Bald Mountain A - 13,684 feet
Bald Mountain A - 13,684 feet
|The Devil is Bald|
As you might guess from the title, this is yet another case of me managing to turn an otherwise easy peak into a dramatic affair. I’ll divide this trip report into two main parts – if you’re just here for the beta & pictures skip to Part II (look for large bolded section headers). If you’re curious about the story behind this title then check out the story in Part I.
Trailhead: Baldy Road (520) winter 2WD lot
Route: Heavily modified North Ridge (see GPX file and labeled screenshots)
Mileage: 8mi RT
Elevation Gain: ~3,300ft
Time: 6hr, 22min
Starting temp at the trailhead = 10F.
Ending temp at trailhead = 18F.
Max wind gusts (based on nearest measurements at Breckenridge Peak 8) were >60mph
Wind chill = at least 20 below zero
Part I: The Story
A few quick notes to set the stage for this little adventure:
2020 totally wrecked all my international travel plans (thanks coronavirus!) and so by the time the end of the year rolled around I still had an unusual amount of vacation unused. Not wanting to waste it I decided to take the last 2 weeks of December off.
Despite several bouts of foul weather I managed to squeeze in a decent number of snowflakes once calendar winter hit. Of particular interest to this story was the hike up Mount Flora on 12/30/2020 with Geo and TG. The forecast that day had called for something on the order of a -24F wind chill – not due to strong winds so much as a very low starting temperature. But all 3 of us had done various winter peaks and we knew this was a short easy 13er so decided to give it a go.
Well Flora is indeed easy but, unlike some other ridge routes where you at least bounce back and forth from one side of the ridge to the other and get some occasional cover, there was virtually zero shelter past the Colorado Mines Peak on the way to Flora. That was a really freaking cold day. The wind wasn’t overly strong but it sure was cold – we were pulling out layers usually reserved for emergencies.
Also relevant to this story was last winter’s experience where I was nearly blown off Mt. Cameron. If you want another dramatized trip report of an easy peak, you can read that one here: Decamdy with Decalibron avy analysis
Then finally there was the nice easy, but long hike up Hoosier Ridge where a small group of us joined Scott P and where we ran into a bunch of others on the forum then TG and I went on past Hoosier Ridge to also grab Red Mn A. Later TG, Geo and I were debating peak choices for Saturday, with various 14er combo options at the top of the list – until one of us checked the updated forecast. What had earlier been forecast to be a beautiful day was now calling for – across almost all the ranges – sustained winds of 20-30mph or more with gusts of 40mph or more (58mph gusts in some regions). Once again wind chills were hitting in the 20 below zero range for many of the peaks.
Suddenly the debate over which peak(s) to do fizzled out as we all recalled Flora. Now we were looking at a day that, although a little warmer overall, was forecast to have stronger winds and a very similar overall wind chill. We tossed around various 14er and 13er options but none sounded appealing with that forecast. After futilely looking around for better options late into the night we all grew tired and just went to bed.
The Story Begins
I had gone to bed Friday night rather disappointed that I’d be ending off my 2 week vacation with a dud for the last day. Then I woke up early Saturday morning with a raging fever – summit fever that is, specifically snowflake summit fever.
I just couldn’t take it. I wasn’t going to waste the last available hiking day of my vacation because there was some wind in the forecast – I mean after all, when I did my first snowflake (Quandary) on New Years Day 2019 there was a lot of wind in the forecast and it turned out to be the most windless day I’ve ever encountered on a summit. So it could happen again, right?
TG and Geo were slower to rise on Saturday so I was already about to head off by the time they were up, thus I headed out solo. I had decided to go do Bald Mtn A – a “short and easy” 13er I had done back in August and felt like I could probably pull off even on a day with a forecast for wickedly cold and strong winds (apparently Cameron had taught me nothing...)
A Deceptive Start
I knew I was going to be in for a wickedly cold day even if the forecast wasn’t 100% on target. So I doubled up on my 250 weight merino wool base layers along with all my normal gear. This not surprisingly, despite the 10 degree temperature at the trailhead when I finally started at just before 10am, made me quite very over-warm when starting up the trail through the trees.
There was no wind whatsoever – I knew it! The forecast was totally wrong – it was going to be a beautiful day! I couldn’t even really see hardly any snow blowing up on any of the peaks around!
