Posts Tagged ‘green mountain’

Green Mountain Wander

March 22, 2012

March 17, 2012

On St. Patrick’s Day 2012, the day before my 11th wedding anniversary, I had only a short time slot available for adventure.  Brian and I eventually decided to spend it bushwacking up the northeastern slope of Green Mountain with a twofold goal:  (1) stay out of the raptor closure area and (2) work our way up and around the 5th Flatiron from the Skunk Canyon area.  These were actually Brian’s goals that seemed strange to me, but I agreed to be agreeable.  And, I was pleasantly surprised how well it worked out despite a lengthy work-related phone delay, some of the worst terrain I’ve ever traversed, and a tricky (icy) descent from the backside of the 5th Flatiron.  In fact, aside from innumerable cuts and scratches that will haunt me for the next two weeks, it was quite fun.

I’m delighted that a bit of open-mindedness allowed me to participate in Brian’s screwball idea that was only partially ruined by a bit of poor mental mapping on my part (the local expert!), which I’ll explain later.

Green Mountain Wander Route Map

The Setup

Due to my insane work schedule, Sunday was ruled out and I couldn’t start on Saturday until 11am…oh, and I had to be home by 4:30pm.  At least the ski conditions continued to be poor enough for me to avoid feeling miserable about missing another day of skiing.  We planned to start at the Mesa trail parking lot near Eldo for a scramble up the East side of the Maiden followed by a ridge climb to the Bear Mountain summit, but we couldn’t find parking.  We then backtracked to highway 93 and then moved south a few miles to NCAR, which always has parking, and started hiking around 11:30am.

Once we hiked to where we could see the rocks, the Maiden looked too far away for such a time constrained day.  Brian then suggested Skunk Canyon where we’d take one of the gullies near Satan’s Slab toward the top of Hippo Head and a descent past the 5th Flatiron.  It was a very ambitious idea, but I had committed to being agreeable on this day since my restricted schedule had limited Brian’s options severely.

Step 1

We started east toward the green water tank and then down and north toward the Mesa trail which we followed a north short distance to Skunk Canyon.  At the cutoff for Skunk Canyon, Brian paused to look at the stupid Raptor Closure sign posted on the fence I had stepped over.  He noted aloud that our route would trespass on the closure area.  I paused for a moment and then asked if he wanted to do something else merely because of a sign nailed to a split rail fence.  Brian said he had a new idea.

Step 2

Brian’s new idea was to hike up to and then along the raptor closure and work our way around to the 5th Flatiron.  Then we’d hike up the south side of the 5th and descend to north side down to the Royal Arch trail.  I contributed the idea of going north on the Mesa trail for a 100 yards or so to get a better view of our options.  This turned out to be a waste of hiking unless you count the extra exercise as a bonus, which I did.

Step 3

We worked our way up the grassy slope to the first slight ridge before the rocky ridges within the Raptor Closure.  At approximately 12:30pm my phone rang, and I had to stop for a work related phone call for 30 minutes.  I called it a lunch break.  I actually ate a bit while I chatted on the phone; Brian just sat quietly in the shade, probably thinking that I was either an ass or an idiot.

Step 4

The Royal Arch, from the south side. The City of Boulder is in the distance.

We followed the ridge north and then east as it disappeared into the rim of a basin with the Royal Arch on the other side.  This was some of the worst scramble/hiking terrain I’ve ever encountered.  I remarked that it looked haunted, as it was full of dead, twisted trees and logs with large and small lichen covered boulders everywhere.  And dark!

We also found a new flatiron to climb someday…I’ll have to figure out what it is called at some point that has not yet come to pass.

Step 5

Weaving through and around the various bits of Flatironettes sprinkled across the slope, we eventually reached the climbers trail connecting the Royal Arch trail to the south end of the 5th Flatiron, which we followed to the base of the 5th.

Continuing with Brian’s plan, we ascended the improbable line up the south side of the 5th that seems to be impassable at every step except for a single, improbable escape that allowed us to continue until, finally, we reached the top.

