| Baldy Alto in Winter - Dome Lakes Approach
Other Side of the Calendar:
Baldy Alto by Bike, Summer Approach
Peak: Baldy Alto
Route: Nutras/Stewart Ridge
Approach: Dome Lakes (FR 794)
Date: January 23, 2013
Length: 28 miles
Vertical: 4300 feet
Ascent time: 8.5 hours
Total time: 15 hours
Ascent Party: Dancesatmoonrise
Morning glow graces Baldy Alto and Stewart Peak.
Ever since driving the 794 Forest Road from Dome Lakes to the Stewart Creek TH in June 2010, the thought of cross-country skiing the 53 miles in to
San Luis Peak becons. With mostly rolling hills, it seems doable, though would make for a long day. The idea is naturally relegated to the back burner...
January 18, 2013. I'm driving over to the Mill Gulch TH, to join Teddy and the guys for Redcloud and Sunshine. Somewhere after Monarch Pass, the
light bulb suddenly goes on: heck, itís Friday, and all Iím doing is car camping at Mill Gulch tonight. Plenty of time for a quick 50 mile detour.
The road down to Cochetopa and the Dome Lakes area is quiet and pleasant. Chains, shovel, ropes, and tarp, are standard winter-issue for the vehicle
of any winter-14er enthusiast, but I donít want to blow the Redcloud/Sunshine trip spending tomorrow digging snow, so I take it conservatively.
Getting back onto the 794 road, Iím pleasantly surprised to find low enough snow to get 6.5 miles in. This knocks 13 miles off the potential 53 mile RT
to San Luis. Sure, 40 miles is still long, but itís starting to sound more feasible. And Iím sure the car will get a couple miles further in. Iím off to Mill
Gulch, quietly enthusiastic, project preview in my back pocket.
Is that Stewart Peak in the moonlight?
Wednesday is the last day of this nice 10-day run of good weather and some of the most reasonable avalanche conditions this year to date.
AhÖ Wednesdays. Mid-week. Perfect. The lusty thought of stealing away unnoticed between the busy boulevards of the workaday world
to quietly emerge in the backcountryÖ itís too much to resist. When business is poor, the poor get down to business. Never mind the backlog;
itís winter. Work is for days of sideways snow and people who donít know how to fly fish; as the expression goes. OK, back to businessÖ
A bike, a full moon, the Honda Hotel.
Tuesday, January 22, 2013. Tuesday is supposed to be car-camp day, but phone calls, faxes, and fires to put out abound. I manage to get out to
Dome Lakes, drive in about 8.5 miles (as far as I dare) and get to bed shortly after midnight.
Originally, the idea is to ride the bike back as far as possible on Tuesday, then come back to the car to camp. This way, it would be clear whether skis
or bike would be better Ė I have both in the car. But given the way my Tuesday goes, I make a rather stubborn administrative decision. I know skis
would likely be more efficient, but I feel more like riding the bike. The bike it is.
No kickstand required.
First light comes too soon. Fortunately, winter is now in full swing and I remember the trick of burying a thermos of coffee deep within a down jacket,
all in a stuff sack. So there is coffee. And soon thereafter, intelligent life.
Seems no matter what the forecast, starting the TH this winter clocks in at a balmy 2 degrees above. The Shimano juice brakes run on mineral
oil Ė a great idea if you live in Japan. In Colorado winter, you loose all modulation at these temps. No matter, weíll be on the pedals more than the
brakes this morning.
Not as deep for 29" wheels.
Iím lucky that my predecessor decides to chain up and drive back as far as he or she could. How far back? Donít know yet, but as long as the bike
stays in the track, the going isnít bad. Progress seems to move along at a great clip, but the map doesnít seem to want to cooperate.
Chain of fools?
The lens is more generous than the trail: Stewart Peak is still 11 miles in the distance.
Shouldnít complain; got a track, right? Oops, complained too much Ė hereís the end of the line. Time for snowshoes. I stash the bike, change out
to boots and beartraps, and start the long plod.
End of the line.
Whatís this? Stewart Creek summer trailhead 6 miles? Oh joy. A quarter mile later the sign says 5 miles. Letís hope this keeps up.
Stewart Creek, 6 miles.
Guess the critters like to confirm their bearing, too.
Finally at Nutras Creek, I make the decision to go in here. It should cut 4 miles RT, not having to go all the way to the Stewart Cr TH, plus the route
up Nutras should be 1 mile RT shorter than the Stewart Creek route. That brings calculations down to somewhere around 30 miles round trip.
