As the spring semester was winding down, my boyfriend, Zach, and I realized that although we both had positions as graduate research assistants over the summer, our work would be entirely electronic. In other words, we would be working exclusively from our personal laptops. As an avid traveler, I realized this meant geographical freedom! We would be able to work on our research in any location, granted that location had reliable Internet connection. After discussing the idea, we quickly decided on Colorado.
We used airbnb, a community marketplace website that allows people to list and rent accommodations around the world, to find an affordable, month-long rental apartment near Boulder, Colorado. At the beginning of June we packed our things and were on our way!
We spent most mornings working on our research at the apartment and reserved the afternoons for our adventures. Colorado is an outdoor sports paradise, and we spent the majority of our time hiking and rock climbing.
We made sure to hit some of the top rated hikes in Colorado, including Bear Peak and the Anemone Trail in Boulder, Mills Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park, and Mount Bierstadt, one of Colorado’s “14ers,” or peaks over 14,000 ft. in elevation.
Bear Peak is the most prominent peak along the foothills of Boulder City and therefore a must-do for anyone staying in the area. The hike begins at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) at the top of Table Mesa Drive, which is located a few minutes from downtown Boulder. We took the Mesa Trail to the Bear Canyon Trail, and then the Bear Peak West Ridge Trail, which leads to the summit. The hike snakes back and forth across a creek, up through grassy meadows, and, as you climb higher, has incredible views of the Indian Peaks.
The summit of Bear Peak is 8,461 ft. in elevation, and, as you can imagine, the views from the top are spectacular.
On the way down, we took the shorter, albeit steeper, Fern Canyon Trail. The total, round-trip length of the hike was a little over 8 miles. The hike itself was wonderful, but we experienced the ill effects of dehydration towards the end. Zach insisted that although the hike was of medium length and considered “strenuous,” and although it was our first hike in the higher altitudes of Colorado, we would only need 2 quarts of water between the two of us. After finishing the last drops of our water at the summit, the decent was somewhat less enjoyable than the ascent.
The Anemone Trail, which is one of Boulder’s oft overlooked hikes, was recommended to us by a friend who has visited Colorado several times. The 3-mile round-trip trail ascends to a nameless 6,423 ft. peak, which splits Boulder Canyon to the south and Sunshine Canyon to the north, offering fantastic vistas of both. The top also offered a great view of Boulder City, and in the distance, Denver and Pikes Peak.
On our way back down, we stepped slightly off the Anemone trail to the Red Rocks Loop Trail, which follows a dirt path to an easily accessible formation of red rocks. Zach enjoyed some scrambling up the rocks, while I enjoyed the views of the city and surrounding areas.
We wanted to spend at least one day at Rocky Mountain National Park and decided to try out the moderately graded trail to Mills Lake. The hike begins at the Glacier Gorge Trailhead on Bear Lake Road. Due to the extreme popularity of this area, we parked farther down and took the free shuttle to reach the trailhead. The beginning of the trail alternates between a mixed pine forests, aspen groves, and a large crowd of tourists. The number of people thinned considerably, however, after passing Alberta Falls, a scenic 30-foot waterfall that thunders down a small gorge on Glacier Creek.
After another couple of miles of light-to-moderate hiking, we reached Mills Lake. At 9,940 ft. elevation, Mills Lake is a beautiful subalpine lake nestled just below Half Mountain, with views of Pagoda Mountain (13,497 ft.), Chiefs Head Peak (13,579 ft.), and Thatchtop Mountain (12,668 ft.). The weather was overcast and rainy (and COLD!), but nonetheless the hike was enjoyable and the vistas were incredible.
Despite the rain, cold weather, and steep entrance fee to the park ($20!), we had a thoroughly enjoyable daytrip to Rocky Mountain National Park and the surrounding town, Estes Park.
Colorado is famous for its “14ers,” or peaks that reach over 14,000 ft. in elevation. There are 53 total in the state, and we decided to try Mt. Bierstadt. Mt. Bierstadt is one of the more popular 14ers in Colorado, as it is easily accessible and one of the easier treks for beginners. We left our apartment at 5 am to reach the Guanella Pass trailhead at approximately 6:45 am for a pseudo alpine start to avoid the afternoon thunderstorms. We ascended Mt. Bierstadt via the standard route up its west slopes, which is a class 2 hike with minimal exposure.
The trail is well marked, beginning with a sort of boardwalk, which ends with crossing Scott Gomer Creek. After crossing the creek, the steepness of the trail increases, crossing through grassy tundra, eventually giving way to rocky terrain and a steep uphill.
The trailhead starts at 11,669 ft. in elevation, and ascends up to 14,060 ft. at the summit. Although neither of us had previously had much experience hiking in higher altitudes, we were able to make it to the top in about 3 hours.
We definitely understand the buzz and hype about doing these sorts of hikes now – the thrill of climbing a 14er and the views from the top define Type 2 Fun.
Zach is an avid rock climber, who was thrilled at the prospect of not only have several rock climbing gyms to chose from in Boulder (there are at least four), but also for the outdoor climbing opportunities rampant in and around the city. I had climbed with Zach a few times over the spring semester, but was still very much a beginner. As I was soon to learn, bouldering is a form of rock climbing that is performed without the use of ropes or a harness, and although the climber stays low to the ground, can be very technically difficult. Sport climbing is what you would typically think of with bolted rock climbs, where the climber uses a rope and harness as protection to climb a pre-specified route.
We decided to join Boulder Rock Club (BRC). The BRC has a great student discount membership fee, two decent sized bouldering areas, and a plethora of sport routes at mixed grades.
For our first outdoor climbing adventure, we decided to head to Flagstaff Mountain, which is the local bouldering area for Boulder residents. To put it lightly, I hated it. We didn’t have a guidebook, so it was difficult to find the boulder Zach had picked out as a good place to start. The approach to the boulders was more difficult than I had thought it would be, and I aggravated my sprained toe several times as we walked around in search of a good bouldering problem. We set up our pads under an overhanging boulder, and I pouted while Zach attempted the route a few times (it was much too difficult for me).
Despite the rocky start (pun intended!), we were eventually able to find a traverse bouldering problem that was challenging, but manageable, for both of us.
Boulder Canyon, which is accessed by the aptly named Boulder Canyon Drive, is a sport climbing heaven. We went to two crags – Animal World and Vampire Rock. Zach would lead climb up the bolted routes and hook the rope through the anchor at the top so that I was able to top rope. I top roped a 100-foot route called Animation, which had a grade of 5.8. Zach did several higher graded routes, while I belayed.
The approaches were short and easy, although steep in some areas. In order to get to Vampire Rock, we had to cross Boulder Creek via a tyrolean traverse – a method of crossing along a permanent rope, using a harness and carabiner.
In addition to hiking and rock climbing, we also attended the Hanuman Yoga Festival, which was held right in Boulder. It was a great couple of days of yoga and a few fantastic concerts, including Xavier Rudd and Trevor Young. The food in Colorado is also amazing - our favorite was Watercourse, an all vegan restaurant in Denver.
After spending a month in Colorado, we can definitely see what all the hype is about, and we can’t wait for our next trip out west!