Monday, January 16

An Adventure in Cyclo-Mountaineering

The snow has finally started. It threatened all day as I rode. Now, I sit writing this, looking out the kitchen window into the friscalating dusk-light, I see flecks of snow flitting out of the gray sky. As I pedaled west toward Coal Creek Canyon earlier I could see snow pouring out of Boulder Canyon to the north and dumping on the People's Republic, and I could not see Golden—tucked behind North Table Mountain—for the white wall of snow screening it from view from the north.

Now I sit and reflect on the ride as my coffee brews.

My planned route turned out to be pretty good. There was some fast traffic on highway 72 west of Indiana, but there were shoulders all the way from Indiana to Plainview Road, where I turned around. On the east side of Indiana, from Kipling out, there are nice bike lanes along 88th (which turns into 72 at Indiana). I will definitely do the ride again just for the sake of the ride.

My reason for riding up to the mouth of Coal Creek Canyon today was to scout out the approach to Coal Creek Peak. Near the mouth of Coal Creek Canyon are three uber-rugged peaks: Blue Mountain to the south, Crescent Mountain on the north side and Coal Creek Peak also on the north and just east of Crescent at the mouth of the canyon.

I climbed Crescent almost four years ago via a very distinct southeastern ridge. The ridge has 1,800 feet of elevation gain in less than three quarters of a mile. That translates to an average 40ยบ slope. Very steep. Very hard. There was some distinct hard 4th class and easy 5th class terrain with some spectacular exposure.

Crescent Mountain blew my mind. It forms a very complex and formidable wall on the right as you ride or drive up Coal Creek Canyon from the plains.It looms over the canyon bottom in a deep, dark section of the canyon. Route finding is difficult because the south face of the mountain is so steep and complex you can't see the entire route from the base of the climb along highway 72.

Bagging that peak was incredible! The views from the summit ridge of Crescent are indescribable. And you can see the summit of Coal Creek Peak off to the east along what appears to be an easy ridge. But the flanks of CCP fell away in similar rugged and complex terrain, dissuading my tired mind from pushing my tired body over to it from Crescent. I would have had to descended unfamiliar Coal Creek Peak which looked to be a feat in itself. Instead I descended a nightmare gully of steep, loose talus and scree to the west of the ridge I climbed up.

In the years since my mind has wandered back to Crescent and Coal Creek Peak. Both peaks are surrounded by a jumble of private and public lands. Access is tricky and uncertain. But finally I decided I just needed to go back up there and scout out the access situation for the eastern point.

Coal Creek Peak juts up from the edge of the Rocky Flats plain in a steep, rocky, tree clad cone. You can't miss it from highway 93, but it still seems to be a bit obscure. There is Jeffco and Boulder open space on the southeastern side and the peak is circumscribed by the railroad on the south, east and northeast sides. From aerial photography there does not seem to be a distinct trail to the summit, but there is a recognizable south-east ridge that has softer contours than the other aspects of Coal Creek Peak.

A long uphill pedal, 13 miles from home and 1,200+ feet of elevation gain, saw me to the open space parking area along Plainview Road. The sun came out and shone on the prize. It didn't do much to take the chill out of the air, and I had the long descent still ahead of me.

Donning my balaclava and wool hat I cranked back out to highway 72, turned east and let gravity take me all the way back to Indiana. I had to pedal a bit here and there as 88th undulates along the south side of Standley Lake. And as I rode along I decided I'd swing by the city's recycle drop off point on Olde Wadsworth. Mandy and I have decided that even though our waste pickup doesn't take recycling we are going to take the initiative and do it ourselves.

Getting to Olde Wads from my return route took my east on 72nd from Kipling and then past Arvada Bike. I had to stop and show Richard the new setup on the Xtracycle. He helped me pick out the Titec H-bar and shifters after all.

"You rode that out to the mouth of Coal Creek Canyon today?!"

I just grinned.

"You need a road bike."

After leaving the LBS I headed home by way of the recycle drop off. Piece of cake!

The temperature seemed to have dropped all day. Of course that was the forecast. And I had only been home a little while before the snow started in earnest. Richard said it had snowed on and off at the bike shop all afternoon.

It was a good jaunt to the foot of the foothills. I now know what it will take to bag Crescent and Coal Creek from home on the bike. Let the cyclo-mountaineering fun begin!

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