KnPnCnC took advantage of yet another unseasonably warm day (temp in the mid/upper 50s) and headed to NCAR (National Center for Atmospheric Research), which is located in southwest Boulder. The destination: Mallory Cave. The distance: 1.1 miles O/W. The elevation gain: 920 feet.
For a good part of the year (from April 1 to October 1) entrance into Mallory Cave is closed in order to protect the Townsend's big-eared bat, a species of bat that uses the cave as a breeding place. The first part of trail has an interpretative section, with signage along the way informing readers about local weather patterns. One little nugget we picked up from this section of trail was that West Boulder gets, on average, 20 more inches of snow per year than East Boulder. (If you're a weather nut and/or would like to pick up some other little nuggets on regional Boulder weather, visit this site.) Once past the interpretive section, it was pretty normal hiking... rocks, trees, the occasional view of Denver, and Chamberlain sniffing EVERYTHING. Eventually, we got to a place in the trail where dogs were allowed to be off-leash, and Chamberlain looked like a pup again (whitening face aside.)
The final approach to the final approach (you read that right) was unlike any other we've seen... the trail became a series of multiple short switchbacks, many of which were less than 20 feet in length, as it worked its way up between two huge slabs of pink sandstone. Once done with the switchbacks, we saw the final approach to the cave... a 50-foot vertical scramble up a sandstone slab.
Considering she had never done anything like this, Peggy and I were surprised with Chloe's enthusiasm for scrambling up it. This wasn't like her time in the rock gym where there were ropes and helmet... one misstep here could lead to a pretty good "ouchy." With Chamberlain along, we knew it wouldn't be in his best interest to attempt the scramble, so Peg stayed behind. (Even if he could manage the scramble, who knows what the boy would get himself into in a cave where bat guano might be aplenty.)
So up Chloe and I went, her first with me close behind, pointing out where to put hands and feet, and putting myself in position to act as a net if need be. Thankfully, that part of my service went unused. In fact, she did GREAT! Grabbing and pulling and pushing and squeezing her way up to the top, and not thinking much of it. As we got to the cave, we realized we left the flashlight with Peggy, but no matter as the bats were gone and it was basically one large chamber and not really much else to explore. Now it was time to explain to Chloe that there's another half to the challenge of visiting the cave: getting back down the steep 50-foot slab.
So, now in reverse order (and me still preserving the roles of hold pointer and net) down we went. In order to keep her close to the slab and leaning back, we spent a lot of time on the descent scooting along on our butts. Chloe commented at one point, "It's just like going down a slide!" I didn't feel it was right to tell her there weren't cushioning wood chips awaiting us at the bottom if we started sliding, though. Just like her performance ascending, she did a great job coming back down... finding places to put her hands and feet so she can lower herself down and control her own weight. It was a great achievement for our 5 year old (and a pretty proud moment for Peggy and I), and one that I put up there with her learning how to ride a bike. Chloe was so bolstered by her performance that once we got back down with Peggy and Chamberlain, it didn't take long for her to start giving pointers to other hikers contemplating making the scramble!
As we started making our way down the switchbacks, it became apparent that Chamberlain took the time waiting for Chloe and I to return to recharge his batteries. No sooner do we get past the first couple of switchbacks and he starts running around like a maniac. He goes charging down the trail to play with 2 Blue Heelers and had a display of energy the likes of which neither Peggy nor I have seen in a while.
By the time we got back to the car, Chamberlain's energy had waned, but Chloe's was pretty solid, for she knew the next stop was an ice cream shop. (Thanks Yardley friends... we finally got around to using the Glacier Homemade Ice Cream gift certificate!)
All in all, a great day in Boulder!
We didn't take a camera with us, but here are two pictures by others I found on the web of the final approach to the cave.