February 20th, 2005
The Boulder Skyline Traverse consists of climbing the five major summit along the Boulder skyline. The five peaks of the traverse are South Boulder Peak, Bear Peak, Green Mountain, Flagstaff Mountain, and Mt. Sanitas. There are many different ways to connect all five peaks, and for this trip, we chose to start at NCAR and end at Mt. Sanitas. After hiking South Boulder Peak, Bear Peak, and Green Mountain with some fellow 14erworld members the previous weekend, we talked about doing the Boulder Skyline Traverse. Amy was disappointed that she had missed the hike last weekend, so we decided to try the Skyline Traverse and scope it out for future hikes.
After hiking South Boulder Peak, Bear Peak, and Green Mountain with some fellow 14erworld members the previous weekend, we talked about doing the “Boulder Skyline Traverse”. This traverse includes the three mentioned peaks and also adds Flagstaff Mountain and Mt. Sanitas. Amy was disappointed that she had missed the hike last weekend, so we decided to try the Skyline Traverse and scope it out for future hikes.
The first order of business was to drop Amy’s car off at the Mt. Sanitas trailhead so we wouldn’t have to hike the all the way back to our starting destination. Even with using a car shuttle this hike still was going to be over 15 miles and 6,300 vertical feet. We dropped off Amy’s car and headed over to NCAR, which would be our starting destination. We had hiked up Shadow Canyon to South Boulder Peak the previous weekend, so I decided Fern Canyon to Bear Peak would be a nice change of pace.
We departed from NCAR at 9:30 a.m. with glorious weather in Boulder. The temps were in the 50s, allowing me to hike in just my base-layer most of the day. The trail to Fern Canyon was a muddy, swampy mess, making me wonder how icy the trail would be higher up. The going was smooth and we quickly took the Fern Canyon cutoff from the Mesa Trail and starting gaining elevation in earnest. Once in the shadowy confines of Fern Canyon the trail was icy and resembled a bobsled run more than a hiking trail. The Jamaican bobsled team should consider using Boulder as their training grounds instead of Park City, Utah. The icy trail definitely slowed us down and several sections required grabbing onto trees, boulders, or whatever was available. Amy was having a more difficult time, so being a male, of course I had to act like an expert on hiking icy trails and try to help her out. I sometimes forget that Karma has a way of catching up with you, and sure enough, climbing a tricky section of ice and boulders, I fell and slid down the trail about 10 feet before coming to a stop, it was my own version of “Not-so-Cool Running”. We finally gained the saddle below Bear Peak’s north ridge and the trail changed from ice to snow. The snow made the going much better and we topped out on Bear Peak at 11:20 a.m., almost 2 hours after leaving the car. We tried to sign the register with the dysfunctional pen that was in the register and took off over to South Boulder Peak. It took about 40 minutes to summit South Boulder Peak and we arrived right at noon. We signed the register and noticed some familiar names in there, notably John Prater, how many times a week does this guy climb this peak? We took a moment to enjoy the views a have a bite to eat, I brought along my traditional Snickers bar for this most glorious day.
After about 20 minutes we were off again ascending back up Bear Peak to gain the trail down Bear Peak’s west ridge. The steep descent down the west ridge was more problematic than it had been the previous week, but much, much better than Fern Canyon. The flat portion of the trail over to Bear Canyon was a welcome relief and we were finally making some decent time. It didn’t take long to come to the fork in the trail where you can either head right down Bear Canyon, or left up to Green Mountain. I looked at the clock on my new GPS and it was 1:20 p.m. We made it a goal to be on the summit of Green Mountain by 2 p.m., so I had to break out the mp3 player to give myself an added boost. Nothing like some tunes from The Killers, My Chemical Romance, and Simple Pan to get you fired up and we were off towards Green Mountain. This portion of the trail was completely dry and allowed us to make our goal as we topped out on Green Mountain at 1:50 p.m. Three mountains down, two more to go. Green Mountain always seems to have a party going on at the summit, and today was no exception. We signed the register and noticed that Jeff Valerie guy and his wife had been to the summit again. Who brings their significant other on these types of hikes anyway? Oh wait… I do, never mind.