Once I got to the switchbacks I was happy to see all the skiers had made a great shortcut to bypass and go straight up. I started to notice a growing amount of wind and slowly began zipping all my vents closed again. I could also start to see some more snow rising up off the distant peaks – hmm, well maybe the forecast wasn’t going to be completely off.
A Rising Wind
This is apparently an extremely popular area for skiers since there were tracks all over the place. After carefully eying the slope angles on the map and evaluating conditions on the ground I concluded it was safe to take a major shortcut up by following the many ski tracks direct up to the ridge.
I got tricked by a prominent hump that pulled me too far south, getting close to steep terrain but corrected course in time to hit the ridge just before it got to the steep section.
The wind picked up more and more as I gained the ridge. But my doubling up of 250 weight merino wool base layers was paying off at last since I was, along with my normal wind shells, pretty much impervious to the cold at this point but the sporadic wind gusts did knock me off balance enough that I stumbled just as I got one of my trekking poles stuck between a couple rocks and SNAP! Another broken trekking pole!! Annoyed but not deterred I continued on up to the summit with one and a half trekking poles.
I looked around at the sky to check the weather. Seeing nothing too ominous nearby I decided to trek on past the true and obvious summit to investigate the oddly placed marking on many maps for this summit which, even based on the topo lines, can’t possibly be the summit. I went all the way out to the end of the summit bulge to remove any doubt about having truly summited and then came back up and enjoyed some hot apple cider from my GSI microlite thermos.
I had slowly been adding layers during the hike and by the time I was ready to descend I had on pretty much everything but my emergency layers – which I was happy that my dual base layering scheme prevented me from needing despite the -20F or lower wind chill.
The Devil Is Bald
When I did this route in August it was so ho-hum that I didn’t bother with so much as a conditions report, much less a trip report. Nor did I even have any interesting photos for a Facebook post like I normally put up for friends/family. But when done in winter on a really windy day like this this, Bald Mtn A can be a real devil of a peak!
How windy was it? After the fact I was directed to weather station data posted by CAIC at https://www.avalanche.state.co.us/observations/weather-stations/
The nearest good reference point for Bald Mtn A seems to be Breck Peak 8. The data for Jan 2, 2021 at around 3pm (which is around about the time this hike started to get interesting) shows sustained winds of 46mph with gusts up to 61mph.
I’m quite confident there was at least that much wind on Bald Mtn, and since the wind seems to intensify in those small windows between humps on the ridge I wouldn’t be surprised if it was even higher than that at times.
Unfortunately, due to the extreme conditions, I didn’t manage to get as many pictures as I normally would (but see Part II for some photos) and didn’t manage to capture some of the most dramatic segments. Now don’t get me wrong, in summer this is not a dramatic peak by any stretch of the imagination and with the possible exception of one or two very short little segments of squeezing alongside a hump on the ridge over top of a dramatically sloping snow field, it’s generally probably fairly ho-hum in winter as well.
But once you throw in 60mph or greater wind gusts even boring Cameron can become exciting (I looked up historical data for that day and saw 68mph gusts nearby that afternoon!).
The route for Bald Mtn A stays largely on the ridgetop with a pretty steep drop off on the E/NE side of the ridge and an only slightly less steep drop on the W/SW side. We’re talking trivial class 2 terrain here so you might not hardly take notice of the drop offs on a nice day. But as soon as you get blasted by 60mph gusts you become hyper aware of even a drop of a few feet, not to mention those places where there’s close to 2,000ft in elevation drop just off the side of the ridge.
There is a spot or two where the ridge narrows to perhaps only about 5 feet across at the top. Off to the far side from where the wind was coming were steep snowfields that would send you sliding down as much as nearly 2,000ft before making an abrupt end at the bottom of the slope. In summertime you could probably do fine with a controlled descent partway down along that side if you needed to but to get an unsolicited 60mph nudge onto those snow covered flanks in winter would likely signal game over.
So I got nervous as I approached one of those areas with winds strong enough that I shrunk my one good pole down to the same length as the broken trekking pole and walked hunched over with the half poles dug into the ground. But even that was not enough as I was still struggling to stand – and I was lugging a 30+ lbs pack on my back to get conditioned for longer winter treks!
So then I got down on all 4’s and started to crawl across the ridge but even on my hands and knees with a heavy pack on my back I was still almost getting blown over! The E/NE side of the ridge was not an option as those snow fields looked like primely loaded avy terrain. The W/SW side of the ridge was a little less steep and much more wind blown but had lots of loose rock with variable depth snow pockets between that I knew would be no fun to try to stumble across while getting pounded by 60mph+ wind gusts.
