Paradise for the Active Set…Boulder, Colorado

by Valerie Summers

Rather than following the directions provided, instead I took the first turnoff  I saw indicating I would end up in Boulder.  An hour later, just inside the Boulder city limits, the landscape which came into view took my breath away.  Miles of  peaceful green pastures backed by soaring tree covered mountains.  My visit to this place, nestled near several of the country’s most famous ski resorts and only an hour away, but indeed a world away from Denver, was to explore this outdoorsmen’s (and women’s) paradise.   Back in the 60’s Boulder became almost as famous as San Francisco as a Mecca for hippies.  Remnants remain.  Recently ranked America’s #1 Sports Town, the citizens of the magical city I discovered, appreciate the astounding beauty of their surroundings and readily  put their money where their mouth is to preserve it.

I checked in into my hotel, situated a half dozen blocks from the city’s famous walking street which I would explore at a later time and looked over my jam packed itinerary.  Having studied the various options for outdoor activities, I felt, since I was in the city of Boulder, that I must at least give rock climbing a try.  I had heard a story about another travel journalist who hesitatingly ventured into a beginners class of rock climbers and scared to death, was thrilled when she managed to take two steps.  What did I have to lose?  If I could make it to three steps, I could be proud.  I had seen rock climbers in Yosemite with the ropes and helmets scaling  Half Dome and simply thought they were insane.  They climbed like flies going straight up a wall.  Slightly nervous, I met my instructor from the Boulder Rock Club, Peter Sharpe, a graduate student studying psychology. Off we drove to Eldorado Canyon.  First on the agenda came costuming…always important  to look the part.  On went the equipment…first the shoes, snug and light with a sticky rubber underside.  Next came the harness which I gingerly stepped into and with Peter’s help, snapped and pulled all the appropriate parts.   I buckled a small bag filled with powdered chalk around my waist, placed my helmet over my baseball cap and I was ready.  The nervousness was starting to change to excitement as Peter explained what I would be doing, while fastening me to already in place roped tied somewhere at the top of a 30 foot crag.  I had heard that these very special ropes could hold the weight of a Volkswagen., so I was assured that the rope would not break.  Rope climbers have a unique language and  follow a prescribed etiquette which is all about safety.

Securely tied  via my harness to one end of the rope,  my eyes followed its path which extended up to the top of  what looked to me like an unscalable cliff  and doubled back to my “belayer,” in this case, Peter.   It seemed impossible to climb the sheer  quartzite wall, its surface broken only by a few small  crevices and very small rough edges. I pondered that this seemed an excellent sport for athletic chess players…thinking ahead to the consequences of each move.  Leg strength is all important.  Arm strength is not. I was ready. We exchanged the appropriate commands…” On belay?” then came the  response “Belay is on,” followed by ”Climbing?” and the reply “Climb on.”   The first three steps proved extremely easy, securing my feet in some of the more prominent crevices at the bottom.  I was still only six feet off the ground.  Peter encouraged me to take another step, but where?  As I surveyed what loomed above me I could not imagine that there was anything further up that I could rest my weight on.  Peter suggested I step further to the left.  Hesitatingly, I gave it a try.  Success.  I felt a rush.  Little by little I made my way  further and further up , placing my feet, with uncertainty, on the tiniest of edges which I never would have believed  I could balance on.  I could hardly believe it when I finally reached the  top, thrilled with my accomplishment.

What goes up must come down, so the saying  goes.  With legs wide apart and  straight out in front of me at a  90 degree angle, Peter gently lowered me as I “walked” down the cliff.  Only once did I lose my balance, but secured by the rope, laughing,  I righted myself, with only a slightly scraped arm and continued down.