Step 6 

Brian was finally ready for his lunch and so we stopped at the top of the 5th to eat a snack and change into our snow gear (long pants and gaiters)

After a short rest, we descended the always steep and treacherous climbers trail down the north side of the 5th Flatiron.  I managed to bruise my ass by falling on a sharp rock when a dead branch I trusted broke; it still pains me as I write this trip report 2 & 5 days later.

The descent from the 5th Flatiron and our escape down the Tangen Tunnel Route

Step 7

We were stopped by the most tricky part of the 5th descent, a delicate downclimb which was made worse by the remaining snow and ice.  I believe many people rappel this part, but we didn’t bring any ropes.  After watching Brian struggle to wriggle down a rabbit hole, I announced that I was going to look for a way to move further north for easier descent ground.  Brian said that sounded like ‘Chickening out’…I replied that I’m all over that.  ‘Discretion’ is the hallmark of my personal climbing philosophy.

Step 8

Brian starting down Tangen Tunnel #2 (numbering from #1 at bottom of route)

Brian agreed and found a slot in the northern rock (Tangen Tower) that we could slither through.  It was a genius maneuver that took us directly to the Tangen Tunnel route.

The snow cover was still sufficient to protect our descent of the generally impossible, without ice gear, section above the 2nd cave, and then both caves were essentially free of snow and ice.  It was perfect!

Brian posing in front of Tangen Tunnel #1. With the snow gone, the Tangen Tunnels are no longer dangerous, just pure fun.

Once we reached the Royal Arch trail, we changed back into our dry, hot weather gear.  Brian wanted to go up to the Royal Arch and then bushwack down to the Mesa Trail directly.  I was worried about the time and assured him that the Royal Arch trail would descend must faster as it was a very well established trail and would not take us too far out of the way.  I was even so bold as to proclaim that he’d be surprised to see how far south the Bluebell shelter actually was…it was beneath the Royal Arch more than beneath the 3rd Flatiron.  He agreed and we made very fast time down the great trail.

And since the chance of getting lost was zero, I could just enjoy the great outdoors and views as I got a last bit of exercise.

Step 9

Once we reached the Bluebell shelter, I turned to show Brian what I meant about the direct descent path only to find that I was completely wrong.  We were actually on the north side of the 3rd Flatiron.  The Royal Arch trail wanders all over hell and back.


The Finish

Oh well.  It was only 1.5 miles back to the turnoff to NCAR, just a short bit of walking.  But we should have tried Brian’s idea for the finish, especially since now looking at the map, I believe we descended in that general vicinity last year when descending, a bit lost, from Angel’s Way (approximate path noted on map).

Heck, we didn’t even break any laws, but it was fun anyway.

And, it was the start to a great St. Patrick’s Day / Anniversary celebration that my wife and I finished off with an evening at the Boulderado for its St. Patrick’s Day party.  I couldn’t get the Irish beer I wanted and was forced to discover that a Black & Tan is one of the great pleasures in life.

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Winter Tangen Tunnel

February 18, 2012

February 12, 2012

Ah, sweet success.  After many years of trying the Tangen Tunnel route in winter, Brian and I finally succeeded.  And it came on a day when neither of us expected to succeed due to a late start (my fault) and the highest amount of snow we’d ever seen in the Flatirons.  But once we neared the top, the prospect of retreating down that snowing, icy hell hole was so horrifying that we continued to push on and finally made it.  Heck, we got back to the parking lot with over 30 minutes of daylight.  What a great day!

We came, we saw, we tried like hell, we barely made it.

The start to the Tangel Tunnel route in winter

We started planning the weekend to be our first ski day of the season despite the continuing poor ski conditions (historically low snowbase).  But I had a problem with a toe and couldn’t risk death by ski boot. So I left the choice to Brian with a suggestion of the Tangen Tunnel as an “aggressive” alternative.  I also indicated, unhelpfully, that I could not do an early start due to a commitment.  I suppose I knew that this ruled out success on the Tangen Tunnel route which takes a long time even in good conditions, but that is what came to my mind at that moment. The real problem is that the Flatirons have had so much snow that I just didn’t know what to suggest.

Brian picked Tangen Tunnel route.  (Me and my big mouth, eh?… at least we’d get some exercise, and be outside).


I spent much of my time-constrained morning digging around for my snow gear not seen since the previous spring, and I just couldn’t get to Chautauqua park before 10:15am; but I was better prepared than usual.

