Ascent of Little Baldy Mountain on 2018-04-12

Climber: William Musser

Others in Party:David Musser
----Only Party on Mountain
Date:Thursday, April 12, 2018
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Hi-Clearance Vehicle
Peak:Little Baldy Mountain
    Elevation:12142 ft / 3700 m

Ascent Trip Report

I have been looking at this high prominent peak all year. It looks easy because you see it from the south coming to Fairplay. A cake walk. But there is no public access from the south. I have read many trip reports and people seem to be doing this by trespassing. Even the Summit Post route described is a trespass. To do it legally, you need access the land from USNF lands. What is misleading is how much snow one can encounter on the north end when the south end is free from snow. Since I wanted a good hike with my oldest son, and the southern approach was not possible, I scouted out the day before and found the TH sign from the USNF service off of CR 50. What you do is drive to the historic town of Como and then follow the road towards Boreas Pass. The road becomes dirt and swings left through some mining lands with rocks in the road and signs posted everywhere saying no trespassing. There is a forest service building on the right that many park their vehicles and head straight up the mountain. But the signs and the USFS maps clearly show this is trespassing. Head west along the north side of the mountain past several residential homes and on the left (south side of the road)about a mile down you will find some very poorly visible trailhead signs. We have the USFS map that you can get and download on Avenza Maps and the GPS shows the TH perfectly. There is enough room to pull over the side of the road and park a few cars. I estimated this to be a 5 mile RT hike and that may be possible in summer. We meandered around in the bushwhack so much to find better snow, and switchbacked the ridge so much to get out of wind that we did more like 9 miles.

Here is the first weird thing. The USGS map calls it trail USFS 653 and that is the trail you take but the sign that the forest service has there says it is USFS trail 698. Immediately, you descend down and have to cross South Tarryall Creek (but there is a fine bridge there). We immediately encountered snow that required some post holing. Great no snow at all on the south side but I knew there would be snow on the north side and there was. We used microspikes for the first part of the hike and followed the USFS trail. The trail is blazed with a blue Rhombus on trees and was easy to follow but if you stay on the trail it will never summit. We passed the junction on the USGS map where 653 and 196 and a 4 wheel drive trail intersect but in the snow we could not see all these trails so we continued up the blue blaze.

At approximate elevation 10,400 we began our bushwhack heading for the clear tree-less ridge that we scouted earlier from the TH that would be free of snow. That bushwhack was exhausting. The map shows it was only one mile to the clearing as the crow flies and about 600 feet of climb. The problem was the snow was deep in the woods and we were getting exhausted post-holing so we put on our snow shoes but they even sank. I fell several times and struggled to get up. Wish I had brought poles. We were typically sinking 8 to 15 inches in the snow but piles of snow between trees had deep pockets where even in snow shoes we post holed 18 to 24 inches regularly. We found if we skirted around the larger trees their biomass heated the snow enough to leave the snow only 3 to 12 inches deep and that was much easier but that required us to meander all over the place and the 1 miles ended up being more like 2 miles of snow shoe work through the fir and pines.

We took turns breaking trail for the other which was nice as a few of the banks we were forced to swim through were deep. On one bank I sank to my hips in snow and struggled to get out. Finally we found our target the rock slide area and took our snow shoes off and worked our way first through thin snow banks and some talus until we found a steep but grassy and dirt path. It was steep and we were exhausted from the post holing so we z-backed the open country and added greatly to the mileage hiking. By now the predicted winds were on us first 30 to 40 mph and soon gust to 45 as we had anticipated. Still, the constant barrage of wind blowing against our progress further wore us out. If you pick your path carefully, it is possible to avoid nearly all of the large teetering talus and make the ridge climb on grassy or loose dirt. We also found a few isolated packs of snow that gave respite to our aching feet.

There are a few false summits but you will see a large cairn near the top and that is near the top. One last flat area, tiny saddle and the actual summit has some large boulders for a final class 2+ scamper to the summit. The views are outstanding. You see the Buffalo Peaks past Fairplay and Sherman, Sheridan, Sheep, and Horseshoe all to the southwest. In front of you to the west-northwest is an outstanding view of Silverheels shrouded in snow. But my favorite views were Big Bald, Boreas, and Guyot to the North.

My son David is a very strong mountaineering companion that has done Hood and Rainer with me. Today, he was hurting. Mostly, the lack of time to acclimate before the hike. We summited in 3 hours and 20 minutes which seemed very slow but it was work. Coming down started off great as we found some great snow banks and plunge stepped down making fine time but when we got back to the snow shoe area and back country bushwhacking it was hard again. In fact, later in the afternoon the warmed snow bundles were very loose and we sank deeper. David over-tightened his strap and his snow shoe broke. I lead the descent and broke trail snow for 2 miles to make it easier for him to slide his broken shoes along but even that did not prevent him from falling several times in the post-holing. It was ironic that on the way up I must have fallen 8 times with the post-holing but coming down I was in stride. Poor David with only one properly functioning shoe plunged above the knee and fell many times coming down and that takes a toll on the body.

By the time he got back to the truck with me he rated this hike in the deep snow and hefty winds as one of the most tiring adventures we had done together. Doing it from the TH in post-holing snow certainly made this hike much more difficult than I had planned. But a near 1000k prominence peak in early season so ......Great!

Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:2322 ft / 707 m
    Total Elevation Loss:350 ft / 106 m
    Round-Trip Distance:9 mi / 14.5 km
    Quality:7 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail, Bushwhack, Stream Ford, Snow on Ground, Snow Climb
    Gear Used:
Crampons, Snowshoes
    Weather:Cool, Very Windy, Clear
40 base; 30 summit; 45mph gusts
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:2147 ft / 654 m
        Gain Breakdown:Net: 1972 ft / 601 m; Extra: 175 ft / 53m
    Loss on way in:175 ft / 53 m
    Distance:5 mi / 8 km
    Route:see TR
    Start Trailhead:TH for N  10170 ft / 3099 m
    Time:3 Hours 20 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Loss on way out:175 ft / 53 m
    Gain on way out:175 ft / 53 m
    Distance:4 mi / 6.4 km
    Route:see TR
    Time:2 Hours 40 Minutes

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