Ascent of Mount Baldy on 2013-10-02

Climber: Steven Thompson

Other People:Solo Ascent
Date:Wednesday, October 2, 2013
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Mount Baldy
    Elevation:12122 ft / 3694 m

Ascent Trip Report

Final attempt.  At least that's the way it seems, the weather forecast is for nice but windy weather today with the wind blowing 7-15 mph before noon, then rising in the afternoon to 15 - 25.  The stronger winds are blowing in a storm which is expected to drop more snow on the mountain side.  At 12,000' feet, even the snow from the last storm is hanging in the shadows.  It remains cool during the day, and cold at night.  It won't be long before the hillsides are covered in snow.

Even a little moisture is dangerous on these rocky ridge lines.  The rocks are covered with green lichens which are as slippery as ice when wet.  A little snow goes a long way making it difficult to traverse, more snow would make it impossible.  You'd need to wait until there was enough snow to use snowshoes or skins.  I'm not sure if people ski this mountain, but I'm sure it would be an exciting ride.

Turn left off Hwy-153 toward Big John Flat and follow Forest Road 723 toward the peak.  Have alternate plans; a gate exists just past Poison Creek which is closed during wet conditions.  If open proceed up and over the ridge, following the road now down hill to a large turnout just below and hidden behind a ridge of Mount Belknap.

Plenty of parking, but no official trail head exists.  A series of grades can be see on the opposing hillside (west).  Park and hike toward the first of these grades.  Once at the grade, follow the faint path along the grade north forming a switchback to the saddle. 

A well worn path and several cairns can be spotted working around the minor peak.  Follow the trail to the next saddle.  I've outlined this route before in my previous summit of Mount Belknap.  I was surprised to find a new summit marker and registration placed here since my last visit.   Braden Willden has had a busy summer, making and installing these nice summit signs.

I wandered around on the summit and toyed with the idea of dropping off the northern face and summiting the ranked Peak 11,460 before circling back to my car.  Mount Baldy just looks so far away and the northern face just seems so massive.  Thankfully I've hiked enough to know that views of this kind can be very deceiving and almost considered an optical elusion.  I dropped off the western face and followed the well worn path to the ridge line.

A faint trail wanders the rugged ridge line, and I soon begin to worry about the hike back out.  It is not going to be easy to summit Mount Belknap a second time on my return trip.  But the hiking is all down hill for now, the sun is out and I finally have to remove one of my outer layers.  I keep my hat and gloves on, but enjoy the warmth on my face.  The view in all directions is stunning.

Dropping off the rugged ridge and entering the rolling section of ridge line, I marvel at the trees that dot this section of the hike.  Wind swept and ragged, they hold a certain beauty all their own.  Startled I hear the crack of a rifle.  I forget it is deer season in the area and take a minute to look at my brown jacket, black hat and green backpack.  Probably not a good combination.  I stop for a minute and pull out my pack's waterproof cover which happens to be red.  Not the bright hunter orange, but hopefully enough to give me some protection.

I arrive at the base of Mount Baldy.  Taking a break and eating some energy cubes. I marvel at this rugged ascent line.  I see the faint path up the hillside.  A lot of the remaining snow is held in the paths shadow, but there should be plenty of room on both sides.  It is a steep pitch.  I drop my pack and start to pull out any and all unnecessary weight.  I have finished my bottled water, but use it to drain a liter of water from my camel pack.  Putting all in my rope bag, I leave it on the trail at the base and start my ascent.

At 11,000' feet you can expect to be winded. And I am, as I trudge up the hillside.  Most areas are easy going with good footing.  A few wide spots make for good viewing down the crown of the ridge and I marvel at how fast I am gaining elevation.  Upon entering the grey rock area, the way becomes steep and the footing very loose.  One step forward, two steps slide back.  I'm not making very good progress, finally I take my hiking pole and move it to the lowest setting.  Jamming the point into the soft ground I use it like an ice pick to help pull my way up to the next level.  This worked so well I kept the pole handy for an up coming traverse where I used the pole to help with footing.  Soon I reached an outcropping of rock and bushes on a ridge line just to the west of the center channel.

This ridge line proved to have good footing and is less steep.  Again a faint trail leads toward the summit.  I feel like I'm getting close, but the ridge goes on and on, crossing larger rocks, many are loose, but I finally reach the summit.  Braden Willden has indeed had a busy summer and one of his nice green summit markers greet me at 12,122'.  A wooden market is to the west, I drop my pack and wander around the summit.  What a sight.  The leaves are changing and I don't think I have ever seen such color.  It was a wet fall and the leaves are a stunning color of yellows and reds, folding into, and growing dense in the valley near the stream which exits Blue Lake. 

I take pictures. I send a  text to my wife and let her know all is well.  She's not busy, so we visit awhile.  I take more pictures and send them via email to a friend.  Something right and wrong about having 4g in the back country.  I'm checking out my GPS when I notice the length of time it took to reach the summit; 7 hours.  It is now 3:30 in the afternoon and I have 4 hours until dark. It is a long way back to the car.  I quickly gather my stuff, and start my descent.  Thankfully going down is faster than going up, but the large rocks and loose footing make it difficult none the less. 

At the bottom of Mount Baldy, I take a break and gather my extra supplies, the wind is picking up as I put on my outer layer once again.  When I reach the final saddle before my climb back up the hillside toward Mount Belknap, I briefly toy with dropping off the hillside to Blue Lake, and following the road back to my car, making a loop of sorts.  This would probably be a great place to set up a shuttle car, but I didn't want the risk of being in unfamiliar territory if it got dark.  I continued to push up the ridge line to Mount Belknap.

Setting foot on the steepest part of the mountain, the wind is howling up from the Blue Lake canyon and slamming into the hillside.  I would put the wind near the 25 mph with gusts pushing 35 or more.  The gusts are enough to push me off my balance when they hit just right, and on this rocky terrain that isn't good.  I reach the summit area, and can't resist hiking the last 30 feet to the true summit to log a second ascent.  I don't linger, and quickly backtrack to the trail.  The sun is now extremely low on the horizon and I make my way down the shadowed eastern face of Belknap.  I'm on the sheltered side from the wind, and I make good time working my way onto the wide white saddle.

Stopping to dump gravel out of my shoes, I marvel at the sunset, it is dropping directly between the two massive mountains I had just climbed.  As I continue on my way, I slow down, knowing I'll be down hiking the switchbacks after the sun has set, but twilight will still be bright enough to see without the use of my headlamp.  As I reach the final saddle, the sun casting it's final rays of light, and the golden beam is reaching the golden rocky hillside with breathtaking wonder.  Lines crisscross the hill and it takes me a moment to realize that shadows are highlighting each and every game trail. The sight is mesmerizing.  As the sun fades, I hike down the remaining switchback and arrive at my awaiting car.  What a hike!  The drive out is long and tedious as I make my way through the twisting, steep road, I continue to watch the western sky until the final hint of the sun setting in that section of the sky has completely disappeared from view.  Soon these mountains will be covered in snow and I hope to return again soon looking for a different set of experiences attached to a pair of ski's.

Summary Total Data
    Route Conditions:
Unmaintained Trail, Scramble
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip

 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by Steven Thompson
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