Within an hour I had graduated from a class 5-3 and was ready for a class 5-6 experience (so far the highest rope climbing designation being 5-14).  The next climb looked much higher and more precarious. I scoped out the possibilities, took a deep breath and started my climb Peter kept telling me what a good job I was doing and assured me that even though I didn’t think I could make it to the next step, that I could, and indeed, I did.  The climbing shoes must be magic, I thought.  I reached the top.  Now I know how these people who successfully reach the top of Mt. Everest feel.  Just kidding.  A new experience awaited me for the descent.  Repelling.  In this case, I lowered myself down rather than relying on the belayer.  However, just in case,  Peter had full control should I get into trouble.  I carefully walked down the wall, briefly losing concentration and losing my balance, netting me two minor scrapes on both knees.  I was down, thrilled, proud and with a whole new perspective on rock climbers.

Next on the agenda was a glider flight.  The private airport, filled with small planes on the opposite side of Mile High Gliders,  kept busy with student pilots touching down and quickly taking off again.  My pilot, Gary Baughman escorted me over to the graceful silver, orange and yellow glider with the clear cockpit cover.  This particular glider was veteran of the Vietnam war, one of the few to survive.  A long rope joined us to a stubby , strange looking plane parked in front of us several hundred yards away.  Gary told me that this tow plane originally served as a crop duster.  He explained what the various things were inside the cockpit , climbed aboard in back of me, snapped the top shut, and in just a few seconds, we  became airborne.  The tow plane ascended to 10,000 feet aiming towards the foothills of the great Rocky Mountains and in the distance, we saw the awesome sight of the snow covered Continental Divide.  We could see for 100 miles.  When it came time to sever the umbilical cord,  Gary gave me warning of what would happen.  The rope was released and we took a turn to the right while the tow plane veered sharply to the left.  This was the best sightseeing experience one could hope for.  We soared over the red roofed campus of the University of Colorado, close to the 14,255 foot Long’s Peak, Indian Peaks Wilderness, Arapahoe Peak, mostly national forest land and Boulder’s landmark Flatirons, resting on Mt. Green.  Later, during my stay, I would have a closer look at the area.  We gently glided through the sky,  not feeling the 60-70 mph speed.   I even tried a hand at piloting briefly.  I felt relaxed yet exhilarated soaring through the sky, with hardly a sound save the wind.  An eagle flew along side of us, seemingly thinking we were just another bird.

Back down to earth,  I met Park Ranger Naturalist Steve Armstead for a guided hike in the publicly funded Open Space area of Boulder’s Mountain Parks via Gregory Canyon Trail.  Fitness is an integral part of the lives of many Boulder residents and on this weekday morning, we passed several men and women along with their dogs on the path.  One woman with headphones skipped up the path, while a trim 60-some year old man shot by us running at quite a clip. As we ascended the forested trail, climbing to 7,000 feet above sea level, I became breathless quickly and opted for time-outs regularly.  During our hike, Ranger Armstead, a butterfly specialist, called my attention to the tiniest of flora and fauna.  The otherwise green landscape, one side lush with Ponderosa  pines and an occasional Oak, the other,  almost desert-like,  was flecked with delicate white blossoms of wild plum and choke cherry, here and there a solo lavender flower resembling a miniature tulip and field of periwinkle blue larkspur.  The sound and sight of a rock filled rushing creek provided an added dimension to the symphony of nature.  We crossed a small wooden bridge and ascended higher, the path sometimes becoming steps and sometimes disappearing into a rock clamoring experience.  Ranger Armstead offered some history of the area, including that of the path we were trudging along, originally a rather precarious wagon route for transporting gold and supplies in the late 1800’s.  He also explained the Open Space program which includes more than 37,000 acres of natural beauty and 80 miles of trails serving as a buffer between Boulder and nearby development.  As he spoke, we looped around to Saddlerock, stopping to admire our surroundings  and the incredible Flatirons.  I enjoyed a different view of Green Mountain which I had not so long ago viewed from above.

