Sunday, May 30, 2010

Boulder Skyline Traverse - Long & Hot

Time: 5:26 
Distance: 24.18 miles
Effort: Easy
Body: Average
Weather: Clear and Hot

With the San Juan Solstice 50 looming in less than three weeks and a week-and-a-half-long trip down to sea level scheduled right smack in the middle of those three weeks, I was eager for a long, hard run this weekend. The run was, indeed, hard, but was made much easier by virtue of having some excellent company to share the miles with.

Met up with Brandon bright and early at Boulder's South Mesa Trailhead near Eldorado Springs. On the menu: the Boulder Skyline Traverse, a route that begins at the edge of South Boulder Creek, then climbs to the four mountain highpoints of the rocky backdrop to the metropolis of Boulder, Colorado.

First up was the climb from the trailhead to the saddle between South Boulder and Bear Peaks.With Brandon leading and setting a steady, early-morning pace, we cruised up the Towhee Trail to Shadow Canyon and made good time up the canyon's many twists, turns and step-ups. 

Brandon sets the pace up the Towhee Trail bound for Shadow Canyon

From the saddle, we hung a left and made the short climb up to the summit of South Boulder Peak. I tagged the summit 60:15. We had the place to ourselves. We paused long enough to snap a couple of pictures, suck down a gel and flail about like children trying to stay out of the flight path of what had to have been the World's Largest Bumble Bee.

Looking west from the summit of South Boulder Peak

After descending back to the saddle, we made quick work of the traverse over to the scree field just below the summit of Bear Peak and began the short climb up the shards of rock to the rocky summit of Bear Peak. A few hikers were basking in the cool morning sun as we paused to look down the spine of the Flatirons to Green Mountain and rest of the day's route.

Looking north to Green Mountain from the summit of Bear Peak

A brilliantly-executed self-timer picture on the summit of Bear Peak

The run from down from Bear and over and up to Green is my favorite section of trail on this run. It's got a little bit of everything: steep descents, easy climbs, rolling trail and a few steep grades. We rolled through this section, pausing at the small stream at the mouth of Bear Canyon to dowse ourselves and our hats in the cool water. Before we'd fully dried in the rapidly warming air, we met up with Tony K., who was out for one of his 6-7 hour fun runs. After a brief conversation, we set off and made the final climb to the four-way on the Green Mountain West Ridge Trail.

From the four-way, it's a quick climb up the rocky step-ups to the top of Green Mountain and its famed summit rock. We were warmly greeted at the summit by Kraig K. who was out picking up some elevation gain on the heels of his run last weekend at the Jemez 50, a race that by every account sounds like an unforgettable and remarkable sufferfest. Kraig mentioned he was thinking about signing up for the Leadville 100. In a valiant attempt to lure him into the race, Brandon let him know that all the cool kids were running that race, except for the ones running the Pikes Peak Ascent and/or Marathon that same weekend. Kraig reports on his blog that he signed up. Brandon's power of persuasion remains unmatched.

Self portrait on Green Mountain's summit rock

Brandon nonchalantly explains where all the cool kids will be the weekend of August 21-22

After descending back down Green's west ridge, we bid Kraig adieu and we headed down the West Ridge trail to Superflag and descended down to the Ute Trail trailhead at the turn-off to Flagstaff Mountain. We soon hit the flat top of Flagstaff Mountain and found the rock that is the mountain's highpoint. We paused here to refuel before heading off down the Flagstaff Trail bound for Halfway House.

I managed to free-climb the last four feet to the true "summit" of Flagstaff Mountain

From Halfway House just off Flagstaff Road, we cruised down the Valley View Trail. Along the way, we stopped to gaze at our northerly-most destination - Mt. Sanitas.  My legs were still feeling good at this point, but Sanitas looked dauntingly far away.

The high point in the middle of the pic is Mt. Sanitas

We finished our descent, pausing at Eben G. Fine park to fill our hydration packs with  amazingly cold water from the restroom sink. We soon were off, headed over Red Rocks to the base of Sanitas. We ascended the Mt. Sanitas Trail, winding our way past a couple dozen hikers. It was a busy day out there. And, by this time it was warming up quite a bit. Were it not for a decent breeze blowing from the southeast, it would have been brutal. I was feeling pretty OK on the ascent, powerhiking the steep step-ups and running the rest. Hit the summit marker in 25 minutes, after winding my way through the 20 people (and their 632 dogs) hanging out at the summit. Brandon soon joined me and after a couple of pics, we set off for the character-building return to our cars at South Mesa.

Looking east from the summit of Mt. Sanitas

From the summit, we descended down to the Sanitas Valley Trail and then followed roads up to Chautauqua where we stopped to refill our water packs before heading out on the Mesa Trail. The Mesa Trail offered some welcome shade and some moderate ups and downs. 

Brandon cruising down the Mesa Trail as seen through a malfunctioning camera lens.

We made good time over to Bear Canyon where we met up with Justin M., Nick C. and Nick P. who were out practicing togetherness in preparation for racing (Nick C.), pacing (Justin) and crewing (Nick P.) at the Western States 100 later this summer.  After another four miles, we wrapped up the Mesa Trail return with a quick descent down to the cars.

The run today came up about three miles shorter than the last time I did this run, the last five miles of which I did in the dark sans a light. I realized today that I missed two Mesa Trail turns last time, one of which I realized and corrected and another than took me an extra mile or two toward the east.

Once back at the cars, we both had food and drink on our mind. So, we caught our breath, reflected briefly on a great, hard run and took off. I went straight to the gas station at the turn-off to the road to Eldorado Springs and loaded up on a protein drink and a quart o' Gatorade before making the 40 minute drive back home.

All-in-all, it was a great day. We worked steady on the ups, ran the flats at a reasonable pace and picked up just a bit shy of 8,000 feet of elevation gain. Really enjoyed spending the hours with Brandon and swapping thoughts on prep and strategy for Lake City. 


  1. Loved the recap. Some stuff I forgot about in my write-up. Good pictures too! Thanks again for putting it out there. Long summer ahead. And SOME cool kids will be at Pikes. Those that double for sure!

  2. Jim,

    I passed the both of you below the four-way on my way to Bear. Totally agree, that section between Green and Bear has some fantastic terrain. Hell of an effort on Saturday. Wish I heard some of your thoughts on Lake City cause I'm honestly clueless going into it.


  3. Damn man. Sorry I missed you! We'll get it soon. Great shots.

  4. Jaime -

    I remember seeing you cruising by. I'm with you on the clueless part. Got some good beta from Todd G. on Sunday. A lot of it is commonsense, I guess, but still helped to hear the thoughts of someone that's run it. It's going to be a fun one...that's for sure.


  5. Thanks, GZ. Given some upcoming work/family travel, it'll likely be post-Lake City. Let's try and get up high in late June and July. Saw that you were at the Little Bear, right in my 'hood. I haven't been there in a couple of years. Fun place.