We set a good pace up toward the Royal Arch and reached the bottom of the Tangen Tunnel route a bit after 11am.  We could see that we’d be swimming up the route, so we took time to get on all the gear:  insulating liner jacket, gators, warm hat, helmet, and harness, and then we set off.

Snowless images of the initial cave entrance and exit (photo from Fall)I made it 10 feet before being stopped by a 6 foot tall boulder covered by soft snow.  Slipping and sliding, and failing to find purchase on snow flavored air, I eventually resorted to stemming on the icy rock face of Tangen Tower and hooking rock overhead with my ice axe to inch my way over the first obstacle.  During the summer, this obstacle represents a barely noticeable, small scramble; on this day it was a 15 minute puzzle.

Now we knew for certain it was going to be at least an adventure (but hopefully not an epic one).

Epic (climbing slang word)

A climber’s slang term that refers to a big climbing adventure and all the bad stuff that happens on it, like ropes getting stuck, being benighted on a ledge, getting caught in a bad storm, or wandering off route.


(1) The 1st Cave/Tunnel

Rabbit Hole #1: the escape hole from tunnel #1 on the Tangen Tunnel route

The rest of the swim to the 1st cave / tunnel was easier, but once inside the cave it was not clear if we would get through it.  When I stopped to look around to remember the path upward, Brian started climbing.  From 10 feet up, he announced that the obvious path didn’t go all the way; but he did think he could wriggle through a slot to get out.  As I watched, he slithered like a snake and was gone.  My turn.

I followed his path and found I could just squeeze under a hanging boulder to reach the exit hole, but once through I could not safely turn around to crawl out.  As I layed there pondering my next move, a rope with a loop tied on the end fell down into the hole.  Good ‘ol Brian to the rescue!

With a secure belay, I managed to maneuver my body around to get a grip on the rock above.  I pulled up and then risked weighting a dead branch wedged in the hole.  The last required move was a high step onto a packed snow cornice that was supported by naught but air.  It held.

I glanced at my watch at saw that it was 12:15pm; we had already burned 45 minutes…to travel about 100 feet.

Joe contemplating his future while looking at the next section of snowy, icy rock.

I then turned and followed Brian uphill, losing a step in the knee to thigh deep soft snow for every two taken.

We quickly learned to stay near the 4th Flatiron rock face where the snow was firmer, perhaps due to snow melt dripping down during the sunny days since the big dump.  Of course, this was also where we faced the risk of falling icicles, which were falling more and more as the sunshine did its work high above us.

As a side note, I always have a mental image of the Tangen Tunnel route as a narrow gully with rocky obstacles.  But somehow I am always surprised on each visit of the wide possible path and the myriad of choices that must be made correctly to stay on route.  At least I remembered that the key was to ‘bear left’…a lesson learned by trial and error over the years.

Post Script:  having just returned to the Tangen Tunnel route (2 months later) I can report that it is a narrow gully with rocky obstacles that appears to be a wide open space when all the rocky obstacles are covered by a thick blanket of white, white snow.  There are few options for completing the Tangen Tunnel route; perseverance is required in all cases.

The entrance to tunnel #2

Just past the start of the 2nd piece of the 4th Flatiron, we came upon a tiny cave entrance.

(2) The 2nd Cave/Tunnel

Brian ducked into the small entrance as I approached.  By the time I crawled to the back of the cave, Brian had crawled out of the 2nd rabbit hole, leaving his pack behind to make his escape.  I handed up his pack and then mine, and then it was my turn to slither skyward.

I found that a layer of clear ice covered much of the rock, and snow falling from above covered the rest.  I got Brian to give me another belay and then made the slippery moves to crawl out.

Looking up at Brian from inside tunnel #2

As I pulled my head above the snow surface, I saw a block of ice the size of a soccer ball plunged from the rock above into the snow 4 feet from Brian. It was an off-target kill shot.  All Brian heard was a muffled but insistent, ‘WHOMP’, as the deep snow cushioned the impact.

The sun was warming and now sufficiently loosened the ice on the exposed rock above; it was time for extreme caution.  And, not wanting to stand in any one place too long, we quickly packed everything away and then continued our ascent.  It was 1pm, and time for a lunch break…if only we could find a safe & dryish place to stop.