The park’s rushing stream reminded me of one other activity I had planned, so off I went for a relaxing few hours of fly fishing.  This was not an entirely new experience as I had previously given it a try in the quiet calm of winter with snow covering the river banks.  Joining my guide, Adrian Gram of Kinsley Outfitters, we set off for South Boulder Creek at El Dorado Canyon to enjoy this peaceful pasttime.  My prior experience had seemed Zen-like, blending with nature and the universe.  Catching a fish, for me, was incidental.   Adrian explained his take on outsmarting the fish in their own habitat, catching and then releasing them.  In my thigh-high waders, we climbed over large rocks and small boulders along the rushing creek until we reach an ideal spot.  The scenery surrounding us was breathtaking with sheer cliffs on both sides stretching towards the heavens.  I spotted several climbers and smiled.  I now understood why they were up there clinging to what seemed an unscalable wall.  Below, boulderers honed their skill of mounting huge boulders, sans special equipment,  left only to their own ability.  People strolled along the Streamside Trail, gazing at the activity surrounding them and lolling around in the sunshine.

What I had learned previously about  fly fishing was out.  The wind was blowing hard and the casting technique was different in those conditions. We spotted several fish and I got one strike, but didn’t react quickly enough to hook it.  As we stood just at the edge of the stream, we heard a roar as a small boulder thundered over the rocks and down the rapids.  More and more debris came rushing down and the water rose quickly.  Gross Dam had opened the flood gates releasing huge amounts of water, stirring up the stream bottom causing the  water to turn murky.  The fish didn’t hang around as the water took on more and more speed rushing its way to somewhere.

Feeling mellow, but a bit grubby, I headed back to my hotel. After lounging in the hotel’s oversized, soothing hot tub, I changed and headed for nearby Pearl Street.  I explored the six-block pedestrian street lined with all kinds of boutiques,  art galleries, book stores, clothing shops, restaurants with outdoor dining, not too many chain stores, street musicians and beds of multi-colored tulips everywhere.

Before leaving town, I stopped for breakfast at one of the city’s jewels, the  Boulder Dushanbe Tea House.  A gift from the sister city of Dushanbe, Tajikistan, it gave the appearance of an Asian temple set alongside a creek and across from the city park.  Intricately detailed and completely hand crafted by over 40 Tajik artisans, the building was disassembled, shipped to Boulder and reassembled where it now stands.  The Persian teahouse’s interior is as exotic and colorful as its exterior, the focal point, a magnificent fountain named “The Seven Beauties.”  This is one of  Boulders favorite gathering places offering a diverse menu of food and an extraordinary collection of international teas, elegantly served.

Sated, I reluctantly headed out of the city, sorry to leave its 30,000 acres of open spaces, its clean air and beautiful weather, its access to almost every imaginable outdoor activity and its leisurely pace.  I had fished, glided, climbed and hiked.  Mission accomplished!

For information:

Frontier Airlines:
The Spirit of the West provides on time service, short lines, good rates and in flight, a choice of beverages and innovative freshly baked bread sticks served with a choice of dipping sauces.

Thrifty Car Rental

Quality Inn & Suites Boulder Creek:
This particular Quality Inn was like no other in decor and amenities, providing a work out room, family sized  hot tub, indoor swimming pool, sauna and  full breakfast bar complete with hot and cold dishes plus a helpful and friendly staff.  Spacious rooms featured 25” television sets, microwave, ironing board, refrigerators, 2-line data port speakerphones and hairdryers.  Guests get more for their money at this conveniently located establishment.
2020 Arapahoe Ave.
Boulder CO  80302

Mile High Gliding, Inc.
5534 Independence Road
Boulder, CO  80301

Boulder Dushanabe Teahouse
1770 13th St.
Boulder, CO  80302

Kinsley Outfitters (fly fishing)
1155 13th St.
Boulder, CO  80302

Boulder Rock Club
2829 Mapleton Ave.
Boulder, CO  80301

Chatauqua Ranger Station
      O.  Box 791
Boulder CO  80306