After months of very inconsistent running and weeks of thinking “oh, crap…can I still run?” I finally got myself outside and onto the trails for a long run. I met up with a few friends – Cheryl and Sarah – at the Centennial Trailhead with big plans to run along the Boulder Skyline [check out this interactive map for route details]. Our game plan was to head up and around Sanitas then plow our way up to Flagstaff, Green Mountain and Bear Peak…maybe even South Boulder Peak. The only goal we had was…to have fun, smile and not actually die on the icy, snow-covered trails. Spoiler Alert: we may not have gotten to the summit of every mountain but we did have a blast and no blood was shed!
We started our trek up and around Mt Sanitas at 7am on Saturday morning alternating between running and power hiking to find a nice balance between going fast enough to stay warm [it was about 30 degrees] and slow enough to talk each other’s ears off. I’ve hiked Sanitas once before, on a hot summer day…I distinctly remember the stupid mountain going uphill forever and ever with lots of climbing over awkwardly placed rocks as we neared the summit. My memory was not failing me, Mount Sanitas seemed to go on forever, and it was the shortest summit of the day! We were doomed…
It took us a long while to get to the top as our trek was littered with breaks to ditch layers, eat snacks and laugh at Sarah’s short girl problems [aka, having to climb up rocks I was able to step over]. We met up with a few people at the top that were bailing off the Skyline route in favor of runnable mountain roads. They teased us with hot quiches and coffee, which we almost gave into but we were out here to play on the mountain and survive the ice so back to the single track we went!
On the trek up Mount Sanitas we lost Cheryl. She claims she was just running more to get warm but we really think we was hoping to find new, cooler friends…but she finally gave in and accepted her fate on the descent. We caught up with her and ruined the rest of her day with happy banter, elaborate threats and inappropriate ageism. We were only three miles into the day and it was very obvious it was going to be a good day! It had to be, we weren’t going to let anything ruin it! We’re stupidly determined like that!
Up next…was a lot of freaking upness! After the loop around Mount Sanitas we headed across the road and started our trek up the Red Rocks trail that would lead us to the Flagstaff Trail and ultimately to the top of Flagstaff Mountain. A few weeks ago I drove up Flagstaff Road on my way to Walker Ranch and commented on the people crazy enough to run up the trail that crossed the zigzagging road multiple times…and now I was that stupid runner. Granted, we were much better at power hiking than we were at running! We blamed our undertrained bodies, but really, no one was all that interested in pushing the limits and we had stories to tell!
About half way up Flagstaff Mountain we met up with Holly, an unsuspecting runner we spent the next few miles adopting into our group of crazy. She offered to snap our photo at an overlook and we decided she was going to hang with us…for the rest of the day. The trek up Flagstaff Mountain was actually kind of fun, for me. I was enjoying the power hiking on a trail that was icy but not deadly. Sarah, on the other hand, was perfecting her “I am going to murder you” glare with each highway crossing. She told me how much she hated me more than once…but I knew where she was, she’d eventually change her mind! Partly because we ignored her hatred and got way too much enjoyment out of her reaction when we told her we went off the main route just to see the legit Flagstaff Mountain summit…we’re good friends like that!
We were all more than thankful for the descent off Flagstaff Mountain, if only to give our bodies a different way to lean. Sure, we were “only” hiking up the mountainside but that still does a number on the glutes and lower back! It felt amazing to stretch out our legs a bit and run down hill! We were officially on our way to Green Mountain!
From Flagstaff Mountain we dropped down along the Gregory Canyon Trail en route to Green Mountain. Up until this point I was at least vaguely familiar with the areas we were run-hiking through. I had hiked Mount Sanitas before and had driven up Flagstaff Mountain, but Green Mountain? This was a whole new world for me, one I’d been meaning to explore for months. I was excited to get to the top of this mountain!
We didn’t have to descend too much before we started trekking uphill again. Over the last few miles we fell into a routine, on the descents Sarah or Holly would lead as they were more confident heading downhill, but when we started going uphill we realigned ourselves in a specific order – Heidi, Cheryl, Holly, Sarah – and then spread out over about a quarter mile, each of us on our own little world focusing on whatever we needed to in order to keep moving up. Every mile or so we’d stop so everyone could catch up…the perfect uphill routine!
The higher we got the more stunning the views became! We were twisting our way up the back of Green Mountain with Rocky Mountains spread out on the horizon – I think we took far more breaks than necessary just to stop and stare! Eventually, one-by-one in our hill climbing formation we made it up to the official Green Mountain summit!
I was all excited to get the standard “circle mountain thingy” photo, because that’s what people do at the top of Green Mountain. Shortly before I arrived an adorable, chatty toddler helped his dad make a Frosty to put on the marker…and it was perfect! It added some much needed personality to a very popular photo! Even better? That snowman was made by Timothy Olson and his son – yup, my first long run of the year included a chat with a professional ultra runner. He even volunteered himself as our summit photographer!
