Monday, October 25, 2010

Rattlesnake Gulch

Last weekend my mom braved the world of airports, flying stand-by and flying solo to come visit Chad and I in Denver. She has come to visit quite a few times (most recently this past May for Mother's Day) so I try to vary our activities each time so she can experience all Denver and Colorado has to offer. This past summer, when she saw how into hiking 14ers I was, she expressed interest in hiking with me. She even bought some hiking shoes and did a few hikes in Birmingham to prepare. Timing was not on our side, however, and the snow came to the mountains covering any hopes of hiking Mt. Sherman - our intended 14er. The weather was still nice in the foothills so I picked a shorter day hike for us to do during her visit: the rattlesnake gulch trail in Eldorado Canyon.

(mom at the beginning of the trail)

The Rattlesnake Gulch trail is one of my favorites to take my visitors who want a good day hike. It's about 3.5 miles round trip and follows an old wagon road known as 'Crags Boulevard' up the south wall of Eldorado Canyon to what remains of the Crags Hotel which stood there from 1908 until 1913 when it burned down. The starting elevation is about 6,087 feet and the max gain if you do the whole loop is 7,080 which makes it perfect for visitors who haven't acclimated to the altitude. Chad had taken me on this trail when we first started dating, then I had taken my friend Casey and her now husband Ross and our friend Jason a few summers ago. The trail seemed a lot longer and more challenging then, probably due to the fact I now hike much greater distances with higher elevation gains and it wasn't the dead of summer. My mom did an excellent job hiking, even with her asthma and the altitude and we made it to the hotel site in about half an hour.

(My mom with the only standing structure left ironically, the fireplace)

After you reach the hotel site you can either turn around or keep going another 10 minutes or so to the Continental Divide overlook. Since there was snow on the mountains I thought we would have an especially nice view of the divide this time of year and I wasn't disappointed.

Even though I'd rather be hiking those peaks than looking at them, they are still a breathtaking site.

From the top of the Continental Divide overlook you also get a nice view of a rock wall which is popular with climbers in the area. On a clear day you can see the Denver skyline as well.

(Mom and I at the overlook)

(enjoying the view)

There is a nice bench at the top too where you can sit for awhile if you want but we decided after about 10 minutes of enjoying the sites to head back down. This is a popular trail, especially on the weekend, and the lookout gets a little crowded for my liking. I've learned in Colorado week day hiking is best if you want peace and quiet or the ability to let your dog run off leash without being yelled at. This hike attracts all ability levels though from little kids to grandparents and even though the $6 parking fee seems a bit much for the time you spend there, I highly recommend this trail for beginner hikers.

I was glad to have been able to take my mom out for a hike and even more aware that taking her up Mt. Sherman probably wouldn't have been a great idea. While I'm sure she could do it at some point, it's difficult for someone to come from sea level who hasn't spent a lot of time outdoors doing strenuous activities to just come out and hike a 14er. I know I have taken some beginners up the mountain and it can be done, but those friends have lived here and acclimated and tend to be pretty active in their lifestyle as well. Hopefully next summer my mom could come out for longer and camp at a higher altitude and give herself time to adjust to the thinner air if she still wanted to try for a 14er.

Hiking in Boulder also reminded me that while 14er season may be over for me there are still some great hikes in the foothills to discover. Chad and I once hiked almost every other weekend and it was a great free outdoors activity that kept us in shape. While the views might not be quite as spectacular it is nice to be able to spend only an hour or two hiking as opposed to 4-10. My hope is to find some great snow shoe trails this winter so that we can enjoy the snow and I can keep my thirst for hiking satisfied until next summer!

And there's always rock climbing as well!

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