Tag Archives: Boulder

An Intense Hike Outside of Boulder

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Colorado has some really intense hikes! Places like these, where steep terrain features rise up out of the ground like gigantic walls, are breathtaking beyond belief, but also intimidating for hikers. Most people commonly think of places like these as being tucked away in the densely packed mountains of the Central Rockies, hours away from Denver and Boulder, or even further away, in the canyons of the West. However, there is a hike, a challenging hike, with just this kind of feature just outside of Boulder.

Bear Creek is a hike that, in some way, feels similar to hiking up a 14er (A peak whose elevation is greater than 14,000 feet). Its total elevation gain is right around 2800 feet, and the hike up Bear Peak, along with its neighboring peak, South Boulder Peak, has frequently been described as a great way to train for a 14er. It can be accessed from two points, both just outside of Boulder; the Mesa Lab and Eldorado Canyon State Park. The later has a $5 parking fee, but offers a somewhat more pleasant hike.

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From a distance, the flatirons have some amount of intimidation factor, particularly for those who are relatively inexperienced with respect to hiking. It is, after all, a fairly abrupt transition between the flatness of the Plains to the East and the rugged terrain of the mountains that are a near constant feature for miles to the West.

From Eldorado Canyon, the hike has two parts to it. The first part is relatively easy, and actually persists for a somewhat surprisingly long distance, just over two miles.

Deer run through a gently sloped field jumping in and out of the bushes. Flowers of all colors appear alongside the trail. The mountain features gradually get closer. However, this is all just a set-up, kind of a prelude. It turns out to be a warm up that lasts nearly half the hike. After that the trail runs right into Shadow Canyon, where everything changes quite abruptly.

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All of a sudden, the wide open trail and wide open spaces all collapse into densely packed trees and rocks, shade, and a tight single-file tail.

It also becomes quite steep!

Over a 1.2 mile stretch, the trail gains 1600 feet in elevation, going pretty much straight up most of the way. Only towards the top are there any switchbacks. In this case, the switchbacks actually make it easier. The slope of the trail becomes far less intense, than the stair-steps that are nearly constant for about a mile. It ends up being a good reminder of why switchbacks are commonly used on roads and trails.

There are two peaks at the top, less than a mile apart, Bear Peak and South Boulder Peak. Getting to both peaks involves a sketchy, rocky scramble.

This is only the last few hundred yards. On both peaks there is reasonable cause to be nervous. The rocks can be both slippery and unstable, and the terrain is steep in all directions.

Both peaks also offer views of both the mountains to the West and Boulder and the Plains to the East.

Bear Peak is a little bit closer to town. It may be one of the best places to overlook Boulder and the surrounding area in its entirety. One thing that can almost always be observed when looking at some of these Colorado towns from above is how many trees are planted by people in cities. Just east of the Rocky Mountains, trees do not naturally grow. The distinction between what is natural and what isn’t can be seen quite clearly. It is almost more evident than any of Boulder’s actual features, such as downtown or CU campus.

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The view of the mountains from South Boulder Peak is not all that different from Bear Creek, but still feels like the better view.

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Looking in the other direction from South Boulder Peak, as the day wares on, a reminder appears, as to unique of a year 2018 has been.

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According to the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control, several major fires are ravaging the state, leading to fire restrictions in all but some of the northernmost counties and even some prolonged closures on major Colorado highways.

By the start of July, the haze from these fires had become a near permanent feature of the afternoon sky. The appearance of a thick low cloud with an orange tint on an otherwise perfectly clear day serves as a reminder that no two experiences, even if in the same place at the same time of day and year, are exactly the same. The weather, just like many other aspects of our lives and culture, is always changing. There are times that are considered “normal” and other times that are considered “abnormal”. Sometimes what is considered “abnormal” beings to appear more frequently, or persists longer than expected. In these cases, it is natural to speculate, but only the future will truly settle whether what is normal is shifting, or whether the world is destined to shift back to what was previously considered normal.

An After Work Hike to Royal Arch

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June is a month with tons of opportunities, if for no other reason than the amount of daylight many places in the Northern Hemisphere receive. The long days and late sunsets make a lot of activities possible for people who work traditional hours. It is only in and around this time of year that those working “normal working hours” (I want to make clear that I in no way advocate traditional working hours), have enough daylight for hikes, as we’ll as many other outdoor activities, on weekdays after work.

