Eat the Frog – The Boulder Skyline Traverse
Eat the Frog – The Boulder Skyline Traverse
The witty French writer Nicolas Chamfort was one to schmooze with the high society aristocracy in support of the French Revolution. He credited a well know phrase to someone by the name of Mr de Lassay, his frequent mouthpiece. De Lassay suggested that if we ate a toad for breakfast it would make the rest of our day seem pleasant, especially in dealing with the disgust of society. It was later translated into English with a slightly different application. If we eat a frog first thing every morning the rest of our day will seem much better. Self-help books have used this phrase as an aid in dealing with procrastination. If there’s a big thing we know we should do, then just do it and get it out of the way to make the rest of our goals seem more achievable.
Well, today Brian Listy and I ate the frog. A few months ago I learned about the Boulder Skyline Traverse. At a reported 16 miles and 6000-foot elevation gain, this was surely at the outer rim of my ability. It would be something I would need to train for all year and possibly attempt near the end of a hiking season if I felt I could do it by then. Scrap all that crazy talk. We did it today, at the beginning of our summer hiking season.
Part of my strategy was to break it down into something that didn’t sound so big. We would hike only about 375 feet in elevation per mile. So, how hard could that be, right? Of course, the intent here is to think about the trek one mile at a time.
The weather forecast projected this day to be all sun without a chance of afternoon thunder showers. Early Spring in the Rockies before the monsoonal patterns begin with predictability is a great time for hiking. This day was stacking up to be ideal. And it was.
The Boulder Skyline Traverse is essentially every major mountain seen when looking west from Boulder: South Boulder Peak, Bear Peak, Green Mountain, Flagstaff Mountain, and Mount Sanitas. It’s not one continuous trail, it’s a series of connecting trails. If starting on the south end the sequence is commonly this: South Mesa Trail, Shadow Canyon Trail (this will lead you to the saddle between South Boulder Peak and Bear Peak), Bear Peak West Ridge, Green-Bear Trail to Green Mountain, Ranger Trail, Ute Trail to the summit of Flagstaff, Flagstaff Trail, Viewpoint Trail, Settler Park Trail, and finally the Mt Sanitas Trail to the final summit. It’s a little bit of a puzzle.
There are plenty of websites that have all the technical details of the trail, so I won’t go into all that except to give some context to the images I’ve placed in this report.
A note on logistics: we left one car on the north end and drove to the south end where we began our hike north.
We started at the south end because after the climb up the steep and rocky Shadow Canyon Trail the rest is down-hill… kinda. At least the elevation of the mountain summits is progressively less.
A pleasant beginning at an historic home site, the Doudy-DeBacker-Dunn house, is a nice reminder of the agricultural history of the area. The rolling meadows give way to progressively heavier forests but not without first strolling through a population of wild flowers.
One familiar landmark along this early part of the trail is the Devil's thumb. We thought it was more of a finger, the finger that suggests we were about to enter the most challenging part of the day.
A burn-scar area from the Flagstaff fire in July of 2012 is still very present near the saddle of South Boulder Peak and Bear Peak. We gain both summits quickly. With the exception of a few other people scattered near the summit, we had South Boulder summit to ourselves.
The rocky summit of Bear Peak, to the contrary, was far too crowded. Since we had both been on this summit on previous hikes, we touched the base marker and kept moving. It is a steep descent into a very pleasant Green-Bear Trail.
We passed the Green Mountain Lodge along the way at the intersection of Ranger, Long, and Gregory Canyon Trails. This lodge was built in 1935 during the Great Depression by the Civilian Conservation Corps as part of Roosevelt’s New Deal. It had recently been restored and can be rented for day-time events and picnics. The inside is decorated with historic graffiti by people throughout the decades.
Although a short 1.3 miles to the summit from the car, the Mt Sanitas Trail seemed to take forever, it is relentless and steep with several false summits. We simply had run out of the energy we had earlier in the day. Our caffeine power snacks had no effect. We pressed on by sheer will power. Reaching the top was a celebration. I believe I hugged the summit pole. I may even have expressed my love for it.
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