Tag Archives: Flatirons

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.

 

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.