Bolder and Boulder



By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
June 8, 2003

BOULDER, Colo.–It’s never a good sign when your tour guide warns you about dinner — as in how to prevent yourself from becoming a critter’s meal.

“There are a few tips you should know in case you encounter [a mountain lion],” warns Ranger Rick Hatfield, who is leading a morning hike through Boulder Mountain’s lush Chautauqua Trail. “If you see one, don’t run away. Face it and walk slowly backwards. If it starts to move towards you, try to make yourself bigger.”

Right about now, standing 8,400 feet above sea level, I’m feeling awfully small.

Ranger Rick offers these tips: “Stand on a rock, spread your arms out, make noises and throw sticks or rocks at [any attacking lions]. Their prey generally don’t fight back, so you’ll stand a better chance of not being harmed if you don’t act like a victim.”

Welcome to Boulder, Colo., where the men are men and the women are, well, pretty darned hearty, too. Obesity and laziness may run rampant nationwide, but you wouldn’t know it looking at the lean, fit natives here. Boulder residents boast a perpetual tan and the kind of legs you dream about while you’re grunting away in spinning class. Everyone (or so it seems) bikes, hikes, skies, canoes, rock-climbs, swims, etc.

All this exercise is a foreign concept for this tourist, whose idea of hiking is walking briskly up the escalators at Marshall Field’s. But during a recent vacation, I not only survived hiking, rock-climbing and fly-fishing, I actually enjoyed these activities as well.

Getting acclimated to Boulder’s high altitude (5,430 feet), you quickly learn that water is your best friend. Guzzle it throughout the day and you won’t feel as light-headed when you’re tackling a few hours of hiking. And if all else fails, you can always throw the bottle at any wayward mountain lions. Most likely, though, you’ll end up recycling it.

Hard rock

The hike was nice, but this girl wanted some action. So I signed up for a class at the Boulder Rock Club. I’m thinking I’ll climb one of those nice indoor walls like you see at Galyan’s where the guide kind of pulls you up if you’re unable to do it yourself. But my instructor, Chris Weidner, has other ideas. He leads me to Supremacy Rock in Eldorado Canyon State Park, which includes 1,488 acres and where the elevation ranges from 5,800 to 8,800 feet. To get to the base of the mountain that I’m to climb, we hike up about 25 feet from the road. The sheer walls of the canyon are freckled with natural fractures that supposedly are the perfect size for my feet.

Nuh uh. I feel like one of Cinderella’s Big Foot sisters as I try to jam my toes into the tiny crevices.

Luckily, I’m harnessed up in some vaguely S&M-like contraption that is supposed to keep me from plummeting to an untimely death. Weidner insists he has belayed plenty of climbers heavier than me. That’s climber talk for him making sure the rope attached to my harness is secure and will prevent me from falling, even if my hands and feet slip from the rock.

The belay thing, however, doesn’t protect my legs from being scraped when I slip and slam against the wall trying to protect my watch from getting dinged. I use some extreme language that unfortunately is caught on tape by a local cable access station’s video crew. My guide explains to them I’m from Chicago and they knowingly nod their heads.

Note to self: Never wear anything you have to worry about when you rock-climb. But at least my head is protected. Never mind that my too-small helmet makes me look like Baby Huey. It does its job.

Once I get over the embarrassment of falling just 6 feet into my 40-foot climb (trust me–it seems higher when you’re doing the climbing), I get over my trepidation. Suddenly, it doesn’t seem impossible to reach the top. The toes somehow squeeze into the rock formations and my puny little fingers are doing a pretty good job clawing their way to the top. Almost too late, I figure out that using my legs to propel myself up the mountain makes the climb much more enjoyable than using my arms to pull my weight up.

The most fun part of the climb is going back down. Initially, you feel like a cat stuck in a tree. But once you take that first declining step, it’s a fast drop back to the beloved ground.

On to fly-fishing

You’d think that after this, fly-fishing would be a breeze. Not so, but who cares? It’s a gorgeous day out at Boulder Creek and we’re there early enough so we’ve missed all the kids sliding down the water in their inner tubes.

Ryan Boyd, my instructor from Kinsley Outfitters, is patient. We’re using man-made flies for our day’s lesson, which is a relief to this bug-a-phobe. But the ever-thorough Boyd begins turning over rocks to show what kind of insects live there. He even pockets a few of the slimy things so he’ll know what kind of bait he’ll need for his next student. I make a mental note not to shake his hand goodbye.

Fly-fishing isn’t all about making a catch (and no, I’m not just saying that because I didn’t land anything besides a branch, a twig and the back of my shirt). You’d think it’d be boring standing around in a pair of rubber hip waders that have seen better days, but it’s actually a very relaxing experience.

“The biggest misconception about a fly fisherman is that he’s lazy,” says Boyd.

I want to correct him by saying the biggest misconception–for women, anyhow–is that all fly fishermen look like Brad Pitt, who starred in “A River Runs Through It.” But I think better of it and let him continue.

“It’s really a great sport that’s peaceful and about being at one with yourself,” he says. “The novice fisherman wants to catch the big fish, but catching it is just a small aspect of fly-fishing. We actually promote catch and release.”

I promote a bit of pampering after a physical excursion. One of my favorite Boulder memories is the lovely massages I received at the Boulder College of Massage Therapy Student Clinic (303-530-2189). The students are highly skilled and more than capable of working on your weary muscles. And at just $20 to $30 per one-hour session, you really can’t afford not to treat yourself.

Now that’s my idea of roughing it, Boulder-style.


For more information about Boulder, go to .us/openspace. To learn more about Chautauqua, check out Rock-climbers may get more information at

Dressing the sport

Even if you’re not particularly athletic, you still can look the part by bringing along the appropriate wardrobe. Don’t worry about packing hip waders or rock-climbing shoes. You can rent those. But make sure you bring layers of clothing you can put on and take off throughout the day.

My best friends on the trip were my Merrell Reflex athletic shoes. Sturdy and flexible with good traction, the shoes were perfect for hiking or just taking a leisurely walk into town. I made the mistake of wearing cut-off jeans when rock-climbing. Let’s just say that wasn’t the most comfortable choice. A better option would’ve been my roomier Adidas hiking shorts that moved well and were well-equipped with velcro pockets.

Also, remember to pack a couple of hoodies. They’re perfect in a pinch when you need a little warmth, and they’re also thin enough to wrap around your waist without looking bulky. Though I lost one of my favorite hoodies in Chautauqua, my Juicy Couture jacket with matching velour sweat pants served me well when I wanted to cover up in something a little nicer for lunch at an outdoor cafe.

And don’t forget a versatile jacket. Columbia and REI both offer functional,  sporty jackets. I opted for one by North Face to layer over my hoodie. The pockets were sturdy enough to comfortably fit two bottles of water, which definitely was a must.


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