Almagre - Will the Real Mt. Baldy Please Stand up?
Starting Point: Junction of FS376 and FS379, elevation: 10,780 feet
Route: West slope
Peaks in order of ascent: Almagre Mountain South aka Signal Mountain aka Mt. Baldy (12,349'), USGS "Baldy" (12,226'), Almagre Mountain (12,367')
RT Distance: 9.0 miles (includes random "walkabouts" as seen on GPS route map)
Elevation Gain/Loss: 3,700 feet
Baldy is clearly a popular name for mountain tops above treeline. A quick search for Mt. Baldy brings up legitimate candidates from California, New Mexico, Arizona, Oregon, and, of course, Colorado. Even among the Colorado summits, there are the better known peaks - Baldy Mtn A, Baldy Alto, Baldy Cinco. The Baldy whose images grace this report is no fourteener and, in fact, falls well short of 13,000 feet. This Baldy is a somewhat more obscure peak whose biggest claim to fame is being the second highest summit in the Colorado Springs skyline. But even in that distinction Baldy misses the mark, as the highest point on the lofty ridgeline that is visible from virtually any part of the city is Almagre Mountain at 12,367 feet. Baldy, as it turns out, is the alias for Almagre Mountain South, a sub-summit of this ridgeline at 12,349 feet, but is also referred to as Signal Mountain. To add to the confusion, there is another bump southeast of Signal Mountain at 12,226 feet which is marked "Baldy" in USGS maps!
Clearly, trying to reach a peak whose true identity is this nebulous can take some work, and this was my quest for the day. I drove up Old Stage Road which merges with Gold Camp Road, and after about 20 miles from the start of Old Stage I turned right on to FS 376 which dead ends in about 3.5 miles, some fifty feet past the junction with FS 379 which was the starting point of my hike up the west slope of Baldy, er...Signal Mountain, I mean Almagre.
Trailhead if you can call it that!
Information on Colorado's highest peaks and the routes to their summits is galore, special thanks to this very website for that, but when it comes to these lesser known Baldies, well...you're mostly on your own. I had done some research to figure out the approximate route but the absence of a well-defined trail definitely made things interesting to say the least. The west slope route starts up FS 379, heading southeast on the rough 4WD road.
Hiking up FS 379
FS 379 climbs up rapidly and plateaus in about half a mile before embarking on a descent. In order to climb Almagre, one has to head northeast (left) at about the point where FS 379 peaks as seen in the picture below. There may be a few other viable points to leave this road but they’re all within a short distance of this one.
Here I got my first look at Almagre’s sister peak, Signal Mountain, the recognizable microwave antennas crowning its summit.
First view of Signal Mountain
Of course, if you’re expecting a trail to lead through the woods at this point, you’d be sorely disappointed because there isn’t one.
I made my way through the pines climbing a couple of hundred feet to a hilltop which afforded great views of the region, particularly Pikes Peak.
View of Pikes Peak
This is where things went south for me, and I don’t mean that in the geographical sense! Inspecting the approach to Almagre it appeared to me that I would have to descend the hill into a low lying valley before I could even get to its west slope. I attempted to do this and promptly hit a fence line forbidding further descent.
Fence bars progress
I walked along the fence line for a bit and then decided that I was too probably too far west and climbed my way back to the hilltop for a better look. I dropped my backpack and hiking pole and fortified myself with a snack while racking my memory on the research I’d done last night. One of the summitpost reports I had read mentioned the turn-off from FS379 being about a mile down the road so I decided I’d head back to the road to explore this option. I got to FS 379 before realizing that I no longer had possession of my hiking pole, an accessory that has been with me on every long hike for the last 15 years!
Determined to find my pole and salvage what I could of the day, I spent the better part of the next hour retracing my steps and basically scouring every square inch of the suspected area, as my GPS tracker will attest. I figured I’d left it where I grabbed my snack but this turned out to be akin to hunting for a needle in a haystack. It’s interesting what one’s mind will substitute for success, for halfway through that futile search I would’ve been elated to return home just to claim, “Honey, I didn’t climb the mountain but guess what, I still have my pole!” I eventually threw in the towel and decided my day was done. Two hours into the hike and I had nothing to show for it: no summit, no hiking pole. As I was making a dejected trudge back to the road I realized that I had unfinished business to do: I knew I wasn’t going to find my pole but the mountain was still there and I was going to get to its top if it was the last thing I did!
