At the end I think I counted roughly 8 ascents with 9 descents, I am wiped out!

You can pick up any portion of this trail at 3 parking lots, today we chose to go from North to South so the only choice was to start at Chautauqua Park in Boulder or the beginning ( You can also start at NCAR and the South trailhead by Eldorado Canyon).  Take Bluebell Road, directly west of the Rangers station up( South) to the Mesa Trailhead.

Hike starting point.

Hike starting point.Mesa Trailhead

Mesa Trailhead

It isn’t a killer climb until you realize it goes  on for roughly 2 miles and 700 feet in elevation.  It did warm us up super quick! In the distance of the picture above,  there is another outhouse which I thought was poorly placed since it was just over half a mile from the parking lot…. but at the end of the hike I actually ran to it.  The trail was so busy and after mooning 6 fellow hikers I was a little outdoor solution shy….. Anyway we took the left smaller trail, the right is supposed to be a butt buster up to Royal Arch but we haven’t tried it yet.  From the left, this is really the most narrow the trail will ever be.  It was often wide enough for 2 groups to pass each other easily.  As we got to the ice/mud stairs, I was feeling great thinking how awesome I was, hehe if only had a crystal ball.

The top - so easy looking

The top – so easy looking

The Bottom of the mud stairs....not so cute now
The Bottom of the mud stairs….not so cute now

The whole time I was thinking, man those stairs are going to suck on the way back if all that mess melts…it did!  The trail is so well-marked, each trail head is very well identified, as is the Mesa trail and what way is the way you want to go. I was super impressed.  We stuck to following the signs for 5.7 miles until we turned around.

NCAR entrance and trail info

NCAR entrance and trail info

This trail is interesting for so many reasons.  It is really a beautiful hike, in and out of pines, around canyons, the views East and along the front range are stunning.  It makes you want to be out there every weekend to see how it is different each day.  What makes you kinda not want to ever go there again is your fellow trail users.  At first, early in the morning everyone was sort of nice but then the later it gets the nastier your trail companions become, no courtesy or consideration for other people on the trail.  Runners are huge here, and no joke, on the way back as we were on a tough climb up, 2 runners tried to “run” us off the trail as they came down making sure that we knew their workout was more important than ours.  I was shocked and really disappointed  at how many mean or indifferent people there were after 10AM, honestly it made me not want to ever come back.

There was one more thing that made me not want to come back.  On a slow trail, finding a secluded place to “take care of business” is challenging as it is.  On a busy trail like the Mesa Trail it is almost miraculous, which is how I found myself mooning several hikers after my best efforts to find a secluded spot,  shortly before we turned around.  I am newly comfortable to peeing outside so this new hiccup was unexpected and REALLY embarrassing.  Aaron was trying to so hard to misdirect the passing hikers stares by talking to the decoy me on the opposite side of the trail but I just chose unwisely.  It did lead to a ton of laughter and trying not to make eye contact with those hikers that passed Aaron as they realized it was my butt they saw in the trees not so long ago……

This is a year round place to hike, the ice can get tough in the shade just as the mud is super tough on the sunny parts. It is worth doing at least once and honestly we will probably do it one more time to try to get to the end.

After the directions to the hike will be our favorite pictures.

Directions:

From Boulder, take Baseline Road west of Broadway 1 mile to the Chautauqua Park entrance on the left hand side of the road.

From Denver, take I-25 North to HWY 36 towards Boulder. As you enter Boulder, turn left onto Baseline Road and turn left. Take Baseline Road for about 1-2 miles and Chautauqua Park will be on your left.

Goofy faces

Goofy faces

View from the turnaround point

View from the turnaround point

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Mesa Trail -Chautauqua

Mesa Trail -Chautauqua

Green Mountain via Gregory Canyon Trail 11/17/12 The Assessment

20 Nov

Sorry for the double posting and duplicate seeming emails- something weird happened with the original post and almost all of it was deleted so I had to rewrite it!

