Green Mountain Musings: realizations after my year of 100 summits

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Green Mountain at elevation 8,148′, is one of the most accessible hills near my home in Boulder, Colorado. The summit sulks in the background of many photos of the more famous Flatirons, taken by visitors of the The Colorado Chautauqua at its base. For such a small geographic area – it’s literally just a city park, it packs a lifetime of exploration.

The Flatirons
The Flatirons, with the summit of Green Mountain in the background

I may have first hiked to its summit in 2000 when attending CU Boulder, but it wasn’t until around 2013 that my obsession really took off. Stymied by a sprained wrist and with a self-supported bikepacking race from Denver to Durango via the Colorado Trail coming up, I needed a way to train without being able to grip a handlebar.

So bikes were out, trail running was in. Having moved to Denver after my short stint at CU Boulder, visiting the mountain usually meant an early wake up time and an hour bus ride to Baseline and Broadway, before a quick cycle up to the trailhead. I’d leave for Green so often that the woman I was living with was sure I was cheating on her with some random Boulder babe. By the start of 2014, we’d broken up, I moved out of her place and back to Boulder – not to be with someone else (that threat was imagined), but to be close to Green Mountain.

In the eight years since then, I’ve wandered over many of its faces, ridges, slopes, and flatiron rock formations. There are more named spires, boulders, trails, and canyons than one could ever remember. It feels like many mountains mashed into one. A perfect practice space for larger objectives.

Between January and May of 2022 I had accumulated almost forty summits in my usual training for my multi-day fastpacks. Although I’d get close most years, I’ve never been able to make 100 summits by the year’s end. Summer usually derails such attempts, as my focus moves to large projects on loftier peaks to the west. I come back to Green Mountain in the Fall with an unrealistic deficit of summit ticks to make up for and less than ideal weather conditions to now contend with. Maybe, I thought: this was the year. I started keeping a more careful record of my summits to track my chances of getting 100 by the end of December.

Oh the views you'll see. Mixed conditions are no match for the Sloppy Conditions are Perfect for the Ultra Raptor II Mid GTX
Taking the lonelier path up Green gives one unexpectedly excellent views of the backside of the flatirons

100 summits amounts to an average of one summit every 3.65 days – not even two summits each week! But of course, other activities get in the way: other mountains, bicycles, climbing, work, girls… I’ve done a round trip of Green in less than an hour – but only a few times. It usually takes me quite a bit longer these days – I’m just not that type of athlete anymore.

I usually start out from the Gregory Canyon Trailhead, after a warmup the four mile bike ride from my home. That last stretch of road heading out from Baseline always makes me grunt as I stand on my pedals to reach the end, wondering if I’ve lost my fitness edge for good. Gregory is quieter than Chautauqua, much less of a touristy feel, having less than ideal parking, no gift shop, nor a commanding view of the Flatirons. Shaded by the canopy of trees that engulf it, Gregory is a relief from the summer’s dry heat. But in the wintertime, it’s an icebox.

My bike parked at Gregory Canyon is a huge tell that I’m myself somewhere lost on the mountain

My runs are lonely affairs. Although there’s a good choice of trails to take up, I’m now more likely wandering off them, linking up wooded slopes with flatiron scrambling routes, then jumping onto deer trail towards the summit, taking notes of smaller boulders and their undone climbing problems. I indulge in this solitude.

The much larger flatiron formations are themselves worthy diversions, making a perfect excuse to wander the slopes and find obscure linkups to the summit. There are dozens of easy routes on flatiron east faces, and I’ve scrambled up all the classics. Sometimes I get so wrapped up in scrambling them, I’ll run out of water, or time, or legs to actually summit Green. No matter: the day certainly wasn’t wasted.

Greenman's Crack
A lap scrambling up the Third Flatiron makes a good diversion before heading towards the summit

This year in fact, I racked up my 300th lifetime running of the Freeway route of the Second Flatiron. I know the 600′ 4th Class scramble so well that I’ve even done it twice now hands-free. It seems so benign as climbing routes go, but it’s been the scene of many accidents, rescues, and even deaths just in the past year. Being so intimate with the route, I now wander up without focus, deep into some visceral thought, almost climbing right up and over people in front of me.