Amy had packed some big, juicy red apples that we enjoyed as we descended back down Green Mountain to the Ranger Trail. From here we hung a right and began hiking towards Flagstaff Mountain. This trail was quite icy in spots as well since it receives very little sunlight, but we managed and were soon back to Gregory Canyon. Just down the canyon from the cabin we took a left to head up to Flagstaff Road, where we crossed the road and began hiking along the Ute Trail to the summit of Flagstaff Mountain. I knew that Artist Point wasn’t the true highpoint of Flagstaff Mountain, so as the trail began to traverse a hillside towards the parking area, we decided to leave the trail and head up the slopes to find the highest point. There were several spots that appeared to be pretty close in elevation, but this spot per my GPS was the highest reading 7030 feet. Just for curiosity sake, we proceed over to Artist Point, and this read over 100 feet lower on the GPS. With that dilemma behind us, we continued down the road towards Sunrise Amphitheater to look for the Flagstaff Trail that would lead us down Flagstaff Mountain. There were dark clouds quickly approaching from the west and the wind began to really pick up. Snow began falling and it looked like we were in for quite a storm, so we huddled inside a picnic area to put on some clothing better suited for contending with the elements. Once we were dressed for battle we continued to the amphitheater to find the Flagstaff Trail. Since this was uncharted territory for both Amy and I, it took a little while to find the correct trail. Back on track we dropped down the Flagstaff Trail crossing the road in several spots. We made one mistake where we crossed the road and followed a trail to a bouldering area before realized we were off-route. We backtracked to the road and realized it was a mistake to cross the road, the trail continued on the other side. Ok, back on track again we descended to a fork in the trail, we hung a left to head over towards Panorama Point and the Viewpoint Trail. The trail led us to the scenic overlook of Boulder, not very far up the Flagstaff Road, where the Viewpoint Trail descends down towards Boulder Canyon. Before beginning the descent down the Viewpoint Trail we stopped to remove our warm layers, looks like the storm realized it wasn’t going to slow us down, so it headed south to harass somebody else.
The Viewpoint trail was pretty muddy as well, in spots it was the kind of mud that clumps to your boots until your feet weigh 10 pounds each. Thanks to the excellent route description we received from John Prater, we knew that the Viewpoint Trail would deposit just south and east of Eben G. Fine Park. From here we crossed the street into the park where we walked along the Boulder Creek path to the tunnel under Canyon Boulevard.
Settler’s Park is just beyond Canyon Boulevard and from here we got on the Anemone Trail that traveled up the slopes on the west side of Red Rocks. Going back uphill wasn’t nearly as painful as I had anticipated, and after about 0.3 miles, we crested a hillside and had a view of the final objective of the day, the South Ridge of Mt. Sanitas. We dropped another 0.3 miles down to the Mt. Sanitas trail, where we began the steep ascent of Mt. Sanitas at 4:50 p.m. We figured we had just enough daylight to make it to the summit and maybe catch the sunset from the top. The steep grind up the South Ridge definitely slowed us down, but I was feeling much better than I thought I would. Earlier in the day I figured I would be crawling at this point, but Amy and I made slow and steady progress until we topped out at the hiker’s highpoint of Mt. Sanitas at 5:40 p.m. I took a GPS reading of 6824 feet to compare with the true summit of Mt. Sanitas. We continued over to the true summit arriving at 5:50 p.m., and the GPS read 6835 feet, 11 feet taller than the hiker’s highpoint. Amy and I congratulated each other on an awesome day and took a moment to enjoy the last rays of sunlight disappearing behind the Indian Peaks.
We enjoyed the twilight for about 10 minutes before we began the painful descent down to Amy’s car. My feet were not happy with me and they let me know how upset they were with every step I took. Daylight had faded into darkness and the moon was making a futile effort to penetrate the clouds and illuminate the trail for us. We had headlamps with us, but decided not to use them. It just didn’t feel right, we wanted keep the fire of adventure burning all the way back to the car, and not diminish it with artificial light. Having to keenly focus on the trail to discern rock from tree root, drop-off from dirt, was a welcome distraction from my screaming joints. We reached the bottom and Amy’s car at 6:50 p.m. almost 9.5 hours from when our journey began. We felt tired, but also exhilarated that such magnificent adventures can be had right in our own backyard.