 

Royal Arch is a fairly strenuous three and a half mile (round trip) hike that originates at Chautauqua Park in Boulder, Colorado. Located at the Southwest edge of town, these trails are very popular, and Chautauqua Park can be quite busy at certain times of year. Although a high number of people reach this trailhead by bike or on foot (this is Boulder after all), parking is quite limited. One should not expect to find a parking spot in the lot by the trailhead any time conditions are ideal for hiking. This includes both weekend days, as well as on weeknights like this one.

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For a unique experience, I arrived at the trailhead at roughly 6:45 P.M. This is later than I would recommend arriving for anyone that desires to hike this trail at a moderate pace and finish before it gets dark, even at this time of year.

At this time of the evening, shortly after starting the hike, the sun had already descended behind the mountains to the west. Alpenglow could still be seen, hitting the top of the long flat diagonal rocks that are often referred to as the “Flatirons”.

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Hiking mainly after 7 P.M. also put most of the hike in the shade, as the sun was already behind the mountain peaks to the west. This made the hike more comfortable, as the temperature was in the upper 80s, a normal level for this time of year, before the hike.

Most of the trail is fairly strenuous, with a consistent climb. This changes at Sentinel Pass, which is within about a half a mile of the end of the trail.

Many hikes are said to have “false summits”; places where the trail appears to be reaching a summit, which is usually the final destination of a hike. Sentinel Pass, in a way, is both a false summit and a real summit.

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It is actually a summit! However, it is not the end of the trail. The trail continues. There is a short but steep descent right after Sentinel Pass. The descent is followed by another steep uphill section, where, after another 15 minutes or so of hiking, Royal Arch is reached.

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It ended up taking me just under an hour to reach Royal Arch. For a hike of 1.7 miles with 1600’ of net vertical, and some areas that are quite strenuous, this is a relatively quick pace.

After resting and enjoying the view for a mere 10 minutes at the top, I was still barely able to make it back down to the trailhead before darkness fell upon the area.

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This is why I would recommend for most people to either arrive earlier (which shouldn’t be an issue for most work schedules), or bring a headlamp. Even in the week following the summer solstice, with some of the latest sunsets of the year, there are limitations to what can be done after working a typical 9-to-5-ish day.

One of life’s major challenges is making the most of whatever opportunities come our way. June, and its lengthy days, represents an opportunity to simply get outside more and get more exposure to sunshine.

For a variety of reasons it appears that the modern digital, sedentary lifestyle is taking its toll on us. It feels as if every five to ten years, some new set of dietary recommendations come out. Either a new set of foods become the secret, magic ticket to a healthier life. Or, some different type of food suddenly becomes the new “boogeyman”, and is suddenly to blame for all these widespread health problems.

I am not a health expert. However, based on my observations and reasoning, it appears that many of our health problems are related to two things; many people being way too sedentary, and, primarily in the United States, some ridiculous portion sizes. There also appears to be some merit behind staying hydrated and getting enough sleep.

Our bodies were meant to move. It’s been shown that sitting for even a couple of hours at a time can actually lead to negative health impacts, including the supply of oxygen being cut off from our brains. The predominant form of employment in 2017 is still 7-10 hours per day sitting in front of a computer. This cannot possibly be good for our minds or our bodies.

There has also been countless articles published recently regarding the connection between happiness and exposure to sunshine. Not only were we not meant to spend well over half of our waking hours seated, we also were not meant to spend nearly as much time indoors.

In our current culture, it is really hard to avoid having to perform a lot of work that requires being seated in front of a computer. Heck, writing this, I am, in fact, seated in front of a computer. This does not mean we cannot seek out and take advantage of opportunities, whenever we can, to be outdoors, be in motion,  and/ or be social (separate topic), as much as we can.

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On the descent, I spent half the time talking to random people. The other half, I was lost in my own thoughts. I imagined myself in various scenarios, settings I could see myself in, places I would be, people I would talk to, etc. All the scenarios I imagined involved me encouraging others. I encouraged others to believe in themselves, to have confidence, to stand up to naysayers, and to make the most of their lives. Part of that involves taking part in activities that enrich our lives. So, I encourage everyone to take advantage of summer, particularly this first part of summer, and the opportunities it affords us by checking out places like Royal Arch for evening hikes.

 

Celebrating Our Accomplishments

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Life is full of events, both events in which we have control over and events which we do not.  This is true for everybody, from the most successful and confident people to the most disillusioned.  It’s also true that all people will experience both positive and negative events.