It didn’t start out that way: there were special shoes, a helmet, and major Elvis leg at the cruxes. Now that I have become a lifetime student of Green Mountain and of the Flatirons, I go back on routes like this, not to challenge myself, but to go back to basics, approach it with a beginner’s mind yet again . Freeway leads into one of the best direct routes up to the summit and I can scramble it no matter how exhausted I am after an hours-long indoor bouldering session.

Freeway Lap #300
Freeway Lap #300

Each summit from the trailhead garners around 2300′ of elevation gain, and can be as short as 2 miles . At 1150′ of climbing for each mile, it’s steep – the famed Hardrock 100 course is only half that pitch. I’m usually power hiking up the mountain instead of anything appearing close to a trot – let alone a run (descending is an entirely different story). 100 summits is a little less than half a million feet of total elevation change. But over the course of a year, that’s really just a modest amount – especially for someone like me.

Having wandered all over Green Mountain, I then began playing a game of route golf, trying to find the shortest path to the summit, regardless of terrain. First I discovered the Saddle Rock ridgeline, an area that seems more popular with bears and mountain lions than people. Saddle Rock itself can also been seen from Chautauqua and one would think it held many classic climbs as the Flatirons themselves do, but the cracks in the rock are full of brush and its faces are covered in a healthy population of exfoliating lichen.

“Gregory Falls” near the source of Gregory Creek, running over Boulder Creek Batholith rock

Saddle Rock didn’t seem it could be bettered, until I wandered into Contact Canyon below, shaving a few hundred feet of distance and adding in some disgusting bushwhacking. Contact Canyon is so named as it’s the physical fissure point where the Foundation Formation sandstone conglomerate of the Flatirons on one side meets the granite-like Boulder Creek Batholith that is the heart of Green Mountain on the other.

Typical crunchy Boulder Creek Batholith Granodiorite
Typical crunchy Boulder Creek Batholith Granodiorite

The 1.7 billion years old grainy granodiorite is sometimes a beautiful creamy salmon color bespeckled with black and white flakes – the most bewitching that I’ve found are deep in a canyon at the source of Gregory Creek itself, a place where you’re more than likely have a hidden mountain lion’s eye on you. When covered in green lichen, this rock often gets taxonomically misplaced as it’s much younger sandstone upstairs neighbor. I’ve had many spirited arguments with people who think all of Green Mountain is made out of sandstone, but haven’t actually looked at the damn rock they’re walking on. Those details like many are overlooked by more casual visitors. Similar secrets are shared by some of Green Mountain’s more cultist of worshipers.

The Sangres!
The Sangres!

As Summer turned to Fall and my last Sangres multi-day trip – a late season attempt to traverse the entire range north to south, wrapped up in October, I again focused on the comparatively tame and diminutive Green Mountain. I wasn’t in the best of spirits, as every one of my larger-than life projects of traversing entire mountain ranges had failed somewhat spectacularly. But I surprised myself with Green Mountain: I was not as woefully behind in my summit ticks as I’d been in previous years. But I was going to have to pick up the tempo if I wanted 100 by January. By the beginning of October I had sixty-eight summits; by the end of October only three more. Now every week in November and December, I’d have to do on average three summits.

South Green Mountain from Nebel Horn
South Green Mountain from Nebel Horn, the south ridge made up of The Sacred Cliffs

So naturally, I took the first three weeks of November completely off from running. That’s what happens I guess when writing deadlines loom, and your executive function feels as if it’s been stolen from right under you like so many car catalytic converters. The weekly average I now needed became almost four.

To add one more surprising variable, somehow I had gained about seven pounds of muscle in the past year, most likely due to my bouldering practice, no shortage of pizza + ice cream, and my insatiable desire to partake in all the above. 192 lbs is what most enthusiastic hikers weigh with all their backpacking gear on them, not when standing on their bathroom scales naked!

In 2022, I broke up with my girlfriend of almost two years, whom I had spent my last few Thanksgivings with. Without them, or any invites from my albeit very distant family meant I was free that day. I smelled opportunity: time to do an all-day Green Summit Feast headlined by none other than me and make some headway before the real snow dumps happen!

