Thursday, April 27, 2017

Button Rock Mountain via Hall Ranch.

It's been a bit internet world.  Fear ye not, I've not stopped hiking.  In fact, I've added another dimension to my time spent in the mountains, and have been running a bunch.  
I've hated running for most of my life.  I blame high school gym class, where we had to run the mile.  But we were never given any instruction on how to run, and I'd go out too fast and blow up within two laps of the track.  
In seeking routes to do for training, visiting peaks has, at times, gone to the wayside.  But as the weather warms and the snow starts to melt, I'm looking forward to getting up in elevation, and running some high peaks.  
With a not great weather prediction for this week, I decided to stay lower and revisit an old favorite, but to take a different and perhaps more interesting route to get there.  Thus, I found myself at Hall Ranch, geared up and ready to go. 
Everything hurt at first, but the scenery certainly inspired.
I started up the Nighthawk Trail, the pedestrian and equestrian only option.  It's a nice one.
Higher up, and nearing the first intersection of the day.
You can continue along the Nighthawk Trail to join Nelson Loop, or take a left to head west to Button Rock Preserve and Ralph Price Reservoir.  This road is the same access road that intersects Nighthawk near the beginning, Bitterbrush twice, and Nelson twice.  
I took a slight right to get on the Button Rock trail.  While not technically difficult, it is just a little more fun to run than the old jeep road.
But the fun doesn't last long, and soon you rejoin the road for about a mile.
The Button Rock trail picks up again on the right.  This intersects Sleep Lion once you enter Button Rock Preserve.
I took a right on Sleepy Lion for the fun and fast technical downhill.  Then I took Longmont Dam Road up to the ranger station, and the shoreline trail west.  The trail skirts ranked Boulder County peak 7071, and also provides access to Cook Mountain, another ranked Boco peak.
At the far end of the shoreline trail, you meet up with Longmont Dam Road once again.  Why not just take it through?  Well, because it's private, and signed on the reservoir side, and as I would soon discover, fenced and gated on the other side.
I took a right on Longmont Dam Road, then a left at the first old jeep road to head for Coulson Gulch.
The old jeep road.
In Higgins Park, nearing Coulson Gulch.  I was feeling pretty good thus far, and enjoying the scenery.  I've seen lots of remnants of the lives people once had up here.  It's difficult to imagine living in this place 50 or 100 years ago, as it would be hard and time consuming to get to now, even with a modern 4wd vehicle.  
This road eventually runs into Coulson Gulch, trail 916.  It's a modest climb at first, but some steeper sections come, generally in the first mile.  I've included this trail on a few runs recently- this was the first time I managed to hit it while still feeling pretty good.  The uphill went smoothly, with the climb taking about 35 minutes.  By the time I reached the top, I was 15 miles in.  
At the top of Coulson Gulch, and pretty far from my starting point.
I took a right here, joining jeep road 118-1 for a very short time, before taking a steep trail on the left up to a trashed campsite.  I took the once thin exit trail out of this site, which I recently discovered had been given an interesting name by someone...
Best trail name ever?  It's short, but fun to ride, and fun to run.  At least it's much better than staying on the jeep road!
I got off the trail at one of the pull outs along the jeep road, and headed down a steep section before taking a right into another one of the pull outs along the road.  Here, you join a now blocked off shoot of the road (118-3 on your Forest Service map), and then hit some sweet single track on the right.  It winds up and up, and eventually joins the remnants of the road, which have now been largely reclaimed by nature.  It's back to single track in most places.
I took a right on to the trail that meets the loop around Button Rock Mountain.  I'd originally planned to run the entire loop, but the day was getting on, and I decided to just hit the summit and turn around.  Plus, I still had to go all the way back to Hall Ranch!
I hit the summit at 4:10 PM.  I was 18.33 miles in, and I was feeling the isolation.  I made sure to pay attention to footing on the way down, to avoid both injury and snakes! 
A quick snack and I was on my way.  I'd abandoned my plans to head up higher due to the weather, and it had been nice so far.  But as they say, if you don't like the weather in Colorado, just wait ten minutes.  It went from sunny and warm to cold and snowy in a heart beat.
Back on the jeep road for a short stint, just before the snow hit.
I continued along the jeep road (118-1 to 118-2A), losing elevation before reentering the Button Rock property.  This trail is on the USGS map, but not on the Forest Service map.  It is on the excellent MapBuilder Topo layer on Caltopo, a good place to look to find the trails that aren't on any other maps.  It parallels Rattlesnake Gulch while staying up from the drainage a bit. 
Things look promising at first, with distinct single track visible beyond the entrance. 
But what's that sign say?  Hard to tell, but looks like, "The trails in this area have been seeded to restore vegetation".
The effort was successful, because it quickly goes from easy to follow single track to this.  Maybe there's a trail there?  It becomes pretty difficult to follow, but I'd suggest bearing to your left when you feel like you are off the trail.  There are some electrical boxes along the descent.  Unknown if they still go to anything or what they might go to, as there are no residences in the area.  
I finally hit a more distinct road, and was grateful to be on some easier terrain.  I'd planned to take Longmont Dam Road back, but here discovered that this side is fenced and gated, but not signed as private.  I suppose I could've used that argument if a resident were to confront me for being on the road, but instead I descended along the road back to meet the shoreline trail.
Higher up on the road.  At least it was a few easy miles before the undulations and rocky technicality of the shoreline trail. 
Soon I was at the dam, and took the short trail down to join the old road that runs back to Hall Ranch.  I decided to take the road for a longer stint, rather than take a short downhill on Sleepy Lion to rejoin the shorter western section of Button Rock trail.
But I had to take the more eastern section.  You could also follow the road on the right if desired. 
I got back to my much earlier departure place from Nighthawk, and took the short connector to Nelson.  I ran the more fun (in my opinion) north side of the trail, and then hit Bitterbrush. 
I paused briefly at the top for a look down the trail.  Only two.something more miles to go!  This is one of my favorite sections of trail to run at Hall.  It's pretty fun to hit the downhills at speed.
And a look back at where I was.  Interestingly, you can't even see the summit from here.  I encountered a few friendly mountain bikers on the way down, and got back to the car shortly before 8 PM.  What a day!  I changed, drank the extra water I'd brought along, and headed for home.
It's a day, but this provided a fun and interesting approach to this peak.  I ended up covering 35.83 miles with 5399 feet of elevation gain in 8 hours, 18 minutes, and two seconds, a 13:54 minute per mile pace.  It was certainly a good training run.  I felt pretty good for almost all of it, and this was my longest and fastest paced effort to date. 
Link to run map on Caltopo.