Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Golden Gate Canyon State Park: Raccoon Trail

Distance: 2.7 miles round trip
Elevation: 9,313 ft - 8,889 ft (starts high)
Elevation Gain: 475 ft (cumulative)
Bathroom at Trailhead: Yes
Dogs: On Leash (State Park)
Date Hiked: 17 August 2014

View from Panorama Point, the start of the Raccoon Trail in Golden Gate Canyon State Park
I took my parents on a road trip to Golden Gate Canyon State Park near Golden CO on sunny summer day in the hopes of taking them on a short walk before picnicking. While the Raccoon Trail is one of the "easiest" trails in the park, it turned out to be too rocky and steep for the parental units.

Heading down from the deck
The trail begins to smooth out
For the able bodied, however, the Raccoon Trail is a pleasant, if rough, jaunt through varied terrain that is mostly trafficked by families or campers in one of the nearby campgrounds. If you hustle, you can complete it in an hour and still have time to break open the chips and dip.

Junction with the Mule Deer Trail
Emerging from the trees
The Raccoon Trail starts near the wooden deck at Panorama Point, a popular place for weddings, picnics, or fall color leaf-peeping. From this deck visitors can gaze at the Continental Divide all the way from Longs Peak in the north to Pikes Peak in the south.

Grasses and open skies take over
Taking a right turn to head back up the hill
From the deck, the trail descends sharply through a tall coniferous forest and over a series of eroded rocks. At 0.68 miles is the junction with the Mule Deer Trail, which is one of the longest trails in the park. The junctions in the park are well marked with clear names, animal track icons, and laminated maps indicating your location. By this point the trail had smoothed out significantly and I could  have driven a golf cart up the path.

The uphill climb is very eroded in parts
Junction at the top with the Mule Deer Trail. Route goes to the right.
A short distance beyond this point the trail changes microclimates as it begins to parallel a drainage. The trees disappear and thick grasses intrude while the humidity soared. At 1.4 miles is a spur heading off the Reverend's Ridge Campground. The area was so overgrown I almost missed it. The Raccoon Trail continues straight before making a sharp right turn and and heading steeply uphill on another rocky, eroded segment. This area was particularly bad and looked like it might have been damaged in the September 2013 floods.

The best part of the trail, is the last segment along a shelf with stellar views.
This Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel (learn more about these colorful denizens of the forest) wanted to join the party but we said no to feeding the animals.  Besides, I don't share that well!
The hectic ascent moderates slightly until another junction with the Mule Deer Trail (at 2.2 miles). From this point on the route follows a shelf with large rocks and occasional views of the Continental Divide. It comes out in the parking lot near the bathrooms, but technically crosses the pavement back to the deck.

While my parents could not do the trail, I managed to scurry along without them. By the time I returned to the parking area, they had already set up lunch on one of the many picnic tables scattered in the trees. The pine needles were sun-kissed, giving off that vanilla aroma that so reminds me of my childhood in the Sierra Nevadas. While short, the Raccoon Trail is a pleasant diversion. Bring along a lunch, linger, and lounge. There are few worse ways to spend a sunny, summer afternoon.

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.