Sunday, November 11, 2012

Rattlesnake Gulch

Leaving the trailhead in freezing conditions

The smattering of snow we had at home quickly disappeared behind me as I drove through Boulder early this morning. In one of those quirks of the weather it seems that Boulder and points south escaped the snowfall we had yesterday and I pulled up close to Eldorado Springs with the temperature at 16 degrees (minus 9 degrees celsius). A thick hoar frost and light snow covered tree limbs and there were patches of snow as we climbed above 6,000 feet towards the Fowler Trail.
Entering Eldorado Canyon
I was adequately dressed, but not over dressed for the weather. There was a little cloud obscuring the rising sun, but this would count for nothing as I would be running most of the time in the cold shadows of Eldorado Canyon. This is a magnificent place and I never tire of visiting. I wasn't aiming to do much mileage this morning after a hard week, just stretch my legs and raise my cardio levels a little. It was a beautiful morning.
In the Fowler Trail with Redgarden Wall in the background

There were no footprints on the Fowler Trail. Livvy and I were the first visitors of the morning and we enjoyed the solitude as we crossed behind Bastille Rock and into the canyon proper. I love the high level Fowler trail. It is only short and level but it contours high above the canyon floor and affords fantastic views of the rock buttresses I have climbed so many times. But not today. The idea of rock climbing, even in the sun, didn't make sense as the moisture around my nose and mouth became iced.
Initial climb up Rattlesnake Gulch

Rattlesnake Gulch is a short, easy trail that climbs about 1,000 feet up the southern flanks of Eldorado Canyon. It almost reaches the level of the railway and, just like two weeks ago, I saw a train making its arduous journey west over the Rockies from Denver...this time a freight train. I heard it come through the tunnel and emerge onto the steep hill side. Livvy and I ran for another half mile yet still the entire train hadn't become visible. It was a noisy, but not completely unpleasant intrusion into the peace of the morning. Once passed silence returned almost immediately.
Wind blowing ice shards from trees high up the gulch

Train emerging from tunnel
High point of the trail
After a few switchbacks we emerged onto the very top of the trail. There's really nothing to look at, the trail just levels off for a hundred yards and then begins to descend again through the woods. It deposited us just a short distance from the Continental Divide overlook and we spent a few minutes enjoying a little warming sunshine and the fantastic views. Unfortunately the high mountains to the west were covered in cloud but we got great views across Walker Ranch to the west and the Eldorado Canyon entrance to the east. Earlier this year, when Livvy and I were on a long run, we saw two black bears at this overlook sitting on the edge of the trail chewing roots. We got quite close to them, but I didn't have my camera. There were no bears today but we had been tracking a mountain lion. In several places we saw clear mountain lion tracks in the fresh snow and as we returned to descend Livvy went nuts as she saw movement in the trees to the west. I never saw anything, but then again, her eyesight (as a sight hound) is about 3 times better than mine. She didn't bark, she just jumped up and down a few times and whimpered as though she wanted to give chase. This wouldn't have been a very sensible idea and she settled down as we lost altitude. I didn't really want to come face to face with a mountain lion when all the rocks I would want to throw in defense were iced into the ground.
From the overlook towards the east, the canyon entrance and the plains beyond

Leaving the overlook
Back on the Fowler trail with Bastille Rock dead ahead
As we dropped back down to the Fowler Trail we passed a photographer/hiker heading uphill. He looked disappointed not to be the first although I doubt our footprints would spoil his pictures. A few hundred yards along the Fowler Trail and four runners passed us heading into the canyon. It was good to see a few early visitors enjoying the environment.
Looking back west to the canyon entrance

I picked up the pace a little running back to the car. It had been a slow steady jog this morning and the wind had picked up. It was still very cold and when we were out of the sun it was really noticeable. Increasing the effort brought some warming and Livvy seemed to appreciate the decision. As we rounded the cutting on the trail I could see very little snow on South Boulder Peak and Bear Peak. It seems that both mountains missed the worst of the weather yesterday. As long as it doesn't snow again this week these may be good places to visit on my next run.
Shadow Canyon on the right leading up to Bear Peak

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