I climbed back to the hilltop and surveyed Almagre’s ridgeline and the steep west slope still unsure about the best access to it. I knew I had to lose some elevation dropping down the valley so I proceeded to do just that.
Atop the hill
I kept my eyes peeled for any signs of a path and sure enough, I spotted what looked like a half-hearted attempt at a cairn.
Is that a cairn?
Mildly encouraged, I continued the descent till I hit the fence line at a different point, now with a sign warning all life (literate life, of course ) to keep out. I was now in the thick pines and could only see part of the ridge.
Darn fence again!
More cairns now popped out of the woodwork, I mean woods, and the next break was a real one; I mean, an actual break in the fence with a cairn and an unmistakable view of the bald ridge to the east!
Without even realizing, I was now jogging as I weaved my way through the pines, guided by the cairns even though it seemed as though I no longer needed them!
The flavor of the hike transformed as soon as I found myself at the bottom of the west slope. The path from this point was clear; there was still no trail but none was required as the route through the last of the pines and up the slope of Signal Mountain was obvious.
Bottom of the west slope
About 1100 vertical feet separated me from the antenna top stretched over a mere half mile making for a steep ascent but I now had momentum on my side and spring in my stride. I believe I had a grin on my face the whole time I was ascending this slope!
Nearing Signal Mountain's top
Momentum is indeed a good thing, for just 25 minutes after starting this final pitch I was at the summit of Signal Mountain aka Almagre South alias “Mt. Baldy”.
Summit of Signal Mountain
The elevation gain from the so-called trailhead to this point is less than 1,600 feet but keen readers will note that my GPS recorded gain/loss on the trip was a whopping 3,700 feet! Well, the whole Almagre-Signal-Baldy summit stretches nearly a mile and a half and I made certain that I traversed this entire massive visiting every insignificant little hump that may have had a claim, erroneous or otherwise, to the title of “Baldy”. Of course, let's not forget the elevation/gain accrued during my fruitless search for the hiking pole!
First up was the summit USGS designates as ‘Baldy”, half mile south east of Signal Mountain.
Is that Baldy?
If I'm on Baldy, what is that?
After making the traverse to both rocky humps and back, I surveyed the massive to the north.
Looking North to the Real Summit
Almagre’s true summit lay more than a mile away and I tried to map the best route to its top. As always, this didn’t work out too well as I ended up descending most of the way to Stratton reservoir before ascending the sandy slopes over the false summit. I had managed to keep a good pace by jogging through much of this high traverse but the sand would have none of it. If walking on the beach is a good exercise, try one at 12,000 feet above sea level!
A beach at 12,000 feet?
I wasn’t certain that the nearest summit wasn’t the true one so I played it safe and went over it even though it could be skirted easily on the east side.
Approaching a False Summit
Atop the False Summit
When I finally reached what I thought was Almagre, I took my summit shot with America’s Mountain in the backdrop. 8)
Looking back at the ridge I wasn’t convinced that this was the highest point but there were no other summits higher to the north. The clouds were now building over the ridge so I decided to beat a hasty retreat which, of course, meant staying higher on the slope to avoid the sandy terrain.
Where did the clouds come from?
Mapping the return
I ended up gaining the penultimate summit which could’ve been avoided with more prudent route finding, but I did skirt Signal Mountain to the right connecting with my ascent route on its west slope.
Descending the steep west face
The clouds may have been looming but they certainly weren’t delivering on their promise so I took a moment to enjoy the pristine view of the Seven Lakes area. Heaven on earth without a doubt! 8)
Seven Lakes area
The return trip was far less eventful than my ascent and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I made a mental note to pay this Baldy, all of them to be safe, another visit soon – perhaps this winter and who knows, maybe I’ll even find my hiking pole on that trip!
My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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