An Unexpectedly Sweet Boulder Loop

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Hugh just bought a house in Lafayette and wanted to take advantage of the options in his backyard. We were looking for some good vert and a solid workout, but not looking to drive far. Bear and South Boulder peaks fit the bill perfectly. Sunday was an incredible day for hanging outside. The temps were in the high 50’s to low 60’s and there was plenty of blue sky. With the recent floods in Boulder, there were some discrepencies on what was open and closed. We initially drove to the Mesa Trail TH off CO-170 in Eldorado Canyon, but the turnoff to the trailhead was blocked and access was temporarily closed. Having never done this loop before, I decided to check out Summitpost and noticed you could also start from the NCAR parking lot. We arrived and saw no signs of closures when we arrived at 9:30am. We loaded our packs, grabbed Rock’s bowl and were on our way.

We wanted to take the Fern Canyon trail to the summit, which is the most direct route (albeit steep) and then take the longer, more leisurely Bear Peak West Ridge to Bear Canyon route down. Figured it’d be a nice Tour de Bear. Along  the way we saw obvious signs of destruction from the floods……

The trail up Fern Canyon was steep, but the trail was good and we had loaded up with some Bacon Bagels earlier that morning, so we shot up the hill with Rocco in either the middle or leading the pack. We reached the eastern flanks and took a quick break for some pringles and red bulls and water for the pooch before making the final summit push. There were a decent amount of people up there, given the closure, but nothing too insane. Most of the parties had come from Shanahan Ridge – which was apparently the only accessible trail as we would later find out.

The views were surprisingly awesome. I had no idea this hike was so scenic. Aside from being a prime Boulder training hike, it’s a great scenic tour with views ranging from foothills and the Continental Divide to the flat expanse of the Great Plains. Coupled with this being an opportunity to do this with my recently discharged brother and his black lab Rocco made this extra special.

We noticed the West Ridge trail from Bear Peak was closed and we were still jones’ing for some more exercise. We were initially going to hike back down the way we came and then hit Green Mountain from Chitaqua, but not 100 feet from the summit, we figured pairing Bear with South Boulder and then a loop around from Shadow Canyon back to NCAR would be a nice way to round out the day. So we headed further on down the ridge….

We reached the saddle for Bear/S. Boulder……

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Looking back at Bear.

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Trail junction at the saddle.

The hike up to South Boulder went quick enough through the burned out tree area from the Flagstaff Fire in 2012. The hike up to South Boulder seemed kind of similar to pictures of the Battle of the Bulge with the scorched earth. We met a group of folks on the summit who all owned Subarus so we had a nice little conversations about our obsessions with the vehicle. There was a Forester, an Outback, an Impreza and a WRX owner in the group and we came to the conclusion there is a reason its such a popular car in Colorado. I envied the guy who recently bought an Outback 3.6R with the extra turbo boost.

The view from South Boulder was even cooler than Bear, in my opinion.

We retraced our steps back to the saddle and then decided to head down Shadow Canyon to the Mesa Trail back to NCAR, rather than heading back over Bear Peak and Fern Canyon. We would realize later, although longer, this would be a wise move. We made our way down the Shadow Canyon trail, endlessly quoting our favorite Arnold Schwarzeneggar sound bite prank calls. Rocco was a real trooper with the washed out, uprooted trail. He’s a bonafide trail worthy canine. There were a few sections he needed a little hand though….

We reached the old abandoned cabin and the Shadow Canyon turnoff to the Mesa Trail TH – which was closed. We had a solid 3.5 miles back to the car with a full circumnavigation of Bear Peak. The colors in the valley were nice though….

Just before we reached the connector trail to NCAR, we ran into Dave Mattingly (CarpeDiem) and chatted for a bit. Yards down the trail later, we found out that the forest service, in conjunction with the police apparently, closed the trails that were open that morning, so we had to figure out a plan B back to NCAR.

This was confusing, since we had heard from a lady earlier that morning that the trails had been closed the day before with tape and barricades, which had obviously been taken down that morning, but then put back up again. We were a little frustrated, but too hungry to dwell. We hiked down the Shanahan Ridge trail to a development and found a spur trail en route and decided to take it.

It was a bit of a schwack and Rocco had to dodge some cacti lingering in the tall  grass, but we made a covert beeline for the NCAR parking lot, making it back to the car with no additional troubles or hassles. Xtra Cheddar Flavor Blasted Goldfish were purchased and consumed on the ride home to cap off a great day in the foothills.

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2 thoughts on “An Unexpectedly Sweet Boulder Loop

  1. Ben

    Thanks for the jog down memory lane, Brian. I used to hit these peaks every summer in college. Great views of Boulder and the IPW/RMNP from the summits. I bet that Subaru conference would have been entertaining to listen to.

  2. Jason Blyth

    This used to be a my go to – I could always count on it for a close, tough hike. Probably the best you hike for vert/proximity to Denver there is.

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