Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Mallory Cave

Distance: 3.2 miles round trip
Elevation: 6,109 ft - 6,817 ft
Elevation Gain: 934 ft (cumulative)
Bathroom at Trailhead: Inside NCAR
Dogs: On leash until after the water tank then off leash with Boulder green tag
Date Hiked: 2 August 2014

Looking down on Boulder from the Mallory Cave Trail
The short but steep trail to Mallory Cave behind NCAR in Boulder is a great way to burn a few calories and still get home in time to binge watch Games of Thrones with a bucket of chicken wings.

NCAR's parking lot. These cars are for Saturday hikers. 
Walking up the NCAR mesa
The trail starts at NCAR, the big pink castle on the hill up Table Mesa Drive in south Boulder. Park anywhere in the large lot and head around the back side of the building from the north side.

The first 0.6 miles takes you across the mesa upon which NCAR resides, down a steep embankment and up a hogback to a large water tank. The hogback segment includes 239 ft of elevation gain in less than 100 yards. I used to torture new arrivals by having them tell me their life story on this pitch while I rushed us uphill like we were being chased by IRS auditors.

The steep trail down off the mesa
How green the hills! 2014 has been so rainy that the foothills have stayed green well into September!
After the water tank, the route then walks out onto another ridge with stunning views of the Flatirons. At 0.7 miles is a trail junction. Take a left here and travel down to the Mesa Trail and the junction with the Mallory Cave Trail (at 0.8 miles). A large kiosk marks the spot. To get to the trail, you might have to dodge all the trail runners whizzing past on the Mesa trail, which parallels the Flatirons for 3 miles in either direction.

Past the water tower and heading towards the Mesa Trail
Either route at the junction ahead will take you to the Mesa Trail. I usually go left when going to Mallory Cave.
From this point on, the trail gets progressively rockier as it climbs an additional 280 ft to the base of a 2-story wall of angled rock (at 1.3 miles). Poison Ivy grows in profusion along this segment, so refrain from the urge to "roll in the hay" or you may come home with a itch you can't scratch.

Looking back at the junction of the Mesa Trail and the Mallory Cave Trail. A large sign marks the spot. 
Heading up the Mallory Cave Trail. We will get up close and personal to the flatiron in the distance. 
The trail turns sharply here and heads straight up in a long series of steps that weave in and out of Boulders. Several climbing areas are marked by signs and corresponding splinter social trails, which can easily lead the breathless hiker astray. This is particularly true coming down.

The Mallory Cave trail is one of the wettist ones in Boulder as indicated by these ferns along the route. 
There are trail signs for Mallory Cave AND local climbing spots. Be sure to read them or you'll get off route. 
Just before the top is a large boulder field with stunning views of the surrounding area. A little further on, the trail deadends at a rock wall (at 1.6 miles and 769 ft of elevation gain). A small interpretive sign describes the bats that live in the cave, which is 200 ft rock climb. The cave is now totally closed to protect the bats, so you might as well turn around and either linger at the boulder field or and race back down to the DVR.

Open area near the top of the trail
Up this wall is the entrance to the cave. It is closed off now. I have never had the nerve to climb up there. 
If you hike to Mallory Cave midweek like I used to do, you will probably be alone on the trail. On weekends, there will be hordes of climbers gleefully hanging off of the porous rock until their fingers bleed. On this trip, which was after Colorado legalized marijuana, there was at least one climber who obviously believed that nirvana could be chemically induced. I guess for rock climbers, "stoned" has many definitions.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Arapaho Glacier Trail (Rainbow Lakes side)

Distance: 9 miles round trip
Elevation: 9,958 ft - 12,346 ft
Elevation Gain: 2,170 ft (cumulative)
Bathroom at Trailhead: Yes
Dogs: On leash (Indian Peaks Wilderness)
Date Hiked: 10 August 2014

Looking into the City of Boulder Watershed from the Arapaho Glacier Trail
The Arapaho Glacier Trail in the Indian Peak Wilderness is a tundra superhighway that stretches from the 4th of July Trailhead in the south to the Rainbow Lakes Trailhead in the north.  Since the one way distance is 7.8 miles just from the 4th of July mine (two miles up), most people hike from one end or the other and double back.

Parking area and bathroom
Trails are well marked. I measured the trail split at 0.3 miles.
On this trip, we started from the Rainbow Lakes side, which is less crowded and affords eye-popping views of the City of Boulder Watershed, a private area of peaks and lakes that are postcard perfect. Don't be tempted to head that way, however. Set one foot across the well-marked boundary and a screaming horde of guard Marmots will gnaw your feet off at the ankles and turn you over to winter's inevitable embrace.

The first two miles are in the trees on a pleasant trail. Some parts are rockier than others.
Indian Paintbrush
The road to Rainbow Lakes starts from Highway 72 just north of Nederland. Seven miles northward is a sign for the University of Colorado Mountain Research Station on the right. Turn left here onto Forest Service Road 298. It is 5 miles down a road dirt road to the large parking area. I would recommend a high-clearance 2WD at a minimum and a 4x4 if you have one. The road is pitted, eroded, and very rocky in places. It takes much longer to reach the trailhead than you would think.

Treeline at 2.5 miles. Mt. Albion is just visible.
The first two and a half miles of the route are in the trees.  Ironically, I was pleased with the dryness of the area and the subtle scent of pine needles baking in the sun after slogging through wet and humid Heart Lake a few days prior. I say ironic because we got caught in one of the wettest storms I have been in in years. Hail, torrential rains, and enough water on the trail to totally saturate my "water proof" boots.  Normally, this segment is quite pleasant.

Tundra and watershed view
After two miles, the trail leaves the trees and heads steadily upwards across a bare tundra hillside. At the first switchback at 2.8 miles, the trail overlooks the City of Boulder Watershed. This area is clearly marked on the National Geographic Map as a no-go zone so it has always been terra incognita. At least looking down into it has removed some of the mystery.

The clouds should have been our first clue
Harebell was covering the tundra in great swaths
From this vantage, the trail winds around the hillside to the east before turning sharply west again. At 4.4 miles is a saddle. Our turn around point was a spot just off the trail where views of the southern Indian Peaks dominate. Unfortunately, on this trip we only stayed 10 minutes before a distant rumble had us packing up and heading down.

On the saddle
Ptarmigan showing off its superb camouflage. This mother had several chicks with it. I could hardly see any of them and just pointed my camera in the general direction of where I thought they were.
Half way to treeline, the sky began to spit hail from a storm that had built early in the day over the Watershed. Thunder began to vibrate the air and we quickened our step to get down as quickly as possible. Despite all the gear, we were quite wet by the time we reached the trees and then had the pleasure of walking two miles on a trail slick with pea-sized hail and streaming water. Ankle-deep puddles were forming on any flat segment and the dirt was eroding around rocks as the torrent rushed downwards. The temperature dropped to below 40 degrees and a heavy mist descended. Even though I had both a stocking cap and gloves with me, they did little to keep out the cold after becoming saturated from the rain and mist. Had anyone one of us had an accident that prevented us from generating heat through movement, we would have had a serious case of hypothermia on our hands. This is just one more example of how the wilderness can torment those who are unprepared. For the most part, we are fat and dumb primates oblivious to nature's killing power as we hide behind our heated walls and espresso machines.

Off the trail now at our lunch spot. We are looking south, deeper into the Indian Peaks Wilderness.
I really would like to return to this trail on a nicer day. While the clouds and mist added to the photographic appeal of the area, it was a warning to stay in bed. 2014 has been such a short season that many of us have pushed the limits to enjoy the high country before winter grips it again.