We continued up the soft snow, overcoming many snow-covered rock obstacles along the way.  Before long we could see another cave in the distance, in a section of rock that seemed to block our path.

From a distance, the 3rd cave looked much better than the 2nd cave, but we didn’t recall crawling out the back of this one before.  As we got close, it became clear that the cave was not a part of the path as it wasn’t a ‘tunnel’.  But we could skirt it by taking a steep ramp to the left, and it did look like a dry place to sit without fear of falling icicles.  After a bit of deft icy rock scrambling and rock hooking, we settled down for a rest and lunch.  It was 1:30pm.

Brian approaching ‘Lunch Cave’…a surprisingly dry and safe spot to rest and refuel.

(3) The ‘Lunch Cave’ 

Finally, we could add some fuel to the fire.  I had purposely brought no more food than I thought I needed to keep from eating extra for no reason.  Unfortunately, I didn’t leave room for a ‘need more food’ scenario.  I ate my 2 bars and drank a liter.  Now it was just a race to the top (and then bottom) with the sun, hoping not to bonk along the way.

I mentioned that I hoped we could make it to the top to avoid the ugly series of rappels we were doomed to take on the retreat.  Brian reluctantly admitted a lack of confidence in our chances.  I had to admit that the late start didn’t help.

And, just at that moment, as I was looking out of the cave entrance, facing down the mountain, a 100 lbs collection of icicles I had admired (and photographed) over my head a few minutes earlier came crashing down…right onto our tracks in the snow.  Wow.

100 lbs chandelier hanging above the Tangen Tunnel trail

Despite the excitement, sitting on a cold rock, even a dry one with overhead shelter, doesn’t work for long on a cold day.  We left after 10 minutes.

Crawling up and over the escape ramp turned out to be very hard.  We succeeded only by discovering that we could sink our ice axes into the rotting wood of fallen trees and then pull up to gain a bit of altitude. Thunk, thunk, thunk, and then we were past the ‘Lunch Cave’.  I think it is fair to say that this technique plus the ability to hook rocks beyond arm’s reach made all the difference between success and slippery futility.

The next milestone would be the end of the 2nd piece of the 4th Flatiron.

Old Bivy Cave

As we approached the end of the 2nd piece of the 4th Flatiron, I recognized another cave that Brian and I had used several years ago on a failed winter attempt.  We used the cave to rest and light a small campfire for a bit of warmth while we ate our lunch.  At that time we had been lost and decided to turn around to avoid a disaster (‘epic’ adventures make for great stories, but no rational person purposely seeks to experience such days).  It was interesting to discover that we were right on route except for the last decision to head right, which we eventually abandoned before returning to the cave.  This was also the day when we learned to ‘bear left’ on earlier decisions.  It was also the correct choice on this particular route-finding decision.

The objective: Green Mountain summit.

Passing underneath the start of the 3rd piece of the 4th Flatiron was a challenge.  The open space beneath contained thigh deep snow that was too soft to stand on.  I suppose it collected all the snow rolling off the steep section of the Flatiron.  Whatever the reason, it was the worst struggle of the day; but at least we were safe from falling ice or slipping off icy rock.

We could tell that we were nearing the top, but it was after 2pm and daylight was expiring (2-3 hours remaining, at best).  Our current plan was to get to the top and see if we could tell where we were, and figure out the best and fastest way down.  I mentioned that we had several options if we couldn’t find a path to Green Mountain.  I said we could drop down into Skunk Canyon or we could head down toward the 3rd Flatiron.  I felt that we could make it down those paths easier than we could our ascent path; but it was clear that the best way was to prevail in finding a way to Green Mountain’s Greenman trail just below its summit, and then follow that trail down to take the Saddle Rock trail to the bottom.

Joe posing at the high point along the 4th Flatiron ridge below the summit of Green Mountain…our escape is assured

The feeling of desperation was evident in our continuing high energy output. Higher and higher, and by finally by 2:30pm we could see down into Skunk Canyon.  We had made it to the top of the 4th Flatiron.  Naturally, nothing looked familiar. But we reasoned that all we needed to do was hike west, but from every past experience on this section of rock we knew it would be hard.  And with the amazing snow cover, it might be impossible.  Let’s just say that a high stress level was a reasonable reaction.

