| Surprisingly Dry Day in Baldwin Gulch
Partner: Astrobassman (Colin)
Mountains: Mt. Antero, Mt. White, Cronin Peak
Baldwin Gulch TH
~17 miles, 5,500 feet elevation
Colin has had an accomplished spring (Mexican Volcanoes, Rainier, and others) but my schedule has kept me confined to the gym since Snowmass last September – save a jaunt up S. Boulder Peak in December. I felt like I was in pretty good shape to start my season but the past week of sitting on the beach in Cabo for my Sister-In-Law's wedding may have changed things. After a week's worth of tequila and tacos, it was finally time for me to stretch my legs and see what I had in me.
The original plan was to sleep at the TH and get a 2 or 3 am start since I was hoping to get Antero's summit for sunrise. We couldn't get out of town the night before so we met in Morrison at 3 am and headed down 285. A couple of close calls with some elk herds and a fox kept us awake and we got the Baldwin Gulch road about 5:45. We had heard the road was snowed in above 9,500 so we weren't very optimistic. We were pleasantly surprised to see the snow had melted out and we were able to make it to the creek crossing. We parked shortly thereafter and the first breath of fresh mountain air when I stepped out of the car felt amazing – a quick reminder why I love the mountains and missed them so much during my winter hibernation. We had snowshoes, crampons, the whole works with us, but a quick look at conditions told us that nothing was really needed so we left them in the car. We put on our gaiters, grabbed our axes, and were on the trail around 6:10.
The initial trudge up the road went pretty quickly and met our first couple of snow fields about 1/3 mile from where we parked. On the ascent we found a snow-filled gully for a shortcut past the road's switchbacks and swung east off of the road to take advantage. The snow was well frozen and made for a very pleasant climb. I remarked it would have been nice to have brought the crampons – just for a little practice, but they definitely weren't needed.
Shavano and Tabegauche
We rejoined the road and gained the saddle at 13,100 where we found that someone had stashed their skins. That someone must have been very optimistic since there was virtually no snow to speak of and Colin was amazed at how dry it was. He was on Shavano two weeks earlier and everything was socked in pretty well. We snapped a couple of pictures of Tabegauche in the early morning light and continued to make our way up steep typical Sawatch talus to Pt. 13,800. There was some snow on 13,800 and it was fairly continuous all the way to the summit, although the ridge proper was pretty dry. Here however, we would meet our new challenge for the day – wind. The forecast said "breezy" and we had a pretty stiff "breeze" coming up from Baldwin Gulch. I'm not one to estimate wind speeds, but it was definitely enough to catch your attention. We passed a group of 2 on their way down (assuming the ski owners) and continued towards the summit.
Me topping out on Antero with White in the background
The ridge proper held some interesting and fun scrambling opportunities and we were on Antero's summit around 9 am. Much to my surprise, even with the previous week at sea-level (I had landed about 36 hours earlier), I didn't feel any ill effects from the altitude and my first climb of the year is usually pretty miserable. The snow field on the summit was probably 2 feet high or so and served as great wind protection as we had a snack and took in the views. Shavano and Tabaguache were pretty bare, same with Princeton. If you have plans for Harvard or anything north, plan on plenty of snow still. After a well-earned break we headed back down the ridge only to find the wind had increased in strength. After a quick tightening of the ball cap, we made quick time back to the base of 13,800.
View North From Antero
Cronin from Antero
On to the next objective, Mount White… We skirted Pt 13,800 to our left and headed down the road to the Antero/White saddle – well it's more of an open space than a saddle but you get the idea. Oddly enough the toughest going of the day (to this point) was on a south facing 4x4 road that was still snowed in that the morning sun had made into a nice slushy composition. Once on the saddle, the ~900 feet up White was pretty uneventful. We followed a light colored rocky runoff bypassing the winding road and once at the base of the west ridge we were once again faced with that lovely Sawatch talus/scree.
