The weather was beautiful; I had to get outside. Unfortunately, I needed a lot of sleep. So, unable to get out of bed early Saturday morning, I gave up on a strenuous climb and decided instead to do something simple and closer to home. Still, I wanted some exercise. With 3,000 feet of elevation gain and enough crisscrossing trails to stretch a hike into a ten-miler, I figured a hike up Shadow Canyon to some peaks near Boulder fit the bill perfectly.
Due to my apathy, I was not at the Mesa Trailhead until 10:15. However, once I breathed in the fresh air and saw the nice trail in front of me, I was not looking back. I decided to take the more direct trail toward Shadow Canyon, the Towhee Trail. This trail was a little more rugged and scenic than the traditional Mesa footpath, and I enjoyed the opening view as I approached the mountains. Pesky clouds were just lifting as I neared the base of Bear Peak, revealing frost-covered evergreens and towering crags, such as the Devil’s Thumb.
Once I entered Shadow Canyon (via the Shadow Canyon Trail), I was immersed in a peaceful and enchanting forest. The crowds of people I had experienced on the Mesa Trail quickly thinned to almost no one as I continued uphill on the steepening trail. There was minimal snow, but the trail was icy almost the whole way up the canyon. I should also say “canyon” is a bit of a misnomer, as this is more of a long, moderately steep and narrow ravine. The views are minimal, because you spend most of your time hiking through the dense evergreen forests leading to the saddle. Still, as I mentioned, it is a peaceful hike in winter, and a good workout for any speed enthusiast.
An hour and forty-five minutes into my hike, I was at the saddle separating South Boulder Peak from Bear Peak. Fifteen minutes of hiking uphill from there on a snowy trail led me to the summit block. This pile of boulders allowed enough of a clearing to enjoy a good view in every direction.
Looking south from South Boulder Peak
The high point of the Boulder Group, South Boulder Peak is 8,549 feet above sea level, allowing good views of the Indian Peaks and the Longs Peak cirque. To the south, I could even see Pikes Peak, and to the east of course was Boulder.
Two other guys were at the summit of South Boulder Peak when I arrived. After talking to them a while, I found one of them to be Summit Post member Grant! This is at least the fourth time I can think of that I met a Summit Post member unexpectedly while in the mountains.
The closest peak in my view from the summit was to the north, the 8,461-foot Bear Peak. I decided to go ahead and summit that peak as well, while I was so close. The trail from the saddle to the summit rocks of Bear Peak was easy but fun, with great views to the west the entire time. The summit pinnacle was a perfect finish to a neat mountain, providing an icy scramble to a pointy summit.
I had spent some time on the first summit, but because of the wind I did not spend too much time sitting around on Bear Peak. Besides, it was already one in the afternoon.
Back in the trees, the wind was nonexistent, and I enjoyed a pleasant stroll back down the Shadow Canyon Trail. I took my time, thankful I had brought my trekking poles to aid in balancing on the slippery ice.
At the bottom of the canyon, I decided to stretch out my hike a bit by taking the left branch of trail. This side trail contoured around the base of Bear Mountain and eventually led to the Mesa Trail. That is one thing I love about this area: you can take any trail and connect it to any other trail for a hike of length and difficulty of your choice. Or, as many of the people I passed, you could even go trail running. I was more in the mood for an afternoon stroll, so “stroll” is what I did, the rest of the way out the Mesa Trail to my jeep.
Altogether, this was only a four and a half hour hike, but it provided me with a decent workout and a nice Saturday in the Colorado outdoors, something I would be a fool to pass up.
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