This week’s of bicycle riding was interrupted by some snow falling in the Front Range, much to the chagrin of the rest of the thirsty state, which hasn’t seen as much snowfall as is anticipated. Snow didn’t let up until around Saturday, so I got out of bed as early as possible, waited for the late bus and got to the Chautauqua trailhead at around 9:30 am.
To make things a little more in my favor, I decided to go for Green first, to get an easy summit, right away, before the long walk to Bear Peak. If Green is a good, it would give me time to break any trail needed for Bear and if Bear is summitted, South Boulder is so very close, so hell, why not? The only other question mark in the air is how to get down from South Boulder. The Shadow Canyon Trail would not be fun to break, as it’s steep and with failing light could be a fairly long, slow slog all the way back to Chautauqua. So whatever, not like I had anything else planned for the day.
Green was easy enough, ton of people at Chautauqua, wearing snow shoes where snowshoes are not required. Toys. I brought mine along, not knowing if trails would be trenched yet. Green was an easy hike and took maybe 2 hours in soft snow. It didn’t take long to almost immediately strip down to nothing but a polypro top and bottom + running pants and enormous gaitors. Passed a snowboarded on the trail that remarked that there was too much powder. You meet strange people on trails. Take myself, for example.
Up Green and down the West side – now wearing snowshoes, a little concerned that this area was closed for the annual raptor breeding. Ranger wasn’t trenched out at all, so I sort of, well, lost the trail immediately and just made my own damn way down. Quite pretty. Got diverted into following a creek and was worried I was going to get my feet drenched if I stepped in the wrong place. It was getting pretty obvious that not having waterproof pants on was drenching my feet anyways. The gaitors seemingly not being able to affect the moisture coming down from the pants, itself.
But fun in tons of snow going down gets a little frustrating when the terrain levels and I found myself at the bottom of Bear Canyon, after bushwhacking my own path down. The question now was – do I go North, or South to make it to the intersection of Bear Peak West Ridge Trail? I took a few steps North, but going was-a-slow and it seemed peculiar that I’d be the first to break trail on something pretty accessible, so I hit it South and was greeted with the intersection sign up to West Ridge. Word.
And happily, it looked like just one other person took the initiative, so my luck panned out that I had a trail, however wrong or correct, to follow. The trench-digger did a damn good job, up until the steep approach to Bear Peak and it sort of went all-ta-hell. Well, maybe just not my style, I didn’t have to follow it, or anything. Nice work taking the long way to Bear though, unknown trench-hero!
Getting to the top at around 3:00pm and with a small crowd at the summit, I began the process of taking off most of my clothes in waves, to get as much wet stuff off and put more dry stuff on. Thankfully, I brought a change of almost everything – including socks. I’m pretty sure I got one younger dude a little huffy at my apparent lack of summit manners. And I mean it was a funny sight with them dressed in all sorts of technical gear to the nines and me trying to get a polyester top with a screen print of, “PUT THE FUN BETWEEN YOUR LEGS” over some triathlon logo to play nice with a 15 year old Helly Hanson (stinky!) poly pro top. And then, the boots and socks come off.
My boots. Damn wet enough that water pooled at the bottom and trickled down, if I tipped the boot. My double pair of socks were wrung out as best as possible and this made things a bit more comfortable, as hiking in them for the past few hours was a practice of enjoying the sloshing feeling. Thought about changing socks as well, but decided to use this instead for insurance later that day. Amazing, no blisters. Amazing feet, I say.
Chatting with one of the people on top, the inevitable happened, as he asked where I had come from.
“Uh, well started at 9:30am and came up from on top of Green!”
“Ooooooh, you’re one of THOSE ultra people”
I decidedly (really!) am not and explained it was my Beard: the Beard wants what the Beard wants and I am helpless to do anything, except follow what its desires. He seemed to understand Beard logic.
Taking time to put things into perspective, it seemed not a bad gamble to try for at least the saddle between Bear and South Boulder, as the going is relatively easy, even if the trail isn’t broken. If it is, I could think about gaining South Boulder and if Shadow isn’t broken, I can just retreat back to Bear and go down Fern Canyon. Not exactly what I wanted, but not a bad consolation.
Easy going to the saddle and to my delight, Shadow was trenched and a nice path trenched to South Boulder,
Which ended inexplicably, not too far afterwards.
A little confused as why someone would stop trying for the peak, so close to it, I started to carry on, until I realized how hard the going was a gettin’.
And then, I just kept going. It was slow going – the snow was up to the tops of my poles, but it was safe going: Retreat just meant retracing my steps in an already-trenched trail, so what the hell. And you know, the allure of being the only one up on South Boulder, on a Saturday sounded good to me.
Happily, I got out of the snow drifts of the trees and into the rock garden near the summit and traded mounds of snow for hidden leg breaking rock crevaces, which I navigated just fine. Now around 5:00pm, my near sunset views were subdued by angry-looking clouds from the west, but the view was nice enough, regardless.
Nothing comes for free and by this time, the light was failing and I had a long way to walk to repay safe passage to the three peaks. 6 or 7 miles back to Chautauqua, in the dark, in the snow? Had a fine time of it, jumped on the bike and rolled down Baseline to the first restaurant I found, which happened to be a Taco Bell. Grabbed a noisy bus back to Denver and home.
About 11 1/2 hours of fairly brisk walking. It’s amazing that the Fastest Known Time is more around two hours, thirty minutes and that includes a few extra miles to the lower peaks of Flagstaff and Sanitas. It took three hours, thirty minutes less last time I did this same walk, with half the snow on the ground. I’m am unapologetically not a runner, but it’s fairly humbling to think of how much time it takes to do something, while thinking your keeping a brisk pace.