Sunday, May 9, 2010

Boulder Skyline Traverse - Mesa Return

Time: 5:54
Distance: 27 miles
Effort: Easy
Body: Fair
Weather: Mostly sunny and warm

Eager to up the length and difficultly of my long runs these next few weeks, I decided to kick off the effort with an epic run through the mountain backdrop of Boulder.  

I've read a few reports about the Boulder Skyline Traverse, a route that takes one to the tops of all the city's major summits - South Boulder Peak, Bear Peak, Green Mountain, Flagstaff Mountain and Mt. Sanitas. In total, the traverse is something like 14-16 miles, depending on one's route.  Knowing I wanted a bit more mileage, I decided I'd run the Traverse one way and take the Mesa Trail back.

I set off from the South Mesa Trailhead around 3:30 p.m. The lot was packed and the lower trails were full with people.  From the parking lot, I headed out on the Mesa Trail and quickly hung a left and began the steady climb up the Towhee Trail to Shadow Canyon, bound for South Boulder Peak.  I hit the summit of SoBo in just over 59 minutes and paused for several minutes to take in the view, suck down a gel and chat with a couple of hikers chilling on the summit.  This was my first trip up this mountain. The trail conditions were pretty good with just a few lingering stretches of snow from the top of Shadow to the summit.  No problem navigating around/over them.

I was feeling a bit sluggish on the traverse over to Bear Peak, but was buoyed by views from the rugged summit of this mountain. There were probably 10 people around the summit of Bear. After a brief pause and a minute or two turning circles looking for the entrance to the West Ridge Trail, I was soon dropping steeply down the switchbacks bound for Green Mountain.  After the big drop, I made my way to the Green Bear Trail and took the Green Mountain West Ridge Trail to the summit of Green.  Just a handful of people on this summit, including a couple of young guys that hiked the same route I had just run. I paused again here to enjoy the view, chat a bit and eat another gel.

From the summit of Green, I headed back down the West Ridge Trail to Flagstaff Road. From the top of the road's last switchback, I followed an old, overgrown roadbed down to the Long Trail trailhead and began running down the side of the road toward Flagstaff. I made a couple of detours into the parking areas on the north side of the road to do some exploring...looking for bandit trails that might parallel the road and keep me off the pavement. I ran a couple of old fire roads, but they all petered out and I ended up running a bit on the road.

After a mile or two, I got to the entrance to the Flagstaff picnic/amphitheater area and took the Ute Trail up to the flat "summit" of Flagstaff Mountain. I found the highpoint, climbed up on the rock and set off again munching on a peppermint Luna bar. I ran the Ute Trail to its intersection with the Flagstaff Trail and took Flagstaff down to Halfway House, the first picnic area on Flagstaff Road. From here, it was down the Viewpoint Trail to Eben G. Fine, over Boulder Creek up and over the Red Rocks hump down to the Mt.Sanitas Trailhead.

The climb up Sanitas was a bit slow - roughly 27 minutes, a good nine minutes slower than my PR. I steady-hiked most of it, running the flat sections. This was the only of the five summits that I had to myself.  By this time, I knew I'd be finishing the run in the dark, so I didn't linger on the summit.  I just tagged the summit marker and ate a gel as I began the descent down the east side.

After running down the Sanitas Valley trail, I ran down Fourth Street and over to Sixth Street for the climb up to Chautauqua and the beginning of the Mesa Trail.  By the time I hit Sixth, I was feeling pretty good. I ran a good, steady pace up to the entrance to the Mesa Trail. With daylight fast dissolving, I was eager to get as far as I could on Mesa before true darkness set in.

Well, I made it to the spot just past Bear Canyon where the Mesa Trail again turns to singletrack before it really started feeling dark. The wide, gravel sections of trail were no problem, but the rock and root-strewn sections in the woods were more problematic. Still, I made good progress and other than a few steps in mud, I had little problem with footing.  I never fell, but it I had to go much slower than I wanted to. time I bring a headlamp!

All through the Mesa Trail section my legs felt good.  I think I was driven by the looming darkness and the knowledge that JP would be getting anxious about my whereabouts. I think those two factors gave me just enough of an adrenaline boost to push me through those last four miles. A highlight was hearing all the frogs croaking as I approached the pond above Cragmore.  Such a cool sound.

I finally got back to the South Mesa Trailhead at 9:28 p.m. The last 1.5 miles down the Mesa Trail was a joy. It was still warm and I was just cruising down this wide-open flat trail, feeling like I was the only person within miles on that trail (I reckon I probably was).

Total elevation gain - 8,034 feet.


  1. Great job. I will do it with you if you want company next time.

  2. Yeah, I am in too. But heck, you got to start earlier than that.

  3. Damn..that's long day. And damn again, that's a ton of freakin' elevation!! Nice job.

  4. Gents - Would love company next time. And, hell yeah, we start earlier! I meant to bring a headlamp, but was in such a hurry post-Mother's Day festivities, that I didn't want to run back in to get it. Lesson learned. Still, it was a great night, complete with the spine-tingling forest noises now and then - no doubt a mountain lion trying to decide whether to attack.

    How about next Sunday starting way, way early so we can wrap it up and still have time w/ the family. I can work on getting Mallory there too.


  5. I might be up for that ... although I have a mid day flight so I might need to bag early.

  6. GZ-

    Darn...wait. JP is travelling this weekend. I'll be running when I can find a babysitter. Completely forgot. Aargh.

  7. Totally can relate to that. No sweat. We will get it soon.