There are a lot of cheesy sayings out there that get to the same general point.  The one that sticks out in my mind is…

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Every time I’ve ever read this statement, I imagine the author primarily referring to those “negative” events- the kind of events that can cause anxiety, and, when not properly handled, have long lasting negative consequences, including a reduction in confidence and self-worth.

However, I feel as if this statement can apply both ways.  The same way the impact negative events can have on our lives can be minimized through the proper response, the positive impact of certain events can be truly realized, both with regards to life circumstance as well as confidence and self-worth, with the right response to a good event.

That is why it is important to celebrate accomplishments whether major or minor.  When celebrated properly, a person’s accomplishments can reinforce positive perceptions they have about themselves- without doing so at the expense of others, the way so many mistakenly do.

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I wanted to reach the 2,000-mile mark, celebrating the biggest cycling year of my life, at a location that is iconic as well as meaningful.  I might have selected a place right in the middle of the Central Rocky Mountains, had it not been for the basic fact that it is November.  While the weather has been warm, to the point that it doesn’t feel like summer actually ended, the month of November still comes with constraints.  70 degree temperatures will not change the fact that by 5:00 it will be getting dark.  And, in the mountains, there is more risk for trouble, in the form of precipitation, wind, and chilly mornings.

Luckily, there was a reasonable place to host this event; Davidson Mesa, a moderate sized hill, that sits about 600 feet above town, roughly six miles East of Boulder.

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The view of the Flatiorns to the West on a clear day is magnificent enough to warrant the Colorado Department of Transportation putting in a scenic overlook, which is particularly popular among tourists to the area driving from Denver to Boulder.

As is the case at the top of Vail Pass, the rest area is shared between motor vehicles and bicycles, as there is now a bike trail that follows highway 36 between Denver and Boulder.  As a regular visitor to Boulder, I have ridden on this trail about a dozen and a half times over the course of 2016.  So, it felt both scenic and meaningful to celebrate reaching this mile marker at the most scenic location along the trail between Denver and Boulder.

What makes events like this truly special is sharing them with others.  For me, this meant even sharing the event with someone who had a more significant accomplishment, mileage-wise, than I did.  In fact, I know that there are a lot of cycling enthusiasts who ride far more miles than I do, some even topping out at over 10,000 miles in one year!

2016 was a memorable cycling year for me, and the fact that I hit this milestone, 2,000 miles is only a small part of it.  When I look back upon the year, that is now almost over, and think of the cycling I have done, it is about way more than numbers.  It is pedaling around Niagara Falls

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The Adirondacks

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Over the mountain passes of New Hampshire

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And reaching the ocean, after six days, to have a fresh lobster.

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It is treks to places like Cheyenne and Castle Rock.

It is countless rides long the Platte River, Cherry Creek, and Route 36 bike trails.  It is even commuting for work.  This celebration for me, was about all those experiences way more than it was about reaching a milestone.  In a way, I was celebrating a year’s worth of positive and healthy experiences on my bicycle.

And I got to share the event with others, some of whom joined me for the 25-mile ride from downtown Denver, and some of whom joined me along the way.

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I even shared the event with a friend who was celebrating a more significant accomplishment than mine, 3,000 miles.  The true way to celebrate our accomplishments, both big and small is to do so in a way that does not take away from the accomplishments of others.  Knowing there are people out there who accomplish more, ride 3,000, 5,000, even 10,000 miles, and have gone to more destinations, some even riding across countries or continents, does not take away from what I have done.

I know I am not a super hero, or someone saving the world because I do some interesting bike rides that add up to 2,000 miles a year.  And, I know my life will have some more significant accomplishments.  But, I also know how to properly harness an event like that.  And, it is certainly not by using it as a means in which to compare myself favorably with some people for an artificial self-esteem boost.  Nor is it by dwelling on how much more others have done.  It’s by simply being joyous, celebrating, being happy for others, but most importantly, allowing myself to be happy for myself.

Tea that Isn’t Really Tea

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Tea is not something I ever give any real thought to.  For me, it is one of those products that has always just been there.  As much as I claim to be a curious-minded person, I had never even sat and pondered who was the first person to come up with the idea to take a bunch of ground up leaves, put it in a tiny little bag and dip it into a cup of hot water.  In fact, if you think about almost every product we use on a regular basis from the standpoint of a culture that has never been introduced to that product, it probably sounds absurd.  As I write this, I am eating a bagel.  Imagine telling someone who has never heard of a bagel that you have an idea to take condensed bread, bake it into a cylindrical shape with a hole in the middle, and maybe put some random seeds on top.