Snowy Green Mountain
Snowy Green Mountain

I got everything ready the night before, went to bed early, psyched myself up in the morning – and then only managed to do two laps that day. Something was very much off with me. It was getting hard for me mentally (not physically) to complete a lap, then go right out again for another, as I had so many times before. In my Green Mountain career, I’ve done three laps in a day, five laps in a day. In one 26 hour period, I didn’t stop until I had gotten 13 summits in a row – still riding my bike home!

Summiting Green Mountain in a blizzard with the Ultra Raptor II Mid GTX
Summiting Green Mountain in a blizzard using snowshoes, starting from my home in North Boulder – another Green Mountain misadventure

Along with summits up some stupid hill, I’ve been doing a lot of work on myself, shoveling through the shit I’d have rather just ignore in the corner of my head, hidden behind something plain and unassuming. My current recovery program for surviving growing up in an alcoholic family has been one of the most exhausting training routines I’ve ever done. I’ve needed to question much about myself and my identity, especially when it comes to the ultra endurance:

Why is it I do the things I do? Why go to such extremes? Why is it so easy for me to bear and endure low levels of pain for long periods of time and so very hard to approach a challenge – any challenge, in a less extreme way? Could I somehow balance my love of testing my mental fortitude and physical prowess while also living a mentally and emotionally functional life?

Green Mountain Tree
Fantasy Landscapes can be found if you know where to look

I made Green Mountain my Higher Power in my recovery. I don’t believe in a God, but I sure believed in the power of Green Mountain. An inert piece of earth I’ve known my entire adult life that had no special interest in me. As I hiked, ran, climbed – enjoyed Green Mountain: Green Mountain just was. It existed before me, and will exist long after I’m dust.

Maybe now I was looking to have a dialog with all this rock. “Stop overindulging, chip away at this goal a lap or two at a time – or like you’re life, the project is just going to turn into an unmanageable mess.” I don’t know if that was Green Mountain saying all this to me in my head, or if it was coming from a very small, very frightened version of myself asking for a little moderation. Perhaps that little kid was what I’ve found out there, just wanting to hide away from all these adults and play in the forested slopes and rust-colored rocks.

The ECR lost in the plow's frozen wake at the Gregory Canyon Trailhead
The ECR lost in the plow’s frozen wake at the Gregory Canyon Trailhead

For the rest of November and all of December, I relaxed my anxious ticking of summits and just let them flow a little more moderately and certainly without too much pressure. No Everesting to ring in the new year. When I had time, I rode up Gregory Canyon trailhead, did a lap or two, rode home, fitting these portioned Green Mountain missions around the more important shit in my life, including working on that spiritual journey.

On the 30th of December, I hiked two more laps in a row on those trails I’ve stammered up and down hundreds of times before, counting out my 99th, and 100th summits of Green Mountain for the year. And that was that: just a routine I was able to keep, week after week. As someone’s who essentially addicted to excitement and novelty, it’s still an uncomfortable sensation: being done without almost doing myself in from the effort. Maybe even coming out of it all stronger than before.

Green Mountain Summit #100 for the year!
Green Mountain Summit #100 for the year!

What’s next for me in my relationship with Green Mountain? I guess a thousand lifetime summits isn’t unreasonable to expect out of me before I get priced out of living in this city once and for all. I’m at around 600 or so now, but I haven’t tracked this metric really all that closely, I’ll have many extra unofficial summits. But that’s more an expectation if all goes well and I don’t break my leg doing something stupid (how lucky I’ve been so far). Maybe I’ll just find one of those desolate boulders to focus my intensity towards climbing ten feet of seemingly impossible moves once, rather than a easier route an infinite amount.

A career of Green Mountain wanderings
A career of Green Mountain wanderings

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Joel
Joel
24 days ago

Lovely write-up, congrats on meeting your goal and thanks for sharing your personal journey with Green Mountain.

Samir Chopra
21 days ago

Love it man. I wonder if we’ve run into each other on Green, my favorite mountain in the world!