The thought is, knocking 5 miles round-trip off the route is significant. Still, it is unknown which route may be more efficient, as there could be less
snow-breaking up the south-facing aspect of Stewart Creek. No matter, I"m tired of this road; time for some new scenery up the drainage. Besides,
the idea of trying this new route sounds appealing.
The Nutras Creek drainage. Stewart Peak at right; 13183 and Baldy Alto at left.
The Stewart Creek drainage on the other side of the calendar.
Route planning calls for taking the second bump to the left. The first is 11,400. The second bump constricts the drainage; itís easy to tell where
to hang a left. Unfortunately, the trees are thick with snow. One would think itís winter or something. Trailbreaking takes its toll.
Looking back: Kinda rough.
Which way is up?
Soon the mellow ridge between the Stewart and Nutras Creek drainages makes it difficult to tell which way is up. I follow the compass, and lean
toward the south side. A warm day is nice, but south side snow is thick and goopy. Soon my snowshoes weigh about 10 pounds each. Back to the
trees and downed timber of the north side. Why did these hardy trees decide to grow all the way to 12,000 on my ridge, anyway?
That's us: San Luis at center, Baldy Alto at right.
Steepest hill on the route. The NE aspect, at far right, is less than 30 degrees, and mostly bare.
Finally at treeline, Iím nearly out of water, and food as well. I push on for Baldy Alto. One would think four liters would be sufficient for a daytrip.
Extra credit: "Column Ridge" 13,795, shares the high saddle with Stewart Peak, unseen at right.
Excuse me, guys.
At the Baldy Alto summit, more than beat from six or eight miles of continuous trenching, Iím half-dead, but sure I can get San Luis Ė but not sure I
can get back at a reasonable hour. Iíve started carrying a stove, which will surely come in handy today to melt some snow. Prudence would suggest
paying respects and turning back here. Even if you donít care much for Prudence, itís best to listen to her; sheíll kick your ass if youíre not careful.
Besides, Iíve got a couple of friends waiting for an email when I get home Ė if itís not there by 6 am, Iíll have the embarrassment of Search and Rescue to
motivate me. Some quick calculations suggest getting San Luis would put me on the ragged edge of that 6 am home-time. Mountaineering would be
nothing without desire. Especially the desire of summits unattained. I feel like Arnold. ďIíll be back.Ē OK, letís get out of here, and hurry up.
Looking down the ridge from Baldy Alto to 13,183 and the expansive Cochetopa drainage below. Shavano and Tabeguache appear on the distant horizon..
Long way home.
Wetterhorn and Uncompahgre looking closer than the car.
San Luis: so close.
Other side of the saddle, other side of the calendar: What Baldy Alto looks like from San Luis in summer.
May as well start signing these things. Summit grafitti in a tube isn't all bad.
Rule One - The way back is always longer.
Farewell till next storm.
No batteries required.
Treeline, a moon, a track. What more could a man ask?
A gorgeous evening in the San Juan.
At the corner of Nutras and 794, I stop to cook some snow. Itís a long process, but gets an extra liter in me. Still not enough. Slogging along 794 in
the dark, I canít believe I finally get to the bike. Problem is, this ride is hard. The downhills keep things going and keep the front wheel in the track.
The occasional uphill is difficult. My erstwhile equine enigma bucks me off a few times. Makes it tougher with a pack. Gotta loosen up those new
pedals next time I think of it.
Soon I realize I donít have the necessary energy to pilot this pony. Pushing is not such a good idea Ė youíre either walking in deep snow next to the
track, or pushing the bike in deep snow. No help for it. I do my best to ride. There is good news. There is no doubt that San Luis was not in the
cards today. Today being defined as the day that ends in a couple hours when the clock strikes midnight. Maybe with a little luck I can be back and
take advantage of my trench before the next big storm.
Route map 1/4.
Route map 2/4.
Route map 3/4.
Route map 4/4.
Moon above Nutras Creek.
Soon Iím at the car. Another red-eye express home. I pull in to one of my favorite campgrounds along the way, fall asleep in the front seat, and
awaken refreshed. The clock says Iíve only slept 15 minutes. Amazing how much it can help. I get home, get the necessary emails out, and crash.
Ah, sweet winter sleep, and dreams of a quiet journey, far far away, in a place seldom traveled under January moonlightÖ