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Thursday, July 8,2010

It's a bear

Bear Peak offers spectacular views, rugged hiking

By Heather May Koski

You`ve hiked Mount Sanitas and Chautauqua Park, but have you given Bear Peak in South Boulder your best shot? A lengthy, strenuous climb, Bear Peak is not for the endurance-deficient beginners of Mount Sanitas Valley or Chautauqua trails. At 8,461 feet, the mountain is the most prominent peak of Boulder’s foothills and one “bear” of a hike.

In the heat of the summer, plan on hitting the trail early, around 7 a.m., to avoid long hours of hazardous ultraviolet rays. Along the same lines, don’t forget to apply copious amounts ofsunscreen on exposed bodyparts and carry extra in your backpack. Other useful and necessary items to pack up the mountain with you include water, and lots of it, high-energy snacks like trail mix, granola bars and fruit, a hat to protect your face from weather elements and a light jacket to protect from unexpected Colorado thunderstorms. Make sure your shoes have suitable traction to precent slipping while scampering along the trail. A signaling device like a shrill whistle and a basic first aid kit are also not a bad idea to have on the trail in case you get lost or get a blister.

Own a camera? Bring that, too, because the view from the summit is spectacular.

Beginning at the top of Table Mesa Drive at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), driving to the trailhead is preferable to biking.

The occasions that I biked to the top of Table Mesa Drive from various locations in town have resulted in preliminary and less-than-ideal fatigue throughout the duration of the hike. If you’re hiking with friends, try to carpool to maximize parking space at the trailhead. If you’re hiking alone, I recommend bringing portable music to keep you company. There are various trails that will take you to the Bear Peak summit, depending on how physical you’d like your hike to be.

The first stretch of your hike will be on Dakota Ridge Trail, which meets Mesa Trail at a junction. This is where you can choose whether you want to pursue a longer, less abrasive hike. If you do, you can access the Homestead, Towhee or Mesa trail to their convergence at the Shadow Canyon trail, which will take you to the summit. Each trail is about four miles one way.

Feeling ambitious? Bypass the Mesa Trail and head west toward Bear Canyon, where you can access the West Ridge trail, with the option of hiking Bear Peak’s neighbor and perhaps rival, Green Mountain. The ridge trail is long and winding, through the beauty of Boulder flora and fauna and, like the Mesa Trail, measures about four miles one way.

Still feel like you can conquer Bear Peak at its brawny best? Beyond the Bear Peak Ridge trail is the Fern Canyon trailhead. This trail doesn’t mess around; it’s a steep climb with three miles of prominent elevation gain from the first steps on the trail.

Dipping in and out among pine trees, you’ll find small rodents and wasp nests on the stony staircase of a trail. About 1,000 feet from the summit, the trail turns to large, red-colored rocks, which may result in hands-on scrambling to reach the summit.

At the top, celebrate your hike, no matter which trail you chose to climb, by enjoying the 360-degree view of Boulder, Denver, Rocky Mountain National Park and many other notable landmarks. It’s my experience that in the heat of the summer, swarms of unidentified insects grace the summit of Bear Peak. It is therefore my recommendation to eat your packed snacks before you reach the summit to prevent an unpleasant mouthful of insects. Their presence may have been circumstantial and seasonal, but be aware that pestering insects do reside at high altitudes.

Also, summer thunderstorms make the summit of Bear Peak, or any other high point in the foothills, hazardous. Try to be on and off the summit before 3 p.m. to avoid lightning hazards. Now quick, take a picture with the camera you brought and enjoy your rewarding hike down Bear Peak.

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com

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