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About Traipsing Outdoors

Most of the hiking I've done in my life has taken place on relatively uncrowded trails on the Western Slope and in the southeastern part of the state on the Comanche National Grassland, particularly in the Picket Wire Canyonlands. Though I've lived in Boulder County, off and on, since 1999, I've rarely hiked here. The excuse has always been that there are too many people on the trails. This spring and summer, I'm going to let that idea go and start learning the open space and public lands in the area. People who hike, walk, bike and run the trails near Boulder, Lyons, Longmont and Nederland are friendly, and I'm ready to get out there and join them on the trail.

Publish Date: 5/21/07

Click on photo for larger view.
Wildflowers on Mount Sanitas
Wildflowers on Mount Sanitas. Photo taken Sunday, May 20, 2007.
Times-Call/Jenn Ooton

Delphinium. Arnica. Running fleabane. Silverweed. Wildflower season gives a new dimension to a quick urban-interface hike. Boulder's Mount Sanitas, specifically the Dakota Ridge trail, is thick with yellow, white, blue, pink and orange wildflowers. On Sunday, I was pretty much mesmerized by the carpet of flowers. If you're looking for a quick walk with a great view, I suggest this trail or the much steeper Mount Sanitas loop (which has an elevation change from 5,520 to 6,863 feet).

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Publish Date: 5/21/07

A few weeks ago, while hiking Wapiti Trail at Heil Valley Ranch for the first time, I learned of ongoing work to build a new three-mile loop off the Ponderosa Pine Loop (which connects with the Wapiti Trail for those of you who are unfamiliar.) There are, according to Matt Bruce, the volunteer work project coordinator for Boulder County, two crews building switchbacks and retaining walls for the trail right now. And on June 2, National Trails Day, about 100 volunteers will clear out branches and do other non-technical trail building in the morning. (Another 15-20 more experienced volunteers will be needed to work later in the day on more technical aspects of the trail.)  Boulder Mountain Bike Alliance and Boulder County Parks and Open Space are working together on the project. I've often wondered to myself while hiking who cleared the path I'm walking on. Who took the time to build up stone towers to mark the direction of a trail? And who chainsawed the fallen tree that at one point impeded a trail? Unfortunately I'm going to be in Leadville that weekend.

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Publish Date: 5/14/07

This weekend, while on an over-night excursion in the area of Bunce School Road near Allenspark, I realized that the art of rolling a rectangular sleeping bag, which seemed like a skill you could use for life when I was a kid, is now lost. Back then, it seemed like you were really camping if you stretched out the bag in the tent or cabin, slept all night without getting cold and, then, in the morning, folded it in half neatly, spooled it tightly and then lashed it into place with the too short cords affixed to the bag. Not everyone could do it so neatly or quickly as I because I deeply believed in the ritual and I practiced it.   Too bad that the new trend of ultra light, ultra small sleeping bags has done away with the need for my bag rolling skillz. Now, after a night of sleeping snuggly in a tent, you just cram your bed into a tiny little bag. Perhaps youngsters today prize themselves on not being frightened by bugs. And adults can practice not singeing off their eyebrows using the family Jetboil. 

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Publish Date: 5/03/07

Three years ago, I sent this e-mail home from Guinea, West Africa:

"Yesterday, foolishly, I went hiking by myself. I bushwhacked until I came to a waterfall, where I had been before. I worked my way slowly to the top of the volcanic rock incline and was just setting in to read some Faulkner, when I lost my footing. I fell on my face and slid off the edge. The rocks were so slippery that even though I several times almost caught myself, I eventually tumbled completely away from the mountain. And I cracked my head on a boulder as I came to rest in a pool of water.

"I walked the 3 km out of the bush, completely soaked in blood, and went straight to my friend, Ben. As I walked into his concession, I told him not to even ask questions, but just to take care of me. Luckily, I didn't break anything serious."

What I failed to provide in this dispatch was the reason I fell on my noggin': a complete lack of appropriate footwear. I was, as the people in the village where I was living do day in and day out, walking around the African landscape in flip-flops. Uh, yeah, I know. What was I thinking? Don't worry, I've learned my lesson. On the easy to moderate trails I've been exploring lately, I have either worn my tennis shoes or my Chacos (the ones with the more rugged soles). And I know that if I try anything more serious in the hiking realm that I will need to replace my hiking boots, which have mysteriously gone missing.

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Enjoying my lunch while reading your scary lesson on the importance of right footwear.

It brings to mind an experience in Nepal. My girlfriend and I were trekking with a brother sister team from New Zealand when the weather turned bad. The brother, built like a quarryman, was wearing sneakers. His sister was also unprepared for the terrain. My girlfriend and I, much smaller by comparison, spent several hours helping them down the steep mountain trail. Both were exceedingly grateful and the brother, a gentle giant, was quite ashamed. For all his physical power, he was helpless and could do nothing to help his sister.

Boy scouts had drummed it into me: Be Prepared! I’m glad I was.


Publish Date: 4/30/07

Ralph Price Reservoir
Ralph Price Reservoir. Photo taken April 29, 2007, from the Sleepy Lion trail.
Times-Call/Jenn Ooton

I began this week's adventure in Boulder County hiking by melting the lid to my Nalgene in the dishwasher.

This is not the first time I've done this, though it was the first time that the lid was no longer useable. There was nothing to be done but throw the stringy pink plastic mess away and seek a replacement before my afternoon excursion to Ralph Price Reservoir.

At Backcountry Escape, a salesman suggested I buy a CamelBak lid and retrofit my Nalgene. I paid for the lid, had him cut it from its plastic packaging and screwed it on to the Nalgene in the car (not actually the one sans lid). And I was hooked. Brilliant. A Nalgene that doesn't require you to stop during your trek to drink because it has a valve lid. My new favorite hiking accessory came in handy on the 5 1/2 mile hike around the city of Longmont's Button Rock Preserve, west of Lyons. I hadn't gone half a mile before the 80-plus temps left me thirsty, and I certainly appreciated it on the switchbacks of the Sleepy Lion trail.

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Publish Date: 4/23/07

My first experience with Earth Day was at the Pueblo Zoo. In the greenway at the entrance of the park, various organizations set up tables to share information about conservation, recycling and caring for the Earth. I was probably 7 or 8. My mother, representing the Pueblo Archaeology and Historical Society, was working one of the various booths. I, for my part, spent the day running around enjoying the information, food, grass and the message -- until the end of the day, when  Earth Day was tainted in my young mind. When all the event-goers had gone home for the day, a stunning amount of litter covered the grass. I helped pick it up, piling it high in large gray trash bins that soon were overflowing. I was upset then, as only a young kid can be, and I am still struck by the absurdity of a celebration for the Earth where people threw their trash on the ground.

Yesterday, however, Earth Day was redeemed for me. I didn't go to an event, and I wasn't really aware that it was Earth Day (until the cashier at the grocery store offered me a free cloth bag for my purchases). But, hiking yesterday, I felt like every person on the trail who said hello meant it. There were children learning to mountain bike with helmets on. There were Boulder runners. There were even two unicyclists who said good morning as they whizzed past.

The number of people out on Marshall Mesa trail, south of Boulder, really were celebrating the Earth. And so was I.

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