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St. Vrain Mountain Trail, Allens Park CO 6/15/13 Part 1

19 Jun
Part of the view at the top

Part of the view at the top

Starting Elevation: 8940ft

Highest elevation: 12, 162 Ft ( With all the snow fields we ended up going for a total elevation gain of 3400Ft)

Trail Length: Officially it is 8.6 miles but going around some of the snow fields and our route up my fitbit said 13 miles. It took us 8 solid hours to complete.

Trail Uses: hikers/ joggers

Degree of Difficulty: Difficult/Strenuous.

Bathrooms: None

Pets: Dogs are allowed on leash only but note that this does cross over to Rocky Mountain National Park at some places and dogs are NOT allowed there.

View to the south at the top

View to the south at the top

We tried this hike about a month ago and the snow won out. Saturday it was much easier and while snow was still a factor, it didn’t stop us from making it to the summit of St. Vrain Mountain. I read about this hike in the Colorado mountain Club Guidebook for the Best Front Range Hikes and when it said 7 hours to do a max of 9.6 miles for both St. Vrain Mt AND Meadow Mountain I figured we should have no problem completing it in less time. Now that I have actually done it, I want to know how someone does this and Meadow mountain in just 7 hours.

It was a pretty amazing hike and I picked a crazy amount of pictures so I have decided to do this one in 2 parts, one on the way up and one for the way down as surprisingly they were 2 very different hikes.

Let’s talk the start and our way up, we got to the parking lot a little later than we planned around 7:45 and started hiking around 8AM. The road from Allens Park to the trailhead does require 4 wheel drive and while there is a parking lot, it is small no more than 8 or 10 vehicles, but you can park on the side of the road leading up to the trailhead. It was almost full when we got there and 2 cars pulled in while we got ready.

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The trail itself starts off with a nice steady incline nothing too hard to warm you up. There are some rocks through out the path but initially it doesn’t start out too bad and the weather was perfect high 40’s and not a cloud in the sky. We started peeling off layers pretty quickly, I love that about Colorado 47 feels like 70 and then again so can 90.

Start of the trail

We made it to the Indian Peaks Wilderness sign in a third of the time it took us on our first attempt, which is just under a mile in to the trail.

Entering Indain wilderness

The trail started to get rockier here,while the creek started moving up along the south side of the trail. The nice thing was, no snow in sight and what we learned was that we totally went the wrong way last time. The trail stays pretty close to the creek as it starts to switchback up the mountain and the creek is RUSHING nice and loud from all the snow melt right now.

Lower part of the trail as we got closer to the stream

Outside of the actual summit climb, I would say this is the most steep section of the trail.

At about 2 miles in the views started to really open up all around and while we had some tree cover we were in the sun about half the time. It was really strong and so we slathered on the sunblock early. The snow melt was also interesting in that there were little paths of water working their ways towards the larger creek and often are part of the trail itself.

About 2 miles into the trail on a switchback as we caught a glimpse close to our goal.

About 2 miles into the trail on a switchback as we caught a glimpse close to our goal.

The view at the end of a switchback and the view southeast.

The view at the end of a switchback and the view southeast.

Trail is snowmelt runoff.

Trail is snowmelt runoff.

We did actually have to cross over the main creek but it was at a good spot and then the switchbacks got very long as we crossed over to other side of the valley here the trees started to spread out. We got to our first snow field at close to 3 miles in and it was interesting as we had to start in a runoff path and then climb up on to the field. From there we followed those who went before us to get back on the trail. It was surprisingly easy but a little nerve-racking as we knew it was deepish snow.

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We were making decent time all this way, in fact we did this in less time then it took us to go a mile the first time. The snow fields would slow us down a bit and certainly take more energy but overall they weren’t as bad as what we had been dealing with.

As we started to get closer to the tree line, there were still lots of runoff and I have learned to look behind us often because it is always so beautiful, this time was no disappointment.

