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Apex Park is undoubtedly one of the most popular–if not the most popular–trails near Denver.  Located in Golden, this trail system is part of Jefferson County Open Space and is a favorite among hikers, trail runners, equestrians, and mountain bikers. Yeti even tests prototypes at Apex and uses it for their exclusive lunch rides. The trail closed seven months ago, and needless to say, users have been chomping at the bit to get out and experience it again.

Signs mark two of the Phase I trails now open at Apex

The epic Colorado rainfall between Sept 9-12, 2013, produced massive flooding, damaging several foothills trail systems. Unfortunately, Apex was one of the worst of them, and was promptly closed until the damage could be assessed and the trail system rehabilitated.  This map illustrates the widespread trail devastation that crippled this beloved network of trails.

Jefferson County Parks reopened what they call Phase I (of 3) this past Friday, March 14th. Though there had been some snow recently, and I was sure some mud may be hiding in the corners, I felt obligated to investigate the progress of this trail reconstruction. I was surprised that when I pulled up to the parking area on what was a gorgeous, sunny, Friday afternoon, that there were no more than 10 cars in the massive parking lot. I was also surprised that once I geared up and was ready to go, two park employees came out from a marked trailer, which I failed to notice when I arrived, and politely confronted me to make sure I knew which trails were open. They even had a large map illustrating the three phases of development, and I thanked them for their work and information. I also asked them to please offer more trail volunteer/work days (most of them were on a Tuesday morning, and the sparse weekend volunteer days filled up quickly), and they assured me they had plans to do so.

James S clears a tight rocky switchback near the top of Pick-N-Sledge

My heart sank as I started up the trail, however, as I quickly realized how much it had changed.  What had been a rocky, technical greeting was neutered into a flat, open start. Bummer. I prayed that the rest of the trail retained at least some of the difficult features that many all-mountain riders had come to love.

As I started up Argos, then the “new Pick-N-Sledge” trail, there were a few small patches of mud in the steep, shadowy switchbacks near the bottom, but I felt the trails were safe to ride without damaging them. I treated them with far more respect than I ever had before, not wanting to risk another absence due to further trail damage. Fortunately, the higher I climbed, the drier the trail became.

My prayers were answered after about 500 feet of suffering, when I encountered the start of the technical sections, alive with angry off-camber slabs and short, punchy rock gardens that suck the wind out of you. Though much of the lower section of this trail seemed familiar, these upper sections were undoubtedly harder, littered with new hardscrabble and loose-over-hardpack dirt. It was different. It was… better? Granted, I hit this trail running on pure eagerness after a hard day of snowboarding, realizing I was somewhat spent when I started, but this XC portion of Apex seemed tougher than I remembered it. I asked several of the riders that I encountered that day what their impression was of this reworked trail system. Their opinions were unanimous: the character of Apex had evolved, and it was both awesome and terrifying, with arduous climbs and new lines.

The rainfall amped up the technical features of parts of Apex by washing away soil and creating loose hardscrabble on the trail.

Although the Grubstake and Bonanza trails were open, I correctly hypothesized that they would be socked in with both snow and mud, so when I encountered some white slippery stuff in the trees near the summit of Pick-N-Sledge, I knew that it was time to turn around and enjoy the ride back down. Expecting big crowds on opening day, I was treated to a mostly-empty trail with light foot traffic, allowing me to rip and rail as hard as I could.

In fact, it was so much fun that I returned early the next morning with a friend to repeat that out-and-back experience.  With fresh legs and an idea of what to expect, I soared to the top compared to the previous day’s feeble attempt. Luckily, the trails were somewhat frozen from the plummeting temperatures overnight, which not only kept people away that morning, but made for a much faster surface to climb on.

This rock section requires a full sprint to clear after a grueling 600 ft of climbing, but it is worth it to roll over it on the way back down!

Though the plans are in flux, Phase II is projected to open by June of this year. Sadly, Phase III, which includes the notorious Enchanted Forest and uber-technical Apex trail sections, will not be open until sometime in the fall, according to Jeffco Park officials.

You can find out more information about the trail’s status, including photos and videos of trail damage and reconstruction work, by visiting the Jeffco page here. You can also sign up for email alerts to volunteer for trail work days, and visit/like the Jeffco Facebook page for the most current information. And hey, if you can’t make the time to volunteer and preserve these trails, consider making a donation.

More information to come as Phases II and III open later this year.

Note: once the snow melts, you should be able to once again link the Chimney Gulch trails to the Phase I Apex trails, taking Parkview Ave and Columbine Ave from Lookout Mountain Road. Be careful not to trespass on private property around Apex Park, and please be mindful about using muddy/snowy trails.  

A map showing Phases I-III. Phase II will be open by June, and Phase III by September 2014 (we hope). photo: Jeffco

 

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