Carly's Commentary · Travel

Peak Emotions at Bear Peak

Last Saturday, my fiance, Grant, and I finally decided to tackle one of Boulder’s great peaks―the second tallest mountain on the flatiron range―Bear Peak. We are no strangers to hiking long distances, but the elevation in Colorado is no joke. Bear Peak sits at 8,461 feet and is known for being one of the toughest hikes around. We choose the the longer, more strenuous path to the top to really challenge ourselves, and we ended up logging a total of 9 miles with 2,700 feet of elevation gain.

Grant and I always prefer to start our hikes early and beat the crowds to the top, so we got to the trailhead just before 7 a.m. as the sun was rising over town. I will always choose watching the sunrise over watching sunset; there’s just something so magical about the world becoming bright again. The trail started on a very easy, winding path and then gradually became steeper and rockier. The first 2-3 miles were very similar to other hikes we’ve done in the area, and we stopped about a fourth of way up to eat the waffles I had packed. The trail was very quiet and serene with wildflowers and meadows surrounding us. Around mile four, things started to get much more difficult. The terrain became steeper and rockier while the oxygen decreased, and the wind picked up.

We didn’t realize quite how windy it would be, and it made the whole event seem more arduous than it already was. By this point, it felt like we were doing a pure stair-stepper, and we had to be very careful about climbing up and over the rocks. The terrain around us just became more and more beautiful, though, and it was incredibly exhilarating to take in the 360 degree views with the Rocky Mountains on the horizon. The trail actually took us right along the ridge of mountain, which was, really cool but also a little scary. But that was nothing compared to the scary feelings that came next.

The last ¾ miles of the hike was pure rock climbing. When we reached the lower end of peak, I was very content with making it to that point without truly summiting, and we stopped to enjoy the view and take some pictures. The last quarter mile to the true peak was a series of boulders that looked much too frightening and beyond our limited experience. At this point, it was windy and cold, and we were about ready to make our descent. But then I got this feeling: what if we could make it to the top? There was something about that sense of scary challenge that pushed me to at least try.

So Grant and I observed a few other hikers who had caught up to us by now and watched them move agilely over the rocks to get to the top. After watching them, I felt a deep sense of capability, and I began to slowly make my way upwards. We’ve both done some scrambling before (which basically means using your hands to get over rocks while hiking), but this was the most technical, dangerous ascent by far. But I knew deep down that I could do it, and I felt my confidence grow even though I was scared out of my mind―I’ve always been intimidated by heights, and this forced me to face that head on. It wasn’t truly as dangerous as I’m probably making it sound, as we are both skilled enough and would have been able to catch ourselves if we slipped. But it was a completely new adventure for me, and I’m so glad I did it! It was definitely one of the top five scariest things I’ve done, but also one of the top five coolest. Well worth it. I even got this cool picture right at the peak when the wind picked up and my hair flew straight up! The red rock at the top is absolutely beautiful in the sunlight, and I got some great shots of the panoramic views.

The descent down was pretty unremarkable. We were still on a high from making it to the peak but also very exhausted. People oftentimes underestimate how taxing it is to climb down a steep hill. It demands a lot on your knees and quads, especially when the terrain is as rugged as this was. I had to use all the muscles in my legs, torso, and upper body and use the trees as support to lower my body over particularly difficult stretches to maintain control of my movements and ensure I didn’t slip. My legs were visibly shaking by the time we got to the last mile.

We made it back to the car around 12:30 p.m., a total of 5.5 hour round trip―not too shabby for our first time! We headed home directly after for showers, Thai food, and a nap―a perfect Saturday.

We have a long list of more peaks we want to climb, but sadly the climbing season is coming to a close. Our introduction to hiking in Colorado has been nothing short of amazing, and I can’t wait to see what next year has to offer.

What are the hardest hikes you’ve ever done? I’d love to hear suggestions for places we must try!

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