Now we had to bear to the right, just slightly.  And every break in the trees would lead to an examination of the possible paths down.  If we couldn’t find our way to the Green Mountain trails, it was going to be a hard night.

We kept getting cliff-ed out, and then barely finding a scramble down, we continued making progress toward our goal.

Post Script:  the key is to stay on the ridgeline and find a line of least resistance (which is sometimes the only possible path forward)

(4) The Top (of the ridge)

And suddenly, everything seemed to be below us.  One final outcropping of rock and then it would be an easy stroll to Green Mountain’s Greenman trail.  It was only 3pm!  And we could see the Green Mountain summit!

We were going to make it and with time to spare.  There would be no stumbling down in the dark this time.  I felt so good that I insisted that I get a ‘summit’ photo.

The rest of the route finding was merely an exercise in not losing much elevation, and not gaining much either.  I knew that if we looked to the right while we stayed near the ridge line, we’d see a split rail fence marking the trail.  And, at 3:15pm, we found it.

(5) The Green Mountain Trail

Brian pausing on the trek back to the parking lot for a posed shot behind the 1st Flatiron

The Greenman trail was in beautiful condition for an easy, snow cushioned descent.  We decided to skip the Green Mountain summit, discretion being the better part of valor.

I predicted a 4:15pm arrival at the parking lot and was only off by 5 minutes.  It was a 6 hour round trip.

I can remember when 6 hours was one-third of the hard day, but I was glad to be driving home.

10,000 high steps had taken their toll on an old man.  Carpe diem memento mori

P.S. – I was sore for 4 days.

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Another Boulder 3 Banger

August 7, 2011

His Majesty, The Brian

I know, I know. Who cares about a hike in the foothills above Boulder. Well…I do. While not an achievement of note, it is a beautiful way to spend half a day, when no other exercise is available.

Brian had a sore back (born of unusual circumstances) and could not carry a pack or even wear a climbing harness, so we decided to do another Boulder 3-Banger hike. It had been almost 6 years since we did our car-shuttle 4-Banger and even longer since our last round-trip 3-Banger. It felt like the right plan.

My Boulder Foothills History

  • 06/96 – 1st ascent of Green Mountain
  • 11/96 – 1st ascent of Bear Peak
  • 05/98 – 1st ascent of S. Boulder Mountain (and Bear Peak; 1st 2-Banger)
  • 12/98 – 1st 3-Banger (Green, Bear, S. Boulder)
  • 11/05 – 1st 4-Banger (Green, Bear, S. Boulder, Flagstaff)

We agreed to start hiking at 6am, and I was only 5 minutes late (which was long enough to miss the bear romping through the park).

Green Mountain

To spice things up a bit, we decided to head up the 1st Flatiron descent route and then cut over toward the Green Mountain summit. From there, we followed an old trail (along the way I got a cool photo of Brian silhouetted against the dawn sky) to reach the NE Ridge Trail that we followed to find the Greenman trail about 1/2 mile from the summit. By 7:45am, we reached the summit of Green Mountain. It wasn’t a fast time, but we stopped several times to explore.

A view of Bear and South Boulder peaks from the Green-Bear trail

Disappointingly, it was too early for a snack. After gazing longingly at my peanut butter pack, I joined Brian in climbing on rocks and admiring the views, both east and west. I also finished off my 2nd liter of water with the confidence of finding water in Bear Canyon along the way to Bear Peak.

Bear Peak

We descended toward Bear Peak, taking the Green-Bear trail. Once we reached the creek that runs down Bear Canyon (oddly named, Bear Canyon Creek), we found a trickling brook just deep enough water to mostly fill our bottles while mostly avoiding visible biological matter.

Hiking back up the other side of the valley on Bear Peak’s West Ridge, we began the long trek toward the summit of Bear Peak.  We both remembered that it was a long way….and it certainly looked to be a long way off (it was 1.8 miles).