You would have probably been told, by at least some portion of the people around you, that your idea was either absurd, or unnecessary.  If I could, I would communicate this point to an entire generation of aspiring entrepreneurs, as nearly all of them, will at some point receive a similar reaction from people they describe their idea to.  In fact, some will even be turned down and laughed at by potential customers and investors.

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One of the reasons I had never given tea too much thought is that in my mind I had always associated it with things that I do not find too exciting.  Our subconscious minds have this strange ways of synthesizing our experiences, the experiences we hear about, and even some of the media we consume into some general associations.  Whenever anyone mentions tea, the image that naturally pops into my head is a fancy table with fancy chairs on someone’s lawn, in front of a garden on a day with the most pleasant weather imaginable, and people wasting that pleasant afternoon, with so many possibilities to engage in activities and explore what the world has to offer, just sitting around drinking tea.

In fact, I did not even start drinking tea until I got my first job after Graduate School.  It was free at work.  I started drinking it to save both money and calories, particularly on chilly mornings.  The only variety of tea that was free at my job was “black” tea, which is perfect, because, as I learned at the Celestial Seasonings tour, it is one of the most heavily caffeinated teas out there (surpassed only by Oolong tea).  So, I conditioned my taste buds to the rather plain flavor of black tea and did not ponder other options.

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However, Celestial Seasonings is a place that has way more character than the stuffy images I think of when I think of the average “tea time”.  It was started by a bunch of hippies, which should not really surprise me given that it is in Boulder and was started in the late 1960s.  They would gather leaves in the Rocky Mountains outside of Boulder to make their beverages.

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However, the leaves that constitute “tea” come from plants that cannot be grown in this part of the world.  So, the beverages they put together were drinks that could not actually be considered “tea” by the technical definition.  They would have been considered “herbal infusions”.  The phrase “herbal infusion” had a clear association with the hippie movement.  So, to sell these products to the general public, which was (and still is) largely skeptical of the hippie movement, they labeled the beverages “herbal teas”.

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Now nearly a half a century has passed.  A lot has happened.  First, the hippies reached full-fledged adulthood (over 30, is that what they said?), got jobs, bought houses on cul-de-sacs, and, eventually SUVs and mini-vans.  A new generation emerged, powered by a rejuvenated economy, and became Yuppies.  They managed to both continuously enlarge the houses and vehicles in suburbia, while also turning formally blighted neighborhoods in city centers across the country into high-class urban playgrounds.  Many of the areas that were once focal points to the hippie sub-culture, including San Francisco, and even Boulder, are now firmly under the domain of this new urban culture.  Of course, this is all an over simplification, but hippie communes still exist, largely in the same way soda fountains and other relics still exist.  A family will randomly encounter one in an out of the way place on a road trip, and grandma and grandpa will explain to the children what they are/ were all about.

Yet, the label “herbal tea” is still there, both in this tasting room, and in their packaging.  It is still there despite the fact that so much has changed.  Not only does the general public have absolutely nothing to fear from the hippie sub-culture anymore, but, I would argue that many of their ideas have penetrated our mainstream thinking, both “right” and “left”.  We do not wear suits to baseball games anymore.  People aren’t mocked or reprimanded nearly as much when they explore their feelings, and try to find themselves.  There is no more stigma around going to seek therapy, and tons of people participate in yoga classes.  We may largely be in boring cubicles and offices, but it is not unheard of to openly defy the authority structures there.

Despite all of this, people are still drinking “herbal tea” instead of “herbal infusions”.  “Herbal teas” are Celestial Seasoning’s three top selling “teas”.  Is this simply the power of inertia?  Are there still a significant enough number of people that would shy away from drinking something if it was labeled an “herbal infusion”?  Or is something greater at work?  Our world is in a constant state of flux, and that flux includes language, definitions, and standards.  The hippie movement did not survive, but some of the ideas joined the mainstream.  Maybe, although, these “herbal infusions” were not considered “tea” in 1969, they are now.  Very few people, when they buy these products at the store, even ever realize that they are not actually drinking tea.  For all practical purposes, it is tea despite the technical definition.  After all, Colorado is already a major part of a movement that changed the standards for what is considered beer, why not another product?