So I literally crawled past the worst little dip where the wind was blasting the hardest and for at least a quarter mile I was either crawling or hunched over very close to the ground with my half length poles digging into the ground as supports. I finally got behind one of the little humps on the ridge and had a momentary break from the wind where I put in the “Past crawl/hunch zone” waypoint but alas, that was an overly optimistic assessment.
All told I had to travel over a mile in hunchback mode, occasionally kneeling or even crawling. Not till I had gotten almost back down to treeline did I finally get relief from the wind.
So the moral of this little story is, Bald Mtn A might be an easy snowflake to get on a nice day but this is one devil of a peak to do on a highly windy day!
Part II: The Beta
Ok, if you’re just here for the beta here we go.
The 4WD road is gated in winter and there’s only room for maybe 15 or so vehicles to park off the side of the road. It’s paved/plowed to this point but quite a maze of turns to get here and it comes up some fairly steep and winding roads so you might want to wait a bit after a big snowstorm for the plows to do their job. Note that the sign calls it “The Baldy Trailhead” – not to be confused with Baldy Mountain in the Elks or various other similarly named peaks.
This is apparently a majorly popular ski area (there’s even a bus that drops people off) so the first mile and a half or so of the road is extremely well packed down across it’s full wide width by all the skiers going up and down. Then once you get to the switchbacks the ski traffic shoots a line right down the middle of them.
There were enough people that had skied down that I abandoned the road and even with just boots was able to walk straight up the hill and hardly ever sink at all if I stayed in the most heavily travelled section. This does look like a fairly ideal place for skiing (says the guy who can’t ski, so don’t take my word for it) since there’s plenty of wide open terrain but also nearby options to weave through the trees if you want more challenge.
For the first switchback or two there were still tracks along the road for those who want a longer but more gradual ascent but by the time I got to the top of the last switchback there were no longer any tracks at all along the road.
Since I could see plenty of ski tracks coming straight down the slopes and the map only showed scattered flecks of red/yellow shaded slope angles, plus the snow which was present on this west facing slope seemed pretty consolidated with a few patches of exposed rock or grass, I decided to do a shortcut right up to the steep section of the ridge, cutting off the long, wide loop up to the north that the road takes.
This was arduous and I would be cautious of trying this route variation if there was a more suspicious snowpack present but it worked on this day. The other option is stick to the road but you won’t get any trenching help from the skiers once you reach the top of the switchbacks.
Once you gain the ridge it’s mostly a class 2 stroll up and down along the ridgetop (unless it’s crazy windy – see Part I…) or at times slightly off to one side or the other of the ridge. But there are a couple brief sections where you may be forced to go up over or alongside a small but steep snowfield on the ridgetop. Use caution here, pick your line carefully and try to find exposed rocks to stay on.
The worst section (barring high winds) I waypointed as “Squeeze point.” That’s where the trail goes along the side of a steep snow covered hump and right over top of a big long snow field that’s at the prime angle for an avalanche. There was just enough exposed rock here that I felt safe sticking to the summer trail along this edge. Later in winter you might need to get creative in going past this hump (see photo a little later on).
The true summit is so extremely obvious as to be indisputable but for reasons that defy reason most maps mark the summit at a point beyond the true summit which even those maps show as being at least one topo line lower than the true summit?!?
On the way down I would have been blasted right in the face with crazy strong winds if I had attempted to go down the shortcut I took up so I instead followed the road until a more common shortcut point that I had taken in August. I had to create my own path for the last section but eventually reconnected with the skier tracks and then zipped downhill nice and fast.
It's worth noting that down by the switchbacks I did find one small section of exposed flowing water by the trail even on this early January day, so stay alert if you're going to try any backcountry skiing here.
9:58am start from 2WD trailhead
10:14am made it to where I had parked in August
10:30am Iowa Mill
11:08am put snowshoes on just above “Last switchback…” waypoint
11:54am back on trail again at 12,592ft
2:46pm got past the first crawl/hunch zone
3:11pm made it to what I labeled as the wind station (I think it’s actually radio/tv towers).
3:43pm top of ski drop
3:48m back on main road below switchbacks
4:07pm passed my summer parking spot
4:20pm back at the TH
My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):
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