A small sample of the plague of lady bugs (actually 'multi-colored Asian Lady Beetles')

As we approached the top of Bear Peak, we decided to go up the scrambling approach below the summit rather than hike along the ridge.  Unfortunately, I could not quite find the right spot and took us off route a bit. It was still fun, perhaps it was better than the

Brian laughing at my lovefest with the ladybugs

regular path, but our path took me on a collision course with zillions of ladybugs.

As I scrambled up, I had to crawl beneath a small pine tree to reach a section of rock that I could climb.  As I grabbed the tree, I heard a slight tinkling sound, like pine needles falling onto the ground.  Once I crawled through the tree, I knew that the sound was not from pine needles.  It was ladybugs falling out of the tree.  And now 100’s of them were on me.

I was too busy scrambling up to deal with the bugs.  Once I pulled up to the top, Brian (who had taken a more direct and faster path) said something like:

“Oh, Joe. You are covered in bugs….it’s like a horror movie!”

When I asked him to brush them off my back, he replied:

“Oh, that wouldn’t help.  You need to take of the pack and the shirt.”

I look off the pack to find a solid layer of ladybugs covering nearly the entire pack.  It took a few minutes to shake them off, during which time Brian reminded me that I needed to take off my shirt to remove the rest to avoid crushing several hundred additional bugs.

After disrobing and shaking the bugs loose from my shirt, I refused to put that cold, wet t-shirt back on for the remaining 50 feet of scrambling.  I wanted the fresh shirt in the pack, but would wait until we reached the summit, which we reached at 9:30am.

Dang!  It was still too early for a meal, but I could not longer resist.  One peanut butter pack, one bar and one liter of water ceased to exist in rapid fashion.

Joe finally free of the ladybug embrace (I definitely need to get more sun).

South Boulder Mountain

We decided to continue to South Boulder Mountain, but refused to descend via Shadow Canyon.  It would add just too many miles of boring hiking along the Mesa Trail.  We decided to return to Bear Peak and then descend via Fern Canyon, between Bear and Green.

The hike to South Boulder Mountain went quickly (0.7 miles), which was a good thing (as Forrest would say) since the day’s temperature was climbing rapidly. As we stewed in our own juices, we reached the summit amid a forest of raspberry bushes.

I thoughtfully called my wife to check in while Brian passed time by gorging on the berries missed by the Bears (who were down in Chautauqua Park looking for yummy trash).

It was only 10:30am, so once again we could not eat lunch yet.  So back down the trail we went.  And, once again I regretted not having sufficient excuse for a peanut butter snack.


View of South Boulder Mountain from Bear Peak

The hike back was mostly downhill, but it was a lot of downhill.  The Fern Canyon trail is quite steep and a steady down, down, down for over 2,500′ feet.  I’m sure my quad’s will be angry for a couple of days.  I will not even speak of my knees.

But, finally, we stopped for lunch at 11:30am when we reached the intersection with the Slab trail.  I ate my two remaining peanut butter packs and my 4th liter of water for the day.  It was fantastic!

We reached Chautauqua Park an hour later, for a 6.5 hour, 10 mile, 4,000′ elevation gain round trip.

It was a nice hike (unfortunately, the news of the day was rather shocking).

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Boulder 4 Banger

September 3, 2009

I’ve been playing in the Boulder foothills for as long as I’ve lived my fun city. If fact, my very first “adventure” upon moving to Colorado was to discover a way up the forested hill behind the Flatirons.  I drove as close as I could and started hiking with the expectation of bushwacking the entire way.

As I discovered that day so many years ago, hiking up Green Mountain is not much of an adventure.  There is nothing that can be found that has not been found and forgotten many times over the past 100 years.  But I did find a love for that beautiful lump of dirt and trees, and those nearby, that would eventually lead to my Boulder 4 Banger adventure 10 years later.

It all started with Green Mountain, which I made time to stand on top of at least 50 times (about 10,000 short of a record) using 10 different paths (most with varations) in the 10 years since moving to Boulder.

My routes up Green Mountain over the years

My routes up Green Mountain over the years (note: I believe the NW Ridge trail now requires a "permit", whatever that means)

Photo of routes 5, 6, 7 & 8

Photo of routes 5, 6, 7, 8 & 9

And, I had climbed Bear Peak and South Boulder Peak many times starting from multiple starting points including Eldorado Canyon, Shadow Canyon and Bear Canyon.  And, on several occasions over that period of time, I had completed a multiple laps of the Green-Bear combo and the Green-Bear-South Boulder Peak Triple Banger.  So, let’s just say I had reason to think I knew the area pretty well.