Gaining the summit of White was pretty straight forward, but a worthwhile endeavor to add to your Baldwin Gulch experience. We made the summit a little before 11 am, about an hour and a half after leaving Antero's summit. The views from the top are nice (although I didn't take any pictures) and give a great vantage to check out the Browns Lake approach – also the south side of White is kind of a knarly looking slope. I've heard Browns Lake is a nice area, but, I have to be honest, I thought it kind of looked like a swampland and the lake is properly named – there wasn't even a hint of blue, just mud colored (I would assume from the mineral composition of the area).
We sat for a few minutes and discussed our next mountain – Cronin Peak. We descended White's west ridge and made our way back to the maze of mining roads that litter the area. I'm guessing the tundra between White and Cronin is at around 12,800-12,900 and the few miles made for a very pleasant alpine jaunt. My legs felt great on level ground but I could tell they were starting to feel the climbing over the past few hours. Once to the base of Cronin's east ridge, we basically put our head down and headed straight up. The ridge proper was still corniced but a few feet to the south and we had dry – yes, once again – talus and scree. There wasn't a trail to speak of (if there is one it's still under snow) so we just made our way up the slope. It wasn't too loose, just typical for the area. My legs were starting to feel the burn and Colin was pulling away from me. He summitted about 10-15 minutes before I did but I was surprised to see I still made pretty good time - a little over 2 hours after leaving White's summit. It was now 1:45 pm.
View NW from Cronin
Antero and White from Cronin
Cronin's summit was a real joy. I found the views to be incredible – even compared to Antero's just a few miles away. Just that little bit deeper into the mountains really gives you a sense you are surrounded by high peaks instead of looking into Buena Vista valley and civilization. We sat there for a while enjoying the early afternoon sun. The forecast didn't mention any inclement weather and it was spot on – nothing but high wispy clouds and even the wind had subsided. We took our photos and debated the best route back to the trailhead. (The original plan for a 2 am start also considered heading on to Carbonate/Cyclone/Grizzly/Mamma/Boulder Mountain for a complete cirque, but the late start negated any hope of that challenge.) We were set on the North Ridge but how to descend it was the question.
Starting the descent of Cronin's North Ridge
We decided just to head down and play it by ear. The ridge was annoyingly loose but we weren't complaining since it was such a perfect day. I wanted to stay on the ridge the whole way down but after 2 "humps" we were pretty tired of negotiating the scree so we followed Roach's route off the ridge. I had my concerns about entering the trees too soon because any snow was going to be a mess this time of day. But there was a snow field I thought we could get a nice glissade on so we dropped off onto the most heinous field of crappy rock you could imagine – think El Diente's north slopes but looser and with more rocks. After quite a bit of profanity we made our way onto the snow field. It provided a decent glissade, but was really too soft to gain any speed.
Once at the bottom, we chose to hug the treeline to the west which just led to more talus/scree, but at least it was on even ground. We never saw a trail to speak of (except for a stretch of about 20 yards that had a beginning and an end which we thought was kind of odd) so, the bushwacking was on. We stayed above treeline for as long as we could, but the whole way was though a loose, crappy mess of an area. We kept saying, "We should be able to see the car after this bend" but we never did after what felt like 270 degrees of turns we hit the trees right where the ridgeline descended into them. (I'm not positive that the ridge would have been easier, but it couldn't have been worse. If I had to do it over again, I would have descended Cronin's East Ridge and rejoined Antero's route.) Once in the trees, we now had snow fields to contend with. They varied from 6 inches to 2+ feet deep but were so soft from the day's sun we easily plowed through them.
Finally, 3 hours after leaving Cronin's summit (the decent was not only hell, but also time consuming) we finally found the road. Whoever parked your bright yellow truck along the creek – thank you. It was easily spotted and a welcomed sight. We found a suitable creek crossing and made our way down the road to our parking spot at around 5:15.
The first 8 hours of our day were pure joy, so the last 3 were easily forgotten. This was a great day to be in the mountains and a fun route to warm up for this season. The next debated topic was where to get some food in Buena Vista, Subway and get home early, or take our time and hit up Pizza Works. On CoDave's suggestion, we chose the latter and there's nothing like a Godzilla to replace all the calories you burned on the mountain. Thanks Dave, Pizza Works is now on my hit-list when I'm in the area.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):