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The back the way we came, East - Southeast

The back the way we came, East – Southeast

As we came up to the saddle between mountains, the most spectacular view starting coming into play

Coming to the pass

Coming to the pass

We also now figured out it was Meadow Mountain on our right. In the trail descriptions I could find it is often suggested to hit Meadow Mountain for an extra .6 miles round trip and an extra 400 foot elevation gain and then go onto to St. Vrain Mountain. I had decided that if we had time and stamina we would try this addition on the way back but our main goal was St. Vrain Mountain, mostly because I had read there is no defined path up Meadow Mountain that it would require a lot of bouldering. Somehow I missed that St. Vrain mountain was exactly the same only more than twice the height and distance to cover.

As we passed Meadow Mountain and got to the border of the Rocky Mountain National Park, it was hard not to constantly stare at the amazing beauty of the massive mountains to our right; Longs Peak, Mt. Meeker and Lady Washington as well as the beautiful flowers all along the path, small but plentiful!

Meadow Mountain Behind us.

Meadow Mountain Behind us.

Rocky Mountain National Park Border

Rocky Mountain National Park Border

Us at the border sign very excited about the hike so far.

Us at the border sign very excited about the hike so far.

View from higher up on the pass trail.

View from higher up on the pass trail.

The trail goes from Meadow Mountain over to St. Vrain and at a nice easy incline, when we got to the last the snow field before the final climb the amount of snow and water was amazing. It was not unlike a marsh, Aaron randomly put his pole in a little pool of water only to watch it go down a couple of feet. It was a bit of a shock and really struck home how much we have left to learn about hiking in Colorado.

We followed one pair of hikers through the last snowfield to the base of the summit climb. We saw one lone hiker making his own path down and a couple of snowboarders getting in a run down the large snowfield on the East face of St. Vrain Mountain, all going via different routes. As we approached the end of the snow field, no path was discernible and so Aaron kept the couple a bit head in view and tried to follow where it looked like they might have gone.

Approaching the Boulder field.  It is already pretty steep.

Approaching the Boulder field. It is already pretty steep.

Climbing over the steepest edge of the boulder field

Climbing over the steepest edge of the boulder field and false summit

THe view north as the boulder field ended and we were steps away from the summit,

The view north as the boulder field ended and we were steps away from the summit.

Wind Shelter

Wind Shelter

I can tell you I was pretty stressed the entire climb up and repeatedly thought about asking Aaron to turn around, not because the height bothered me but I was using so much strength to crawl over the boulders and for so long with it getting more steep. At some point I realized that I was trying to give up and convince myself I couldn’t do things like this because of my size, but the truth is I was doing just fine. Yes it was hard and yes I was pushing my limits but I was still ok. Interestingly Aaron was doing the same thing for different reasons but because I kept on following him without complaint he kept on going. When we reached the summit I was so crazy proud of us that I didn’t even care how windy it was getting. We shared the wind shelter at the top with another couple that was so incredibly nice. It took us 4 and half hours to get to the top and probably at least an hour of it for the summit climb alone. We ate some food, took a bunch of pictures and then headed back down. More to come on the way down, but first the directions and a few favorite pictures from the way up.

Directions:

From Boulder, take Highway 36 north until it dead ends. Turn left at the light towards Lyons and continue through the town of Lyons until you reach another dead-end. Turn left onto Highway 7 which will take you through St. Vrain Canyon from Lyons to Allenspark. Upon entering Allenspark, take County Road 107 (ski road) south for about 1.5 miles. At this point, National Forest System Road #116 heads up the hill to your right for about .5 miles to the St. Vrain Mountain Trailhead there is a sign noting the trailhead that way. Parking is limited at the trailhead.