But, as of 11/12/2005, I had never attempted the Flagstaff, Green, Bear, South Boulder combo (the “Boulder 4 Banger”). Heck, I’d never even been to the Flagstaff summit; I suppose it just seemed too easy.  The notion of a Boulder 4 Banger percolated in my subconcious until one day my climbing buddy, Brian, and I were looking for something short on a busy weekend.  Brian is usually game for something different and he didn’t disappoint.

Operation Boulder 4 Banger was a go.

The Plan

The last time I did the Green/Bear/South Boulder triple it only took 5.5 hours to do the loop by foot.  We only had about 5 hours for this effort, so we planned for a car shuttle to allow us to finish hiking before the 4:47pm sunset. And with the Fall weather upon us, we could count on perfect weather for the afternoon.

The Plan was to meet at Chautauqua Park in Boulder @ 11:30am, where Brian would leave his truck; then we would drive in my 4Runner to the Mesa trailhead (point 0) near Eldorado Canyon State Park.

Our route would take the Homestead trail to the Shadow Canyon trail which we’d follow to bag South Boulder Peak (point 1) and then Bear Peak (point 2). From Bear Peak, we’d descend the Bear Peak West Ridge trail toward Bear Canyon and connect with the Green Bear trail.

We would then ascend to Green Mountain’s West Ridge, and then turn east to hike to the summit (point 3). From the summit of Green Mountain, we’d retrace our steps down the West Ridge and then take the Ranger Trail all the way to Flagstaff Road (a bit past the Gregory Canyon turnoff) where we’d connect with the Ute trail on Flagstaff to reach the Flagstaff summit (point 4).

And then, finally, we’d follow the signs to Chautauqua Park to reclaim Brian’s truck (point 5).

Easy enough.  What could go wrong?

And it would have worked, too, except for two problems:  (1) we didn’t set time-based milestones to track our progress against time or bring a watch to monitor the time; and the early sunset fooled our instincts about remaining daylight and (2) we didn’t aniticipate how inexplicably hard it would be to find the Flatstaff summit.  Oh yeah, and we should have brought headlamps.  Okay, 3 problems.

Our planned route

Our planned route

In the end, our poor planning and insufficient situational awareness would lead to modest suffering, but not to any serious regrets.

The Execution

Late morning on November 12, 2005, I drove to Chautauqua Park and found a common perfect weather weekend, mid-day scene:  throngs of people and an ocean of parked vehicles.  I had to drive around a bit to find Brian parked further up Baseline Road.  He loaded his stuff in the back and jumped in.

Aerial photo of starting point (Eldorado Canyon Mesa Trailhead)

Overhead image of starting point (Eldorado Canyon Mesa Trailhead)

Alread behind schedule, we drove the 8 miles to Eldorado Canyon as fast as the law allows (right, Officer?), which is about 25 minutes.

We turned off CO-93 onto CO-170 toward Edorado Canyon.  A couple miles down the road we turned right into the Mesa Trailhead parking lot.  We had to wait a bit to snag a parking spot from someone who had already, responsibly completed the day’s adventure (point zero on map).

We started hiking closer to 1pm than seemed reasonable (about 12:35pm) and tried  to make up for it with a fast pace.  Our route took a quick left just past the Doudy-Debacker-Dunn House to connect to the Homestead Trail.  The Towhee Trail would have worked just as well, but we know and like the Homestead better.

We hiked by the wide creek for a short distance and then climbed over a sparsley wooded hill.  At the bottom of the hill, we stepped over a tiny creek and reconnected with the Towhee trail.  We continued past the gingerbread house in a grove of plum trees and headed directly toward and then along the foothills.  Along the way we passed beneath The Maiden (the scene of several nice climbing memories) and by the abandoned tin roofed hut before finally reaching the turnoff for Shadow Canyon.

