The Final Days

Yes, I know that summer technically ends September 22, but considering that it already snowed in Boulder yesterday, I’m going to say we’re well into the final days. And that wasn’t even the first time I got snowed on during this summer. This obscenely early snowstorm, coupled with the record-setting storm we had in April has me really questioning my decision in live in Boulder. But that’s a blog topic for next month… For now, let’s focus on the fun Front Range outdoor activities I’ve indulged in the last few weeks.

I’ve had to call my 14er season off early because my old Trotsky Bear is also in his final days. His various health issues have reached a point where his boarding facility will no longer take him in because he’s at high risk of death. Or so they say, but here he is, happy as ever, 41 days after the vet said she couldn’t believe he was still alive at all, based on what she saw in his x-rays. I think she has severely underestimated my little buddy’s strength and will to live and explore. He was hiking 14ers up until 11 months ago, after all. Regardless, my adventures for the rest of this year have been closer to home, where I can leave and get back in decent amount of time. And there’s still plenty nearer to Boulder that I haven’t experienced yet.

Brainard Lake Recreation Area

I’ve hiked in Brainard once before to Pawnee Pass and gone on a nice snowshoe trek there (with Trotsky!) back in March to the Lefthand Park Reservoir, but there are always more trails to explore. This day was a nice 12+ mile hike along the South St. Vrain trail, out and around Long Lake, back past Brainard Lake, and returning to the parking lot along the Waldrop trail. Brainard Lake was crowded, but South St. Vrain and the Long Lake Loop were nearly deserted and perfectly peaceful, and the sun at 11,000 feet was just right for basking in.

South Arapaho Peak

While the 14ers get all the publicity, Colorado also has 600+ peaks over 13,000 feet high, though many of them “don’t count” because they don’t have enough prominence from their surrounding peaks. Well, I’m not concerned about that. A mountain is a mountain and 13,394 feet is damn high, any way you look at it. Plus, I actually got to see a glacier on this hike, unlike during my nine days in Glacier National Park earlier this summer. And I got snowed on! On August 29th, the top of this peak saw flurries, which quickly turned to hail and then sleet as we (carefully) fled the summit. Totally worth it. I mean, look at these views!

Calarat Challenge Trail Running Festival

I was stoked when I saw that TEAM Boulder was still holding this trail race just north of Boulder on beautiful private property and signed up immediately. The “festival” part of the race didn’t happen, understandably, but running 13.4 miles and 2,400 vertical feet up hills, past old mines, through burned areas, inside aspen groves, across log bridges, up ladders and out of ravines, up steep rocky outcroppings, and on narrow single-track that almost vanished into the tall grass at times was exactly what I wanted in a race. Not many people signed up, which is unfortunate because the proceeds went to benefit the Cal-Wood Education Center (donate if you can!), but I loved feeling like I was out there all alone, while still having my friends to celebrate with at the end.

This was the second and last race for me this season. I’d been toying around with signing up for another ultra in the fall, but my motivation to go on long, solo runs is quite low. That’s partly because of the poor air quality we’ve had from all the wildfires, and partly because I’m working from home alone all day, not even able to go to a coffee shop or brewery to work. This is very unlike last summer when I was in an office with all the noise and people and sensory input that made those runs a good mental break and restoration. This year, I’m craving the social aspect and human interaction of the gym, even with masks and limited capacity. So, again, I’m glad this race happened, and I’m looking forward to it being a true festival next year!

Mount Ida

It’s been at least six years since I dared venture anywhere touristy in Colorado on a holiday weekend. The number of people has become absolutely crushing. Three-hour drives into the mountains have become seven-hour drives, even if you leave the Thursday evening before the holiday. Yet here I was the Saturday of Labor Day weekend on a hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. And it was wonderful! The park has limited, timed entry because of the pandemic, and we encountered no traffic to the park and no wait at the entrance. Fantastic! I’ve only hiked in RMNP four times, despite living so close, because dogs aren’t allowed on the trails. Now that I can’t bring Trotsky on any hikes I do, I decided to seize the opportunity and take on the Mount Ida trail, which came highly recommended by a friend. And what a great recommendation it was up and over the continental divide. The picture of the smoke is the Cameron Peak fire, one of four devastating fires ravaging Colorado this summer, this one unfortunately growing over 10,000 acres and causing more evacuations on the very day I snapped this picture.

Sky Pond

Yep, we ventured back out into RMNP on Labor Day itself. The Cameron Peak fire I previously referenced grew from 24,000 acres to 89,000 acres in less than 48 hours, closing roads and trails in the north of the park, yet we managed to score a coveted parking spot at Bear Lake. The Sky Pond trail was packed with tourists at first but thinned out as we passed each stop – Alberta Falls, Loch Vale, Timberline Falls, Lake of Glass, and eventually Sky Pond. We had Sky Pond almost to ourselves for a nice hour of basking in the late summer sun with beer and snacks, and on the return trip that we started around 4pm, we passed almost no one until we got all the way back to Alberta Falls.

Trotsky Bear

And lest you think that I’ve been out there having all the summer fun while my best friend languishes at home, think again! The third reason I decided not to sign up for another ultra marathon this year is I wanted more time for slow walks with my old man. He’s still getting outside plenty in his final days. As long as he has a smile on his face, I can find plenty of flat trails for him to sniff and plod along as far as he wants to.

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