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Twin Sisters Trail, Estes Park/Rocky Mountain National Park *Repeater* 6/8/13

11 Jun

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Last week when I was hiking with my girlfriends, we were admiring Twin Sisters (Hike details here) at all of our different amazing view spots.  I think it took me 3 looks to realize that there was not all that much snow showing at the summit and by the end of that hike I knew this was where we were going to hike next.  It was a good elevation gain, has amazing views and got us above 11,000 feet.

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When we arrived at the trail head at 7:30 AM, other hikers were pulling up at a steady pace and we could tell it was going to be a crowded day on the hike.  The summit isn’t all that huge either on the West sister and the East sister we never even attempted it last time, so we had no idea what that might look like.  We decided to go with a slow and steady pace on the way up mostly to adjust to altitude.

The weather was perfect, it was sunny but with clouds constantly moving across the sky making each glimpse of Longs peak different and more magnificent.  As we got closer to the tree line the wind started to really pick up, this is one of those peaks that is always windy and some of the hikers we passed as they were descending said it was hit or miss at the top on if the wind would be bad or not.  Most of the snow was gone but we hit a few patches mostly above the tree line.

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As we got to the saddle between the 2 sisters, the wind really picked up…like A LOT.  Last time we came here we didn’t even try the East sister, which is the true summit, this time Aaron really wanted to try it and so we went towards it.  Our timing was almost perfect as 6 people were coming down while we started going up this meant that we had it all to ourselves.  This East Summit requires some bouldering and the use of your hands as you find the best path up for you.  There is no defined path but most people end up going the same way up just by finding the easiest rocks to crawl over.

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When we got to the top of the East Sister, the wind was really pushing us around strong and Aaron is uncomfortable with heights when there is no wind.  So while I could have walked around up there, I didn’t because I knew he would probably have a heart attack.  I took a couple of pictures and then followed him down, as we were climbing the clouds started to come around the mountainside and we were literally in the clouds.

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The view of the West Summit from the East Summit.

The view of the West Sister from the East Sister.

The view east from the summit of the East Sister

The view east from the summit of the East Sister

View of Longs Peak from the East Summit

View of Longs Peak from the East Sister

Aaron climbing down the East Summit.

Aaron climbing down the East Sister.

We got down from the East sister and almost ran over to the West Sister so that we could catch the clouds coming in from the East and around the mountain, it was so cool looking.

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The Summit was CROWDED and more people were coming up all the time.  Fortunately the wind was also driving a lot of people right back down, we got some great pictures as the clouds were zooming across the sky and mountains.

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We made great time down the mountain and just as we were about a mile from being done, I fell….hard.  I squeaked and got all twisted in my poles trying to protect my head, I even managed to break one of my trekking poles.  It turned out not to be a big deal since I couldn’t close my left hand around it anyway and I could only use one pole the rest of the way regardless.

I was doing an assessment of my injuries and figured the hand was the worst one, as soon as we got to the car I grabbed an ice pack and started icing it took some Advil and figured we could still do a second hike on Sunday.  The one I had picked was easy so why not…..turns out my hand wasn’t the problem but my whole right side of my body( on which I landed) ignited with pain at about 2AM.  Not one for suffering in silence, I woke up Aaron to tell him the hike was off, I am such a good wife…..

Sunday all I did was lay around feeling sorry for myself as the weather was perfect so views of our second hike would have been spectacular.  Outside of a few bruises ( including my pride),  I am feeling pretty good today but Sunday and Monday were good days of healing.  I should be back to hiking this weekend and we are planning on trying 2 hikes again.

Gem Lake, Estes Park CO; a repeater & the first Girlfriend hike – 6/2/13

5 Jun
Gem Lake

Gem Lake

One of the best parts of moving to Colorado so far has been the amazing friends I have made!  These friends have been a great source of motivation, information and comfort for me.  Because of them I seen such beautiful parts of the state that I may never have adventured too if not for their advice!