Shadow Canyon is arguably the prettiest hike in the area with old growth trees and high rock cliffs and interesting obstacles along the way.  We followed this trail underneath and left of additional famous rock climbing, including Jam Crack Spire, The Maiden, The Flying Arch, and The Devil’s Thumb (yes, that thumb-like pinnacle far left of the Flatirons you can see from just about anywhere near Boulder).

After a bit more than 3 miles and 2700 feet of elevation gain, we reached the top of the canyon and the summit ridge for both South Boulder Peak  (SBP) and Bear Canyon.  The trail becomes Bear Peak Trail and goes left for SBP or right for Bear Peak.  We went left and after 1/3 mile and almost 400 feet of elevation gained reached the SBP summit at approx. 2:15pm (point 1 on map).

The views were great and difficult to ignore; we spent a few extra minutes admiring the world before heading off toward Bear Peak just under 1 mile away.  As we approached Bear Peak, Brian thought it would be fun to scale the cliff beneath the summit.  We poked around looking for a nice chimney and eventually found a 3rd class scramble leading directly to the summit.  We arrived on the summit for additional spectacular views at approx. 3pm (point 2 on map).

We were vaguely aware that we didn’t have all day to finish, so we left the summit of Bear Mountain nearly as soon as arriving.  We crused down the Bear Peak West Ridge Trail to the junction with the Green Bear Trail in Bear Canyon.  We then ascended Green Bear to the west ridge of Green Mountain. Then we headed east up the ridge and reached the summit of Green Mountain at approx. 3:45pm (point 3 on map).

As always, we enjoyed using the summit marker to identify the many peaks we’ve climbed and those yet to be reached.  The Green Mountain summit is a favorite place. But by this time, it started to look like the daylight wouldn’t last forever.  We weren’t certain of the time but didn’t want to finish in the dark, so we upped the pace a bit as we retraced our steps down the West Ridge and then down the Ranger Trail to reach the Gregory Canyon trail.  Instead of turning east and heading down Gregory Canyon, we continued north up the service road until we reached Flagstaff Road and the Ute Trailhead.

We guessed it was about 4:30pm, and that we had about 30 minutes of daylight. Yet, all we had to do was run up the trail to the summit and then descend in a cloud of dust to avoid too much night hiking over loose terrain.  So we double-timed it up the Ute trail.  But we could see that the trail was not taking us closer to the high point which was off to our left. We kept going and going, hoping that the trail would lead us to the summit.  Why wouldn’t the trail go to the summit?

But no.

Our wandering route to touch the elusive top of Flagstaff Mountain.

Our wandering route to touch the elusive top of Flagstaff Mountain.

Eventually we gave up and backtracked until we were across from the approximate high point, and then we bushwacked across.  But the “high point” was elusive.  We ended up cutting across to the Range View trail, and then heading back and forth in a spiraling fashion until we found a “high point” that we could live with (point 4 on map).

But by that time it was past sunset and into twilight.  It was going to be a ankle-twisting, wrong-turning adventure back to Chataqua. Dang.

And to make matter worse, we didn’t really know how to get down.  The plan was to follow the signs to reach the Flagstaff trail and follow it down to Gregory Canyon or Baseline Road.  Now our best chance was to just go downhill while staying on whatever trail we could find.  So we headed back to the Ute trail and then started downhill.  Of course Brian wouldn’t hear of simply walking down Flagstaff Road.

It took about an hour to pick our way down, but we made it with only a few minor injuries (not counting the serious roadrash on my ego). We arrived at Brian’s truck at approx. 6pm (point 5 on map).  And after another round of driving, we were finished.

All in all, it was a nice afternoon (and a bit) on my favorite mountains in the world.

Summary (approximate distance and elevation gains):

  1. Eldo Mesa Trailhead to South Boulder Peak (3.4 miles; 3080′)
  2. South Boulder Peak to Bear Peak (0.7 miles; 300′)
  3. Bear Peak to Green Mountain (2.6 miles; 950′)
  4. Green Mountain to Flagstaff Mountain (2.2 miles; 200′)
  5. Flagstaff Mountain to Brian’s truck (1.8 miles)

Boulder 4 Banger totals:  10.7 miles; 4530′

Topo map showing Boulder 4 Banger route

Topo map showing Boulder 4 Banger route

See all trip reports

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