Heading out the door this morning I wasn’t really sure what I was going to run, only that I wanted to be out for a long time (four to six hours) and I wanted a couple of good climbs. With that in mind, I tucked four gels into my shorts, chugged a quart or so of water, and carried another 16oz of water in a handheld bottle.
After the 20ish minute jog up to Chautauqua, I started with Green Mountain via Amphitheater, Saddle Rock, and Greenman. That climb has certainly become a default for me already. It’s the most immediate, most fun way for me to get up high. Right up from the Gregory Canyon trailhead I could feel some nice pep in my legs. Running easily up steep, technical terrain is such a pleasure, definitely the most satisfying thing about building fitness. I had a fresh pair of New Balance 100s
on my feet and the extra protection and responsiveness that the rock plate in those things offers is perfect for the terrain here in Boulder.
Thirty-four minutes and 19 seconds and 2500 vertical feet later I was standing alone atop Green feeling fresh but a little chagrined at the lack of a view to the west. The Continental Divide was completely socked in. I still wasn’t sure which way I wanted to go–down the West Ridge to Flagstaff Rd for the true “Backside Loop” or over to Bear Peak for some more vertical. I chose Bear. When in doubt, go higher
My legs felt lickety-split headed down to Bear Creek and then going up the West Ridge trail I still had a surprising amount of pop in my stride. For whatever reason, I usually really drag on this exceedingly moderate climb up the ridge, but not today. Even when I hit the last stretch up through the boulders and talus I was still feeling in control, except for the wind trying to knock me over, which it would attempt to do all day. Twenty-three minutes after crossing the creek I was on the summit of Bear Peak.
On the summit of Bear, I noticed that a gel had fallen out of my pocket at some point–probably the downhill off Green–so I was going to be stretching the calories a bit today. Leaving the summit of Bear, I hadn’t yet decided if I wanted to tag South Boulder Peak or not. The short distance between it and Bear always makes for a tough decision: it’s trivial, so why do it? or, it’s trivial, so why not do it? Today, I chose the latter, mostly because I enjoy the view from SoBo the most and because it’s always hard to deny the trifecta of the 8ers here in Boulder if one has enough time.
SoBo had the iciest footing of the day, but I made quick work of it and was still feeling great as I headed down Shadow Canyon. I love the upper stretches of this trail. There are very nice, reasonable switchbacks that, for some reason, remind me of the Barr Trail just below treeline. Soon enough, however, the track devolves into ever-steeper and bigger rock drop-offs really, and it always drags on longer than I think it should. Today it took me 15min flat to descend through the canyon and I emerged with my legs still feeling great even after two hours of running.
From there I hooked up with the Old Mesa trail, which is notably rocky. It is very skinny, almost overgrown singletrack through a gorgeous little valley, but the tread is so full of embedded (not loose) rocks that I could barely lift my eyes off the ground to take in the views. But, after a few minutes it dumped me out in the gorgeously quixotic little hamlet of Eldorado Springs. It was my first visit to this little corner of the area and I loved it. Ramshackle houses, breathtaking setting, dirt streets–this is my kind of “town”.
I hadn’t touched my water yet, and was holding off on hitting my first gel, but I figured if I was going to get some water this would be the place to do it. As if on cue, as I was running past a strange, Alamo-looking type of building, a couple of other runners called out my name. So I stopped to chat, there in the sunshine. They were doing the Backside loop in a much more traditional manner–having run down Flagstaff Road and through Walker and Eldorado Canyon already–and were refilling their Camelbaks at this weird little water-dispenser thingy in a wall. They said if I had a quarter, it would give me a gallon. I had no quarter, but they were kind enough to let me have one, even if I had no idea how I could drink a gallon of water right there on the spot. I elected to save the quarter for my then planned-for return-trip past the water dispenser.
(Looking back out at the entrance to Eldorado Canyon.)
I wanted to get into Eldo, but I didn’t want to pay. So I ran. All the way back to County Rd 67 and up the Fowler Trail. I knew there was a secret little shortcut trail to sneak up to Fowler more directly, but even with my eyes peeled I couldn’t spot it. I didn’t really want to go poking around in people’s back yards if I didn’t know where I was going.
I love the Fowler trail. The views are just incredible. And the Eldorado Canyon trail was even more of a treat. The climbs on that trail are much more like what I am used to running in Colorado Springs. Reasonably steep, largely non-technical switchbacks that are runnable the whole way. And, the tread and line of the trail is perfect the whole way. Weaving in and out of woods, trending slightly up or down, expansive views into the canyon. Before the big drop down to South Boulder Creek and the Walker Ranch Loop I finally hit my first gel because I could finally start feeling my legs dragging a bit.
Walker Ranch totally surprised me. I elected to go clockwise because at this point I was contemplating bailing on doing the full lollipop, but I still wanted to see as much of the trail as possible. South Boulder Creek is such an idyllic mountain stream up there. And the entire trail was more of the same reasonable up and down on very nice singletrack. However, on the final climb up from the Creek to the Flagstaff Road trailhead I was hurting. Definitely dehydrated (still nursing a couple more mouthfuls in the bottle) and just generally feeling the grind of having run for nearly four hours.
So, that’s when Flagstaff Road decided to kick me in the teeth. Ouch. I was not expecting that climb to be so tough. It was only about 700′ or so in the span of one and a half miles, but it freakin’ hurt. I knew there was no way I was going to skip out on a second summit of Green for the day, though. What’s another 500′ of vertical? Plenty, that’s all I can say. I finally made it, though, hit my final gel on top (the new Gingerbread GUs ain’t half bad), and made the descent down Ranger.
It took a tremendous amount of will power to convince myself that summiting Flagstaff was worthwhile, and I spent the descent motivated only by visions of the water fountain waiting for me in Eben G. Fine park. Of course, once I got there I knew I was only a slightly downhill 2.5 miles away from home and I didn’t want to burn the energy to go the extra 50 yards to the fountain. Long runs in the mountains often have deleterious effects on my logic.
Five hours thirty six minutes, 9000′ of climbing (my watch said 9500′, but my brain only calculated 8500′ when adding up the big climbs, so I split the difference), five summits, and ~37 miles later, I was back at my doorstep.