Julie was patient and nice enough to take me on one of my first hikes here, one I later used to help me get in some sort of better shape to try hard harder hikes, Deer Creek Canyon ( hike details here).  When I think back to that hike with her, I grimace at what she had to put up with from me and with such good grace!  She has been so encouraging in my pursuit of hiking to healthy and everything I pursue for that matter, not to mention just a great friend to bounce hike ideas off of!

Julie

Karin knows so much about Colorado in general it is staggering, she gave me my second go to hike in the beginning of this journey at White Ranch Park( hike details here)  with the Rawhide trail.  At the time I first started doing it, I thought she considers this easy… note to self never hike with Karin!  But as I have learned to discover, people who live here a long time know what is really hard and what is easy.  She was right, it is now an easy hike for me but 53+ pounds ago, not so much.  She is also my biggest cheerleader every day as I try to live a healthier more active life, she is always bragging on my weight loss to anyone who mentions I look great while she is around.  She helps me stay on track when ever I need a little lift to keep on going.  Everyone needs a Karin in their life….but you can’t have mine!

Karin n view

On this particular hike we were missing our third partner in crime, Carrie, who will be joining us for future hikes but she has been equally important to me and our move here.  She took me out all over the place to do all sorts of different fun Colorado things, introduced me to so many wonderful people and all while laughing and having a  great time! I often remind her that she is the reason I stayed in Colorado and I am thankful every day she helped me through those hard transition times, among other things!!

They have all been extra supportive of my hiking and have actually started asking for my advice on which ones to try.  I was so excited that I begged them to come hike with me so this past Sunday I got to show them a trail they have never tried before.

I took Julie & Karin to Gem Lake (hike details here).  I love this hike because it is the perfect hike to plant the seed of “doing more hikes” with.  It isn’t too long, has amazing views, and it does have a decent climb so it is hard work but the payoff is so worth it!  The day was perfect in terms of weather, close to 70 degrees, sunny and dry which made the sky the best color blue while the clouds were the whitest white!

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The only down side to the day is that the trail was very crowded, which made pictures a little more challenging and finding a nice spot to grab a snack at the top was harder to come by.

I need to rename this hike as the persuasion hike, because I think it helps in convincing people that Colorado and hiking are awesome!   In fact during our hike on Sunday, it was easy to suggest that we try to get together and do a girl’s hike once a month!  It was a great day with wonderful Ladies!  Now once a month I will share with you our friends hike!  I hope you like the extra hikes!  Now for some favorite pictures.

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Bear Peak Via Fern Canyon, Boulder CO 6/1/13

4 Jun
View of the North Front Range From Bear Peak

View of the North Front Range From Bear Peak

Walter Orr Robert Trail> Mesa> Fern Canyon> Bear Peak Trail> Bear Canyon Trail> Mesa Trail> Walter Orr Robert Trail @NCAR

Starting Elevation:  6104

Highest Elevation: 8461 ( with some up s and downs we had a total Elevation gain of a little more than 2600 feet)

Trip Length: Officially it is anywhere from 7.5 to 9 miles depending on what trip information you can find, we were pretty close to 9 mile

Trail Uses:  Hiker and Joggers- no bikes

Pets:  Dogs are allowed but from Fern Canyon to Bear Canyon Leash only.  For the Mesa Trail as long as they have the Boulder green tag for voice command, they can be off leash.

Fees:  None

Degree of Difficulty: Difficult

Bathrooms:  None that I could find….although it looked like during regular business hours the lobby of NCAR could be used.  We didn’t check to see if regular business hours included Saturday and Sunday.  Sadly we discovered not many people practice leave no trace on this trail…

VIews west from the summit of Bear Canyon

Views west from the summit of Bear Canyon

I have wanted to do this hike for a while, unfortunately much of it was effected last spring/summer when the back part of it caught fire during our horrible wild fire season. I kept checking periodically for when sections would reopen and then last weekend my hiking super hero Wendy did it and said that at least one of the ways were open again.  Since the Continental Divide got hammered with enough snow on Wednesday and Thursday that they close I70 at the Eisenhower Tunnel in both directions Thursday morning, it was time to attempt this hike.  A lot of hikers use it to get in 14er shape when they can’t get altitude hikes in due to weather because it is an almost 2700 foot elevation gain overall and because we opted to go up Fern Canyon, most of that( about 2200Ft) would come in just the 2 miles to get to the top.  It was a great work out with great summit views!