The whole week before we did this hike I was pretty nervous about how hard it would be.   From everything I had read, if it was windy the trail would be tough, if it was snowing or had snowed recently the trial would be tough, if it was cold it was going to be tough and the final common theme was that the views from the top were worth all those challenges.  Oh and there was that other obvious challenge of climbing 2400FT of elevation in just 3 short miles.  It was a constant assault on my butt and legs, I am still a little sore today 3 days later.

We got there pretty early, 7:15AM and were hiking by 7:30 which gave us the good fortune of getting a parking space in the very small 8 space lot.  It gave us the chance to attack that first steep climb with little to no company, as we struggled up the trail, the CU marching band starting playing for some event  and the “we are the Champions” vibe helped give us a little extra momentum in that tough beginning.

This is a pretty heavily used trail, and it seemed like runners were the most frequent users who passed us.  Then again everyone passed us and some of them were so stealthy (or I was breathing so hard) I didn’t hear them until they were right behind us so I did squeal a few times out of shock.

The view on the east side is of Boulder and just got more beautiful as we climbed.

The trail is rocky at first and uses rocks for steps along with a wood based step.  There is a little very easy scrambling involved and for us, patience because we had to keep stopping to peel off clothes, one time we will dress perfectly for our hike.  When it levels out for a short period of time the trail gets wider, about the width of a small road.  As we got higher and came around to the West side of the trial, the views of the Indian Peaks were breathtaking (or that was the incline kicking my butt) especially with the clouds crawling over them.

The very last stretch was an easy scramble that was more like rock steps up to the summit.  It was worth every single step we took up!

This is one we will do again and again, as it seems like it will really help build our stamina and skills to attack more high elevation peaks next summer.   As I read more and more about 14ners, I know we will need to work on our ability to adapt to a lot of different conditions and be prepared to take as long as we need to finish our goal.   It seems this trail will help more than our old standby  Deer Creek Canyon did and serve as an easy go to hike that could challenge us but  is still close to home.   I honestly cannot wait to do it again!

For the specs of the trail go to that post Green Mountain Via Gregory Canyon trail – Specs and below are our favorite pictures from the hike.

Green Mountain Via Gregory Canyon Trail – Boulder 11/17/12; Trail Specs

17 Nov

Gregory Canyon Trail > The Ranger Trail > Green Mountain Summit

Starting Elevation: 5800-ish Feet

Highest Elevation: 8144Ft ( Total Gain 2344FT)

Trail Length: Officially 6ish miles, my fitbit said we got around 7 miles, It took us 4 hours to complete but the book I used said 3-4 hours and the locals were cruising past us constantly.

Trail Uses:  Hiker & Runner ( lots of runners), NO BIKES or horses….

Degree of Difficulty: Difficult to Strenuous ( a butt killer)

Bathrooms:  Yes, at the trailhead and then again at the Green Mountain Lodge, a little over a 1.5 miles in.  They are awful!  In fact the second worse we have been to in the past 8 months of hiking in Colorado (first being Denver Open space).  The smell was super bad at 7AM with a temp of 40F, I cannot imagine what it would be like in the middle of summer .  This is a paradox because the trail is insanely crowded and COVERED with poison ivy so you are kinda stuck…..

Pets:  Dogs only on leash unless they have the Boulder Green tag which means they passed the verbal command test. Love this rule!

Fees:  If you get there early enough and are not a Boulder resident, it is $5 to park in the tiny parking lot at the trailhead.  There are 8 spaces in this parking lot, once filled up everyone begins parking on the tight roadway to the parking lot.  Which makes for interesting exit….

So I am going to try something a little different, today I will focus on the details of the hike and then post an assessment of the hike later in the week once I have chance to digest what we did.  I always feel like I could have said more on the feel of the trail so this week this is my experiment.

We learned about this trail when we were in our sunset photography class….this was one of those classic moments in my life when a person does a look over and decides I can’t handle too much.  I had to explain first that we had done some tough hikes(with names) before he gave up this one.  He said it was a killer workout and he was so right.

