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Fitness and Photography for Fun - A blog on staying fit by hiking and doing photography by David Mendosa

Belcher Hill-Mustang Trail Loop

January 3rd, 2009 · No Comments

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Just like the weather forecast, a cold front arrived this morning, and it has started to snow. The temperature dropped more than 20 degrees in less than 30 minutes about 6 a.m., and as I write at 11 a.m. snow is starting to fall. The temperature here in Boulder reached 64 degrees yesterday; the predicted high here today is 31.

That meant I had no choice. Not hiking yesterday was not an option.

White Ranch Park, 25 miles southwest of my apartment in Boulder, has been calling me back. Last September, when I hiked the Rawhide Loop Trail, was the only previous time I had hiked anywhere on this 4,400-acre Jefferson County Open Space. Yesterday I hiked down the Belcher Hill trail and returned via the Mustang Trail.

I had never read about these trails before. All that I knew about them was the descriptions on the White Ranch Park map. The 3.6 mile Belcher Hill Trail is “Long, rocky, and very steep. Great views.” The Mustang Trail is a “Steep, challenging trail.”

It sounded perfect, and it was. But up at 8,000 feet the weather was cooler than in Boulder. When I got to the trailhead at 2 p.m. I could see that a couple inches of snow covered the trail. A fierce wind was blowing, and as I was putting on my Yaktrax crampons, it grabbed the bag that I keep them in. I had to run about 100 yards to catch the bag in a ditch.

Not the best start of a hike, but immediately things began to look up. Namely, as I climbed the Belcher Hill in the snow I reached the highest point in the park, about 8,000 feet. Only about a mile of my trip — on the high, cool north side of the mountain — took me through much snow. The rest of the trail was excellent, but it was indeed quite steep. Just want I wanted for my workout.

Most of my hike took me through ponderosa pine forests that opened up often to offer views up to the Rockies and down to the plains. Here is one such view:

Trail (at lower left), Pines, Rock, Plains and Sky

Trail (at lower left), Pines, Rock, Plains and Sky

But the view that both surprised me the most and captured my attention the best was of Denver. From several vantage points along both the Belcher Hill and Mustang trails I could easily see downtown Denver because it was such a clear day. When I got back home, I checked my maps and found that the skyscrapers in the “Mile-High City” are 25 to 30 miles (as the eagle flies) from the peace and quiet of the trail. But my Canon 50D SLR camera’s 200mm lens (equivalent to a 300mm lens on a 35mm camera) clearly captured the view:

Downtown Denver from the Belcher Hill Trail

Downtown Denver from the Belcher Hill Trail

What looks like a gigantic tree stump in the right foreground is North Table Mountain. This truly is a mesa, and it’s right next to the Coors Brewery in Golden.

White Ranch Park is half way between Golden and Golden Gate Canyon State Park, and I pass through Golden to get to the trails. As I continued my hike, I had Golden on my mind.

Soon after I took this shot of Denver, I became very much aware that I wouldn’t get back to my SUV at the trailhead before dark. About 5:30 as I was climbing up the “challenging” Mustang Trail the last of the sunlight faded. While I probably could have found my way with the help of a quarter moon in the clear night time sky, I turned on my flashlight. Mostly, I wanted to alert any prowling mountain lions that I wasn’t fair game. Mountain lions know that wild animals generally don’t carry a light.

It worked. By about 6 p.m. I got back to my SUV. By that time at that elevation the temperature, according to my pocket thermometer, was down to 30 degrees. But I had dressed so warmly that when I took off my down jacket, I realized that I was sweating.

I had planned to go shopping for food on the way back. But since it was dinner time and I had Golden on my mind, I decided to stop there. First, I went to Starbucks for a warming cup of carmel macchiato. I took it next door to my favorite Middle Eastern restaurant, Ali Baba Grill. There I further rewarded myself with a fabulous kafta kabob, a traditional Lebanese dish of spicy ground lamb. Dinner was a most satisfactory conclusion to a wonderful day.

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