Walter Orr Roberts TrailMap at trialheadTo Mesa from WOR

Lets talk trail, we opted to enter  at  NCAR( National Center of Atmospheric Research), which is easy to see from so many places in Boulder and the trail system is woven all around its ample parking lot.  We got there early at 6:30AM and good thing because we got a close parking spot to the trail head, when we got back to the car a little before 1 it was packed.  You drive right past the trail head as you pull into the parking lot, which we missed but as we walked west there is a huge rock with the trail name for the Walter Orr Robert Trail.  If in doubt of where it is, follow the road west out of the parking lot and it will be obvious as you get closer to the building.

Take this trail around and down to the Mesa trail, you can also make it a little more interesting up here by taking in all the signs and displays that NCAR has set up, we paid more attention to them on the way back because we were too excited when we first started to take extra time reading. You will end up taking the Mesa trail to the Fern Canyon  Trail head, most of the time you will turn left when given the option except when you get onto Fern Canyon that is a right turn off of the Mesa.  Everything is really well marked with area maps and signs as you go, because of this I decided to not post the trail markers.

The Fern Canyon trail is steep, it starts out harmless enough then gets really steep and really rocky.  In some places having poles didn’t help us and we would have to just use our hands to climb up, I am going to post a series of pictures of the different parts of the Fern Canyon trail so you can see how it changes as we made our way to the summit.

Early on Fern Canyon Trail

Early on Fern Canyon Trail

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Where the fire came over the ridge and close to the summit

Where the fire came over the ridge and close to the summit

Final approach to the summit

Final approach to the summit

Me at the summit

Me at the summit

When we got to the summit we actually took turns climbing up, it is climb that requires both hands and concentration.   There were a surprising number of hikers who didn’t even bother going up, they said that there is no point in going up as you can see everything good from the trail breaks.  Plus the way to Boulder peak is still closed because of the fire as is Shadow Canyon.  We had something to eat took a bunch of pictures and then headed down via Bear Canyon trail.

Bear Canyon Trail from the summit

Bear Canyon Trail from the summit

You head to the right and down from the summit climb, then you come to Shadow Canyon and the Bear Canyon trail heads as you can see the Shadow Canyon trail is still closed.  Go Right and down….

trail to bear canyon from summit

We once again put away our poles and used mostly our hands to get down, the first quarter-mile down is steep but not as steep as Fern Canyon.  Personally I feel like down is the harder part of a hike and so I wanted to take the less steep option down, this was not the norm on Saturday I have to say I was surprised.  The truth is I was the biggest person on this loop so maybe the stress of down on knees and ankles isn’t a concern to all the super healthy in shape people who passed us.  Bear Canyon is much less steep and after that first quarter-mile we made good time back to the car.  My knees ankles and feet were very thankful.

Looking back what we climbed down at the start of Bear Canyon

Looking back what we climbed down at the start of Bear Canyon Trail

The trail started leveling out and moved through more of the burn area, which was strangely beautiful with its blacks, golds and then bursts of green where the flowers were sprouting up.

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It took us a solid 3-3:30 hours to get up the mountain and just 2 hours to get down.  It was a lovely path and after we got out of the burn area, we got whiplash from all the flowers everywhere!  We really loved this hike and were super proud of ourselves with how well we did  on it.  My legs were a little shaky at the top but quickly recovered for the hike down.  I hope you try this one out some time, it is definitely strenuous so work up to it but so worth all the effort!  After the directions I will put my favorite pictures.

Directions:

From 36, take Table Mesa Drive west past Colorado 93 all the way until you get to a large parking lot for the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR).

