A Tale of Two Hikes: Upper Boulder Lake and Mount Sanitas Trails

One of the best things about the mountain ranges in states such as Idaho, Utah, New Mexico, Wyoming, and Arizona is the rapid changes in elevation that allow you to experience multiple ecosystems within a short distance. This is of course equally true of the Colorado Rockies but they perhaps hold the additional distinction of having the most developed trail system of all the ranges in the western states. Thus, there is incredible variety in trails. It’s difficult to say for certain but I’m thinking that even if I lived in the town of Evergreen where Tom’s niece and family have a house it would probably take me 10 years to explore all the hiking options within a 60-mile radius.

The next 2 hikes Nancy and I planned for us were a perfect example of the diversity of the Rockies, one in the fir and aspen between 9,700 and 11,000 feet and the second showcasing the ponderosa and craggy terrain from 5,500 to 6,850 feet. For the first hike we went west into the White River National Forest and then north of the ski towns. Though the trail to Upper Boulder Lake is 3 miles from the trailhead we parked just off the main forest road a mile and a half beyond that and walked in. Though this added mileage and elevation gain to the hike we had the opportunity to walk through aspen groves and see into meadows along the secondary road which resulted in neither of us regretting the decision to park and walk. To be more accurate I should say none of the 3 of us minded since Abby is pretty happy to walk in the mountains at any time.

Anyhow, from the actual trailhead we had a steady ascent though conifer and tinging aspen up to a ridge where I discovered that a significant portion of the elevation gained would be lost in a rapid swtichbacking down to the stream. From the water we of course had to climb again before arriving at the shore of the lake at 11,004 feet. Abby immediately opted to wade in and get a few drinks while Nancy and I took numerous pictures, ate some fruit, and contemplated crossing the partially-dammed lake outlet. Lucky for us a local hiker materialized and offered some advice about following an informal path downstream along the creek which reconnects with the trail we came in on. This sounded like a fine idea and so we made our way across the dammed outlet, balancing and stepping from log to log – which, I must point out, was one of my better displays of coordination – before reaching a point where we de-shoed and waded across. Nancy, being more sure-footed and also having better balance had no issues but it was Abby surprisingly that had the least graceful crossing.

Many dogs would have opted to swim across or slog through the shallow-ish head of the creek but Abby is decidedly a land dog and does not like getting any wetter than she deems necessary, which led her to follow our route across the logjam. Unlike us humans however she didn’t anticipate the possibility of the logs spinning, and so as we watched helplessly she moved her legs faster and faster in an attempt to stay on the logs as they rolled quicker and quicker beneath her paws. It was a battle she lost after 15 seconds as she was tossed into the cold water; fortunately her superior dog-abilities saved her from being pitched sideways, hitting her head on a log, or getting a paw pinched between the dead trees. Despite my laughing hysterically I actually was ready to plunge in and grab her should she have a bad fall but there wasn’t anything I could do until she stopped spinning. She popped up instantly however and merely splashed her way out of the water, glancing behind at the offending logs, an annoyed look on her face.

After shaking off a few times Abby started trotting down the creekside path and Nancy and I followed after putting on our socks and shoes. Walking the overgrown path downhill we caught glimpses of the tumbling outflow over the rocks and even caught a few photos from the banks before we reached the bridge crossing. Back on the main trail we then returned the way we came, enjoying the yellowed aspen backlit in the mid-afternoon sun as well as the views to the east across the valley.

The second hike was up Mount Sanitas, which overlooks the town of Boulder on the east side of the Rockies. This choice stemmed from a soccer game scheduled in town that afternoon and so after arranging to meet Tim, Tom, and the kids at the field later, Nancy and I jetted off to the rugged, steep foothills north of Denver to get a few miles in. Despite the relatively short distance of the route – maybe a couple miles each way – the climb up Mount Sanitas was pretty brutal stepping-up-wise as well as just plain steep, and it winded me way too fast. Though I struggled to keep up with Nancy we did gain some pretty incredible views over the valleys on either side of the ridge that made it worthwhile. Okay, really worthwhile, but the repetitive 30-inch steps up between boulders was punishing to say the least. I was pretty ecstatic when we finally reached the top.

Rather than return the way we came, we descended the east side of the peak past more interesting rock features over an arguably more severe route. But it was all downhill and my legs weren’t complaining. We then dropped into a grassy valley framed by ponderosa where we opted to walk along a slight ridge under the shade of the trees rather than under the sun which made the 90-degree day feel much hotter.