So details only, this is a year round hike from what I have read but as the snow starts to fall the backside of the mountain gets icy, so winter/spring are tricky and you will likely need Yak-tracks to get to the summit.  It also gets WINDY so if it is windy down at the trailhead it will be way worse at the top.  Something to think about before you start.

Go to the west end of the parking lot to get the Gregory Canyon trailhead,

The Amphitheater trail is part of an alternate East starting and shorter route, but really we just loved the Enjoy Your time message, a cleaver way to ask people to respect the trail.   It is not long on the Gregory canyon trail ( .1 miles) before the first turnoff hits the Saddle Rock trail, stay right on the Gregory canyon trail.  There is one more  trail turnoff at the Crown Rock Trail, go left ( Or stay straight however you see it).

This first mile of hiking is a 900 foot elevation gain, but it is 1.4 miles overall to the next junction at the Long Canyon Trailhead, this is a break in climbing for just .2 miles but a break none the less.

This map help is at all the big trail junctions to keep you on track.  Conversely, there are no maps to pickup at the trailhead so it is nice that there is at least this.  From here is it is just .2 miles to the Green Mountain Lodge ( Built during the great depression) and the next SMELLY bathroom.

This is where the Ranger trail and the Long Canyon trail split off, go left of the lodge and follow the Ranger trail all the way up and by up, I mean the next 1500 feet up.  Notice the snow….this is essentially ice and the higher switchbacks are covered with it.  It was not so bad today that we needed more assistance then our poles could provide, if it had been a little later, colder and with more snow we would have needed at least yak -tracks and on some days, I would guess crampons .   It is not far to the next trailhead:

This is a great place to decide how you feel, a good place to turnaround or make a nice loop and catch up with the Saddle Rock trail and back, also it is an alternate way down from the summit and could add at least .6 miles to your hike.  Or continue on the Ranger Trail to the Summit of green mountain, it was a good steep grade all the way up with a lot of patches of ice. 300 feet below the summit is the last trail break:

From here it is about 300 feet straight up but the rocks are settled in nice steps. Once on the top there is a very short climb up a big rock to the actual summit like 8-10 feet.  At the top is a Marker and a mountain indicator of all the mountains that can be seen from up top.  Its awesome!

From here you can turnaround the way you came or take the EM Greenman Trail to loop around to the Ranger trail.  It is supposed to be much more steep and rocky then the Ranger Trail so in the end we decided to go down the way we came because I was worried about how much my knees could take after seeing what I came up on the easier ascent.

So in a couple of days, after I have digested the whole experience, I will write an opinion post.  I would love to know your thoughts on the breakup of information so comment away!

Directions:

Take 36 west to the Baseline exit and take Baseline past Chautauqa Park.  Drive to where Baseline becomes Flagstaff Mountain Road and use caution as you turn left to the Gregory Canyon Trailhead.

Nighthawk Trail – Hall Ranch 11/10/12

10 Nov

Nighthawk Trail > Out and Back

Starting Elevation:  5480 Ft

Highest Elevation:  6570 ft ( but there is a an additional 320ft loss then gain for a total Elevation gain of 1410ft)

Trail Length:  10.2 miles officially, unfortunately we took a wrong turn and so did a total of 12 miles today.  It took us 4hrs 20 minutes to complete.

Trail Uses:  Hiking and Horses only, no bikes on this trail but other trails here do allow bikes

Degree of difficulty:  Moderate to difficult – difficult mostly due to length

Bathrooms:  Yes at the beginning.

Pets:  Dogs are not permitted in Hall Ranch

Fees:  None

One of Aaron’s coworkers told us about these trails so many months ago, when I first looked at the trail options after hearing about it I didn’t think I could handle such a long hike.   Plus the elevation was not what we were looking for at the time so I kept in the back of my head as the perfect hike for fall, winter & spring.  Now that the higher hikes seem out of reach for us ( mostly because we are wimps) it seemed time to do this one. For the past 3 weeks we have tried to do this hike with various things stopping us, this weekend was proving to have the same chance of letting the trail thwart us.   There was a snow storm coming to the mountains today with some hitting the foothills, this hike is right on the edge of the foothills and the mountain ranges that were supposed to get hit.   All week I stalked every weather site I could find in hopes it would change enough to let us do this hike and yesterday I saw our chance, every thing was saying no snow or rain until 1PM.