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Boulder

Boulder

Eldora Ski Resort

Eldora Ski Resort

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Ben Tyler Trail #606-Pike National forest. 2nd attempt failed- 5/11/13

12 May
The view of our destination from the beginning

The view of our destination from the beginning

When we kind of stubbornly decided we were going to do Ben Tyler Trail (hike details here) this weekend, I knew deep down there was no way in hell we would make it to the top……. AGAIN.  It is really close to Kenosha Pass and one of the areas that probably got 4-5 feet of snow over the last month and then this week we had rain all week which meant snow storms up high, but still we got up insanely early and headed out to this trail.

A little closer the curve of the mountain to the middle right is where we are trying to get to.

A little closer the curve of the mountain to the middle right is where we are trying to get to.

At the beginning of the hike we were really optimistic, the trail conditions were straight up awesome and the weather was perfect.  I mean check out that sky, have you ever seen a more perfect color blue!

No gators yet

No gators yet

About a mile or so in, the snow really was taking over and we were trying to not comment about how deep it was starting to get.  There was only one other set of foot prints in front of us and honestly we were really hoping it was someone who had made it to the top.   We saw him jogging down not long before we crossed the stream for the first time and we were so excited he was actually there today (and not the day before) that we forgot to ask how far up he made it.

Crossing the creek

Crossing the creek

It wasn’t too far after this that we saw where the runner turned around, headed back and then we realized that it was time for gators.  I picked up some new ones at a great price and I am so glad they arrived before this hike because I needed them today.

Gator time

Gator time

Snow is getting higher

Snow is getting higher

At least the views made the snow not such a big deal

At least the views made the snow not such a big deal

We honestly didn’t take that many pictures and when we did, these are all with my iPhone or our Olympus tough camera not our canon, but the day was so beautiful I think it would have been hard to take a bad picture.

iPhone - Aaron's favorite from the hike

iPhone – Aaron’s favorite from the hike

After we saw where the runner turned around, it was just us blazing the trail through the snow.  Which we love but man was it a workout, first a foot, then 2 and 3 when finally we got to the trail marker around 10,000 feet up.

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We were huffing and puffing all through here still feeling good so we continued forward although we knew that it was unlikely we could get all that much further. It was actually getting warmer, the snow was getting deeper and more unstable yet we still had hope that we might make it up a little higher or that the snow would be a little less but finally we had to admit….the snow was too much.

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Before we took these pictures, Aaron slid down almost to his waist, for like a second we wanted to try to go further and try too hard to make it to the top.  But the clouds were really moving in and the reality that the snow was not going down at all hit us.  We turned around and started heading back, as I have begun to learn going down is not as easy as I once thought it was, the temperature had started raising and the snow was melting pretty quickly.  Only from the bottom up or so it seemed, the stress to our knees was intense.

the way back is not so great

the way back is not so great

The hardest part of heading down before we wanted too, was that the clouds almost disappeared and the sky turned this intense amazing blue that made us wish we hadn’t turned around ( even though it was the right decision) because the views on a day like yesterday would have been unbelievable.  I cannot wait to make it to the top one day and we will!

Seriously blue with my iPhone no less

Seriously blue with my iPhone no less

I feel like I had never seen this color blue in nature until I moved here and now I cannot get enough.

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In the end we managed to get to a little over 8 miles of hiking with a total elevation gain of 1700ft but it took us 5 hours round trip. One stupid feeling of awesomeness hit us on the way back, there was another pair of foot prints in the snow that suddenly appeared but they turned around at least half a mile or more before we did.  We got to the parking lot as they were finishing up their de-clothing post hike ritual, 2 guys younger and in better shape than us the look on their faces when they realized we went further than them was priceless.  We could almost read their lips “like seriously they beat us”, it felt crazy great!

We just loved the views too much and our favorite pictures got out of control so forgive me.

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