Hiking Boulder’s Flatirons in late November

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One of the things a lot of people don’t realize about Colorado is that it is actually possible to hike here year round.  For sure, winters in Colorado are characterized by a lot of snow, but at lower elevations, warm-ups are also quite frequent.  Earlier this year I made some calculations with some data from the National Climatic Data Center, and concluded that even in the coldest part of winter high temperatures can be expected to exceed 50F in Denver more than one in three days.

At higher elevations it is more consistently cold and snowpacked.  This is why Colorado has great skiing, but also why hiking at higher elevations beyond the month of October generally unrealistic.  However, it is great knowing that there is a place where both skiing and hiking could be available on the same calender day.  Sunday I went skiing, Monday I rode my bicycle, and yesterday I hiked.  What an interesting place!

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With that in mind, this is a great time of year to check out many of the hikes available at lower elevations.  This includes the Flatirons in Boulder, Colorado.  Many of the trails up this mountain feature can be accessed from Chautauqua Park on Boulder’s Southwest side.  With the park being in town, and downtown Boulder being only about a mile and a half away, and this park can easily be reached by bike or bus, making this one of the few places in the country where one can frequently hike and even rock climb without access to a car.  So, I can kind of see why it is an expensive place to live, but I really did not mind driving, so I’ll spare myself the extra $400 a month in rent.

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Hiking in the Boulder Flatirons is quite different than climbing a trail up a mountain.  Rather than one trail up and one trail down, there is a network of trails that need to be navigated for one to reach their destination.  From the parking lot, the Chautauqua Trail can be followed up to the Flatiron Loop Trail.  The Chautauqua Trail is a fairly consistent moderate uphill grade.  The Flatiron Loop Trail, however, gets both steeper and rockier.  Climbing this trail reminded me how high in elevation the Flatiron features really are.  With the features known as the Flatirons being so close to town, it is easy for one to think of these features as extending down almost to the elevation of town, roughly 5400 ft.  But, the reality is that these features are largely between 7000 and 8000 ft. in elevation.

Some of the rockier areas of the trail scared my dog a little bit.  Despite this, I did see a significant amount of dogs on the trail.  However, in Boulder, I would consider the Mount Sanitas Trail more dog-friendly, as it does not contain segments like this one.

What I did not realize until yesterday’s hike was that the Flatirons are numbered.  The Flatiron Loop Trail traverses Flatirons #1 though #3.  For each of these peaks, a spur off the trail provides climbing access.  The first Flatiron, pictured above, looks somewhat different up close.  Small scale features, particularly indentations in the rock, do not show up when viewing these features at a distance.  Like some famous paintings, they look nicer from afar than they do from close up.  The trail reaches it’s peak elevation between Flatiron #2 and Flatiron #3, and beyond Flatiron #3 is the trail I intended to do, the Royal Arch trail.

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Unfortunately, this trail was closed, most likely due to the flooding.  As an alternate, I decided to hike the Flatiron #3 climbing access trail, as I still wanted to get to the top of these features.  This trail was even steeper than the Flatiron Loop Trail, and also a lot narrower and rockier.  It is one of those trails where one follows the rocks as an indicator of the trail’s path.

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Flatirons #2 and 3 appeared somewhat more as I imagined them; rock formations poking out of the trees, with a near steady slant of around 45 degrees.  As I viewed each of these features up close, I could not help but be reminded of the rock features near Red Rocks.  Of course, these features are not nearly as red in color, but their shapes looked quite similar, making me believe that some of the same geological processes must have been at work in the creation of both of these features.

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On the return trip, back to the parking lot, I actually came to the conclusion that Flatiron #1 just looks somewhat different than the other two.  A later Google image search would confirm this for me.  I guess this one is not quite a “flat” as the other ones.

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It was actually nearly 3/4 of the way back down to Chautauqua Park that I encountered what I consider the best view of the day.  The time was around 3:30 P.M., which in late November means that the sun was already starting to descend in the western sky behind the mountains.  However, the sun was still an hour or so from setting.  As a result, the shadow created by the mountains can be seen quite clearly in contrast with the bright sunshine, making for a breathtaking image that is unique to that particular time of day.  Half an hour earlier, it would have looked like your standard daytime image of the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, and half an hour later this entire area would be shadowed and the entire region would be significantly darker.

I did not specifically plan to be here at this exact time, in this exact place.  In fact, if I were to try to calculate what time of day I would need to be here to see this exact view, I likely would have calculated it incorrectly.  Sometimes in life the best results come not from careful planning, but from simply going to new places, trying new things, and being ready to absorb and enjoy what comes your way.  This is what comes to mind when I look at this particular photograph.