Snow will not melt on many of the high peaks of the Colorado Rockies until the Fourth of July holiday weekend but the training for long distance mountain trail runs needs to begin now. For Front Range runners, 8461 ft. Bear Peak in Boulder's Chautauqua Park may provide the answer. The mountain and surrounding trail system has everything necessary for a spring and early summer training regime.
8400 feet of elevation is enough to start building the extra red blood cells necessary to compete at altitude. Rugged rocky trails test your balance and strengthen the ankles. Steep climbs and punishing descents over 3000 feet of elevation gain and loss develop strong quads for the high peaks you will be climbing later in the summer. And after a long winter of stair masters and treadmills, the trails in the Boulder Mountain Parks look pretty inviting.
To run the trail, park at the Chautauqua Park trail head at the ranger station and proceed on foot up Bluebell Road to the Mesa Trail and head south. The gentle incline at the beginning of the trail provides for a good warmup. Run a couple of miles on the Mesa Trail and watch for the Bear Creek Canyon Trail on the right. Hide some extra water bottles and snacks in the grass there if you want to climb the peak more than once. Proceed south again along the Mesa Trail to the Fern Canyon Trail. Prepare for a 2400 foot climb and take the Fern Canyon Trail towards the peak. On this section of the trail you will pass through sandstone canyons in some of the most beautiful scenery in the park.
After a tough climb up the Fern Canyon Trail you will reach the Saddle between Bear Peak and Nebel Horn. From there you will begin the tough scramble up the side of Bear Peak. This section of trail is rugged and slippery at times. You may need to grab onto some tree roots with your hands at times for a pull up some of the steeper inclines. You will know you are near the top when you get to the boulder field. Hop the boulders towards the summit and look for the official capstone. Take a break at the top and enjoy the 360 degree view of Boulder, Denver, the Front Range Peaks to the west and Longs Peak and the high peaks of Rocky Mountain National Park to the north.
From there, slip over the top and locate the Bear Creek Canyon Trail heading down over the other side of the peak. The more gentle slope of the Bear Creek Canyon Trail provides for some good downhill running and a quick return to the Mesa Trail where you can refuel and prepare for another three mile assault on the peak. Of course there is the option of running the loop the other direction but the steep climb and gentle run back down the other side seem to provide the best running training.
Once you have climbed the peak enough times to satisfy your training requirements for the day, head down into Boulder to refresh yourself at one of the many fine watering holes the beautiful city of Boulder has to offer.