[Tangent: We never called Timmy out as being a pro or asked for a photo with him, partly because we were only 98% sure we actually knew who he was – remember, it’s Boulder, everyone has long hair, beards and wears bulky headbands! Ultimately, I’m really glad we just interacted like real strangers. Looking back it was much more meaningful to watch his son play in the snow, chatter about Frosty and then insist upon hiking down the mountain by himself – which he did, with a lot of laughing help from his dad. It’s so encouraging to see professional, elite ultra runners in their element, being themselves. They’re “just people” who balance running, families and everyday life. I may never run at their level but it’s so empowering to know they face to same struggles, challenges and true happiness as we all do!]
We thoroughly enjoyed our snack break on the top of the world and then started our trek back down the mountain. It was at this point that we made the official decision to bail off the mountain, skipping the excitement of a Bear Mountain summit in favor of pizza, burgers and beer. It really wasn’t that hard to talk ourselves into taking a shortcut down the mountain! We’re clearly very dedicated trail runners…
Would have we survived the summit up Bear Peak [and possible South Boulder Peak]? Sure, we would have made it…but then we would have been completely wiped. A trip to Southern Sun would have probably been vetoed and we definitely would not have had the energy to sit on Cheryl’s living room floor to package up Bia GPS watches while eating donuts. So, sure…we did wimp out but I think it was worth it!
Summits: Mount Sanitas, Flagstaff Mountain, Green Mountain
Miles Covered: 16 miles
Time on Feet: 7 hours
Elevation Gained: 4,800 feet
At the end of the day…I was feeling pretty darn good! Nothing hurt, nothing felt dead, nothing was screaming “omg, WHY!?” and, most importantly, my calves/Achilles felt great! Don’t get me wrong, I’m still glad we called it a day when we did, we finished the day with tired smiles rather than exhausted scowls. I just had no idea my body would hold up so well! For the first time in weeks [months?] I crashed into bed and slept soundly, all. night. long! On top of that my body was awake and ready for day at 5:09am on Sunday. It’s been so long since I’ve actually woken up refreshed and motivated, clearly my brain and body are ready for this long run thing!
And what do you do when you’re wide awake at 5:09am with no plans? You dig up some running clothes, stuff some snacks into a pack and head for the trailhead! I decided to spend my morning in Boulder spending more time on my feet chasing down the Bear Peak summit. Part of the reason I was pumped up about the Skyline run on Saturday was because it’d take me up to Boulder summits I’ve head so much about but have never experienced on my own, namely Green Mountain and Bear Peak. Since we’d missed Bear and I was feeling good I decided it was worth the drive!
Since I got impulsively adventurous at such an early hour I was flying solo and for the most part I had the entire mountain to myself. I started my trek at the Fern Canyon trailhead, just off Bear Mountain Rd at 7am – just as the sun was popping up over the horizon and lighting up the Flatirons. Trust me, this photo do not do my morning views any justice…
I was all alone on the trails and only crossed paths with maybe five people – it was oddly refreshing to get lost in my own head. I wasn’t lucky enough to solve any of the world’s problems [or my own problems] but it was nice to just let my mind wander all over the place, rarely making any sense at all.
Last spring I was on the Fern Canyon trail so I knew what kind of icy chutes I had to look forward too but I’d never made it past the saddle area so I was not prepared for the snowy chute of crazy that slowly led me up to the summit of Bear Peak. I’d been warned that it was a steep climb up stairs…in the summer. Turns out those rocky stairs are really snowy ice chutes in the winter. My screwed shoes did amazing and I survived the entire trek without any big falls - heck, I even ran down part of the step section, when there wasn’t a cliff to tumble over.
I started the day with tentative plans to hit up South Boulder Peak as well but once I got up Bear Peak I just wasn’t feeling it. I’d be on unfamiliar icy trails, alone…on a chilly day without many other people venturing out. If things went wrong it could be really bad…or at least that was my excuse to call it a day after I summited Bear Peak. I think it was a good decision – the descent from Bear to the saddle was slow going. Heck, I even got lapped by someone twice my age because I was being an inexperienced pansy unsure of my footing. Of course, it’s Boulder, the land of crazy people so I really wasn’t that surprised…
At the end of the day…the summit was worth the drive! I mean, any summit that involves a donut break is worth the effort to get there, right?! Once I got down the mountain I tacked on a few loops around the neighborhoods to finish off the day with 7 miles. Which put my weekend at 23 miles and 13 hours on my feet. Yea, yea, that makes the miles slow but think about it, I was on my feet long enough to run at least two slow marathons…I’ll take that as solid weekend of long running!
Summits: Bear Mountain
Miles Covered: 7 miles
Time on Feet: 3 hours
Elevation Gained: 2,900 feet