Friday, July 24, 2009

Boulder Skyline Traverse

This is another old trip I wanted to post.

My friend Dave and I planned a long hike last fall across the peaks adjacent to Boulder. We decided to wait for a cool day (no 90 deg. temps) on a weekend, get an early start and hike from the South Mesa Trailhead, over South Boulder Peak, Bear Peak, Green Mountain, Flagstaff Mountain and Mt. Sanitas.

Dave drove down from Fort Collins on Friday, 9/5/08 and stayed at my apartment. The plan was to get up super early and hit the trail by 5am so we'd be done before any afternoon storms. We dropped off a car at the Mt. Sanitas trail head, drove down to the South Mesa trail head, and got on the trail just after 5am.

Between being tired, still warming up, and the steepness, the hike up Shadow Canyon in the dark turned out to be the hardest part of the trip, but we made good time and were on the summit of South Boulder Peak by 6:30, just after sunrise, but the sun was still below the clouds.

By the time we made it back across the saddle to Bear peak at 7am the sun was up.

We headed down the west ridge of Bear Peak then up the Green-Bear trail to our next goal, Green Mountain. This is probably my favorite stretch of trail anywhere in Boulder's mountain parks. There's varied terrain, from open grassy meadows to steep scambles, most of it is runnable, and it's far from any trail heads so it's never crowded.

We hit the summit of Green Mountain at 8:10am and quickly headed back down to the take the Ranger Trail over to Flagstaff. This next leg of the trip was mostly uneventful and mostly downhill until a gradual slope up to the summit of Flagstaff. We hit the highpoint in the Ute Trail at about 9:10am and decided not to make the short trip off trail to the true summit.

From here, we had to descend all the way down to Boulder Creek before making our way over to Mt. Sanitas. Giving up all that altitude was unfortunate, but that's the way it goes. Sanitas wasn't too bad since we could almost taste the end of the route and we made the summit by 10:55am and were back down to the trail head and the end of our route before 11:30.

We kept up a pretty good pace and the whole hike took us about 6.5 hours. We probably ran for about a mile of the entire route and both had enough food, water, and energy that we thought we could have gone faster. Now that I've been doing more trail running this year, and once my IT band heals, I'd like to try this again in the fall and actually try for a fast time. I'm pretty sure I could do it in under 5 hours, but that's a goal for the future.

There's a well established history of people doing ridiculously long, fast runs in the Boulder area and Bill Wright has a fairly detailed list up on his website. Read the trip report for the Longs Peak from Boulder run. Most of the times for the routes I've done seem to be at least 25% faster than I've ever done them! That's like the difference between an decent high school runner and a world record miler.

I mapped out this hike on, but I don't think their elevation calculations are even close to accurate. It said about 15 miles and 3862' of elevation gain, but I know just the ascent of S. Boulder peak is about 2900' of gain and Mt. Sanitas is about 1200' so that's already 4100'. There would be a couple hundred more from hitting Bear Peak and Green Mtn. probably adds about 1000' so my estimate was about 15.8 miles and between 5500' and 6000' of elevation gain. Has anyone else used this tool? It's pretty cool and intuitive. The distance seems ok, especially if I would have been more careful entering the route, but the elevation gain is WAY off.

It is good for making cool (if inaccurate) elevation profiles though. You can see all five peaks we hit here:

Finally, here is the route we took, including approximate distances:

South Mesa Trailhead (near Eldorado Springs)
Homestead Trail - 0.0 miles
Shadow Canyon Trail - 1.5 miles
X - South Boulder Peak summit - 3.4 miles
X - Bear Peak summit - 4.1 miles
Bear Peak West Ridge Trail - 4.1 miles
Green Bear Trail - 5.9 miles
X - Green Mountain summit - 6.9 miles
Ranger Trail - 7.1 miles
X - Ute Trail (including Flagstaff summit) - 8.5 miles
Flagstaff Trail - 9.3 miles
View Point Trail - 10.5 miles
Red Rocks Trail (to Mt. Sanitas trailhead) - 11.7 miles
Mt. Sanitas Trail - 12.5 miles
X - Mt. Sanitas summit - 13.9 miles
East Ridge Trail - 13.9 miles
Sanitas Valley Trail - 14.8 miles
Mt. Sanitas trailhead, Done! - 15.8 miles

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