Sunday, June 21, 2009

Conquering Bear Peak

One of the things I love about my house is that it is full of books. I have books on just about any subject that you can imagine. There are several subjects about which I tend to collect prolific quantities of books. One of those subjects is Colorado. I have hundreds of books about Colorado. Even more specifically I have at least 50 or more books about hiking in Colorado. I have books that are dedicated to hiking in Colorado by season, with your dog, snowshoeing, loop hikes, hikes with kids, etc.
In preparation for Father’s Day I was browsing through my hiking books and I chose a book about “great” loop hikes in Colorado. I personally like taking loop hikes as then you don’t see the same scenery twice. As I read through the book last night I decided upon a hike called the “Bear Peak Loop Hike”. This hike starts at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in the foothills above Boulder. The hike winds it’s way through Bear Canyon until you finally climb out of the canyon and mount West Bear Ridge. From there you run up the ridge to the summit of Bear Peak. (Bear Peak in the far distance.) Zack and I rose relatively early this morning so that we could get an early start on our hike. Though we were on the road to Boulder around 10:00AM I really wished we had started earlier. Unfortunately, our starting time would later have a significant influence on our hike! We arrived at the trailhead by NCAR around 11:00AM. After getting all of our stuff squared away we headed out on the Walter Orr Roberts Interpretive Trail which was the starting of the hike. Ever quickly the trail structure became very confusing and we had a hard time following the instructions laid out in the hiking book. Within a mile I had totally decided to abandon the book and just follow the trail signs as the book didn’t match up with the trail signs in the slightest. We hooked up with the Mesa Trail which is a major arterial trail in the Boulder open space system. It starts in Chautauqua Park and meanders its way to the south until it reaches El Dorado State Park on the far southern end of Boulder. From the Mesa Trail we eventually connected to the Bear Canyon Trail which we would essentially follow the whole way to the summit of Bear Peak. For a long time we followed Bear Creek as it ran down Bear Canyon. After about 2.5 miles of total hiking we left Bear Canyon behind us and began the climb to West Bear Ridge. Scaling to the top of the ridge was not difficult. We achieved the top of the ridge and we could see the summit of Bear Peak in the distance. The trail continues to run along the top for West Bear Ridge for quite a distance. Along the way we were offered great views down to Boulder and the plains beyond. After about 4 total miles of hiking we reached the base of Bear Peak itself. From the base the peak did not really look that significant. I kept fooling myself and saying it really wasn’t that far nor would the climb be that hard. Yes – I was truly fooling myself! As we began the run up to the summit block of the peak, we were working very hard. I was amazed with how well Zack was doing. He was negotiating very significant boulders and talus fields without problem. He was very confident about what he was doing and despite the shear distance down he was not having any problem. On this Father’s Day hike I was truly proud of my boy! After about 30 minutes of resolute climbing much of it hand over hand we managed to reach the base of the summit block. To reach the summit itself would take even more strenuous climbing – all of it hand over hand. At this point Zack made the very wise decision to stay at the base of the summit block. There were a number of people hanging out there so I didn’t feel bad leaving him there while I made the effort to summit the peak. (Additionally, he would be able to see me the whole time I was climbing up to the summit.) (View from the top of Bear Peak.) There was no one on the peak as I made my attempt to summit. It wasn’t a hugely nasty climb but the consequences had I screwed up would have been severe. Thankfully I managed to work my way to the top and set foot on the USGS marker at the summit without taking any downward tumbles. From the summit I was able to stand up and wave down to Zack so that he knew I had successfully made it to the top. (The obligatory summit photo.) I only stayed on the summit for about 5 minutes. I won't have even stayed for that long but I needed to let another party climb to the top. Luck for me this party was on their way up as I was able to ask one of them to take my picture for the obligatory summit photo. I didn’t want to dally at the top because the clouds were beginning to look ominous and I had no desire to be a lightning strike statistic. (Zack at the case of the summit block.) (Zack and me at the base of the summit with the plains in the background.) Once I reach Zack at the base of the summit block we quickly oriented ourselves to the downward trek. Unlike the approach up Bear Canyon and West Bear Ridge we were going to essentially go straight down the mountain by taking the Fern Canyon trail. As soon as we started down the trail we quickly realized the experience to which we were subjecting ourselves. We had to jump from boulder to boulder and it took a humongous toll on our legs. After a short while we felt as though our legs were made from jelly. This downward horror story continued for over a mile. It was not fun. As we descended further down the mountain the sound of thunder started to become more noticeable. As we reached the base of Fern Canyon and hooked up with the Mesa Trail, the rain began to fall and lightning filled the air. Unfortunately for us we were in a position were there really wasn’t anything we could do. We were exposed and there wasn’t any suitable cover for a while. So as the rain and hail fell on us we did the only thing rational people would do – we kept walking and just screamed and howled at the thunder and lightning. Sometimes when you are faced with a storm there is nothing to do. I don’t like being in those kind of situations and I felt even worse since Zack was with me. Screaming and howling at the storm helped us deal with the fear and it kept Zack from freaking out. We got pretty wet but it was warm out so we didn’t really mind that much. The worst thing was that the trail became a quagmire of mud. With each step we got more and more mud on our shoes. That definitely sucked. We finally made our way back up Mesa Trail to the Robert Orr Roberts Interpretative Trail and the car. The hike had taken us much longer than expected and it was almost two miles longer than what was written in the book. In the book the hike was rated as “moderate” to which all I can say is yeah right! For Zack it was quite an accomplishment as he set a new “Zackie world record” for the longest hike he has taken. Today’s hike was over 8.2 miles long. Zack’s previous longest hike had been 6.5 miles in November of 2008 when we hiked Castlewood Canyon. I am very proud of him. For a kid of 10 years he is a pretty amazing hiker. After today’s hike I feel very confident in his ability to actually make it to the top of a 14er. I am giving serious consideration for us to attempt to hike Mount Bierstadt sometime in late July or August. Despite being muddy and damp we decided to stop in downtown Boulder and get some dinner. We had a nice meal at the Cheesecake Factory right on Pearl Street. Given that this was Boulder no one really cared that we were a little bit muddy and damp! All-in-all it was a good day. It gave me exactly what I needed to focus my attention away from myself and the emotional pain I have been feeling for the last several days - but it is time to move on. I have a busy week planned as I a friend who I haven’t seen in over 10 years coming into town tomorrow night for business. We will meet up for dinner on Monday night. Tuesday and Wednesday I will be taking part in a Project Management Review for my project in Boulder. Those will definitely be busy days! I hope that everyone has had a wonderful weekend and a great Father’s Day. Zack and I had a wonderful time today and our memories of today will last us forever! Thanks and peace to all – J.

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