We left at 6AM hoping we would get enough time to finish the hike before the storm set in and as we got to the top of the hill on 36 where you can see Boulder down in the valley before you, we saw this:

It was pretty beautiful after an amazing sunrise, it was both a good and bad sign….good because there was still some sky showing for the sun to make it happen and of course rainbows are good luck! But bad because obviously it was raining which was not supposed to happen until 1PM!

When we got to the trailhead, the rain had stopped and it looked a little lighter so we bundled up and started off.  The landscape was so different then what we had experienced on other hikes in this area, all the cacti with the red mud and dirt I love the variety!  The trailhead had something I have not yet seen:

This is so cool!  Yay Boulder Open Space for embracing social media in such a fantastic way!  Also note that if it was muddy and you get there after 10am choose a different path…..

As for the trail, there are 2 parking lots, the one that is just a little higher up really is at the trailhead but it is not all that large and you might have to park in the lower lot if it is full.  Which is ok because the trail at the west end of the lower lot goes up to the Nighthawk Trail as well.  We were lucky enough to get there at 7:30 so there were only 2 other cars in the top lot.  The Bathroom is up here as well. As a warning all my pictures are with my iPhone, with the weather changing so quickly  I didn’t want to take out my camera, these aren’t very good quality and it really shows when I tried to zoom.

The Trail itself is super well marked, there is never a question which trail you are on.  It is also almost completely exposed with little to no tree cover but I bet in the spring and summer the colors are something to see, I know I will have to come back to check it out then.   Based on the trails we have hit in the past 8 months, my guess is that this is usually a high traffic trail during spring and summer but today it was almost just us, the deer and rabbits….. so many deer and rabbits!  I think we saw 6 or 7 separate herds of deer and they were all along the trail constantly crossing it.

At about 4.5 miles we came to the Button Rock trailhead, which is a 2 mile outcrop that leads to other trails not all part of Hall Ranch.  I think that if the weather had been different this is where we would have seen Long’s Peak and Mt Meeker, but with the snow starting and with the clouds getting thicker, we were lucky to see any mountains at all.

Stay straight on Nighthawk and you will come to a crossroads very quickly

Again stay straight and you meet up with the bike trail and Nelson’s Loop by a bench, here is the 4.7 mile mark.  If you are done turnaround and head back.

We felt really good at this point, so we went on to try to see Nelson’s ranch to get the full 10.2 miles round trip which should have been just .4 miles ahead.  Unfortunately we went left instead of staying straight on Nelson Loop and about half a mile too far we realized we did it wrong so we turned around and headed back.  It was on the way back we saw Nelson’s Ranch exactly where it should be.  It was also snowing pretty hard now so we picked up our pace and the iPhone only came out one more time for a few pictures of Aaron and I when the weather let up a little.

This is a great hike, it has a stamina building length along with lots of ups and downs to work the legs.  I bet on less snowy weather heavy days, the views are pretty awesome.  One thing I did notice was the mud on the way down, it wasn’t too bad but it was getting worse by the minute with the snow falling.  I am sure this is why there is that “check the trail conditions” sign before you go at the beginning.  I would stay away if it was a wet week or a wet day as the mud would wear you down quickly.  Either way, we plan on doing this one again in a different season.

The directions will be after the few pictures we got that we liked, with the iPhone.

Directions:

Take 36 North through Boulder onto Lyons.  At the junction with 66 turn left.  Drive through the town of Lyons at the T intersection ( SH 7 and  36) turn left on to SH7  and take it approximately 1.5 miles to the entrance of Hall Ranch park it will be on your right.