| First Winter Summits/Backpack
Baldy Cinco Group: 2/28/09-3/1/09
Partner: Colin (Astrobassman)
Snow Mesa: 12,393 (NR)
13,510A: CO rank 248
13,162A: CO rank 512
Baldy Cinco: 13,383 (rank 329)
"Baldy No Es Cinco": 13,313 (rank 379)
My family was off visiting the in-laws for a long weekend, so I did what any bachelor would do – call a climbing buddy and see what kind of trouble we could dig up. My first winter summit was uneventful (Bald Mountain in the Gore Range on 2/1/09) so I thought I'd give some winter backpacking a try. After a little debate, we settled on the Baldy Cinco group in the San Juans.
Here are a couple of shots from the Bald Mountain Trip though:
Craig (Cheeseburglar), Amanda, and Nick on Bald's Summit Ridge
Me on Bald's Summit
Colin and I met in Morrison at 3:30 in the afternoon on Friday the 27th and set off for Gunnison. We had a good meal at my friend's restaurant, Palisades, and afterwards met him for a few beers at the Gunnison Brewery. My friend was nice enough to let us use his spare bedrooms for a good night's sleep before we made our way to the trailhead Saturday morning. After leaving Gunnison a little after 5:00 am, we arrived at Spring Creek Pass about 6:45 and were on the trail around 7:20. Along the way, a grey fox decided it would be fun to race us so he ran the left lane while we drove along side of him in the right for a good quarter mile. For anyone interested, a fox can run about 30 mph.
Saturday, February 28th: ~10 miles, 4,000 feet
The continental divide trail is well groomed for snowmobile traffic which allowed easy access to and across Snow Mesa. The hike up to the mesa is a consistent climb and a little steep at times, we topped out at 9:15. Snow Mesa is an amazing expanse of nothingness. All that can be seen are the southern slopes of the 13ers we were in the area for and miles upon miles of flat white tundra. We couldn't help but glance over our shoulders every few minutes as Rio Grande Pyramid, Half Peak, Redcloud/Sunshine, and Uncompagre dominate the skyline behind us to the west.
After nearly 5 miles of the mesa, the trail turns north and heads downhill to Miner's Creek, our intended camping spot. Treeline was right around 11,700 feet and we wasted no time, finding a comfortable spot in the first group of trees at the head of the drainage at 11:15. We took a well needed break, set up camp, and ate a decent lunch before heading up the slopes to scope out our first objectives: Point 13,034 and its neighboring 12ers. We hoped to get the Baldy Cinco 13ers the following day on our way out.
Setting up camp along Miner's Creek
View of canyon and cliffs from camp
We set out directly up the slope above our camp which was a decision we would like to have over again. Backtracking a short distance to gain a gentle ridge descending from our aiming point would have been a better choice because the slope was much steeper than it seemed from down below. As we left camp, we encountered the only other people we would see all weekend as about 5 snowmobilers drove down the path. We had rocks and grass the majority of our climb, but we weren't that comfortable heading up the slope. We topped out at an unranked point at 12,813 feet and a decision presented itself. The connecting ridge/slopes between Points 13,510A and 13,162A were heavy with snow and we couldn't find a safe line between the two. Either we would have to climb 13,510 on Sunday and descend all the way down to our campsite, climb Snow Mesa and backtrack to 13,162's summit before continuing on to Baldy Cinco (which didn't sound too appealing) or we would have to decide between 13,510 and 13,034 that afternoon since it was too far too do both. Placing a higher priority on the Baldy Cinco group, we set off for 13,510.
13,510's South Ridge
The ridge to 13,510 looks like it would require some class 3 scrambling, but once on the ridge, we found it to be nothing more than easy class 2 hiking. The drop off to the west was sheer and impressive, but the conditions allowed for very easy, safe passage and we finally got to our first summit at 2:40. Along the way, we kept seeing canine tracks but no signs of human presence. Neither of us had seen anything wild up that high and found it very odd. The summit offered amazing views of San Luis, Stewart, and Phoenix to the east, the rest of the Baldy group to the southwest and of course that view of the Lake City area to the west that I never tired of. To the north we could even identify all of the Elk 14ers and decipher most of the Sawatch Range as well.
Stewart, Baldy Alto, San Luis looking bare from 13,510's summit
With nowhere to go and unbelievable weather for the last day in February, we sat and soaked it all in for over a half an hour before descending back to camp. We followed our ascent route until the rock outcroppings directly above camp. Instead of the steeper terrain that we ascended, we dropped lower on a gentle ridge to the west which allowed for a few short glissades before depositing us back on the snowmobile road and to camp a little after 4:00. We came back to see a small slide had occurred about 30 yards further to the east of our ascent route – possibly triggered by us negotiating the rocks above. On the up side, we hiked for 9 hours and had yet to put on our snowshoes.
At camp we tried to boil some snow but the stove wasn't working as well as hoped so we got about half of the water we wanted for the next day. We sat, enjoyed a hot meal and a couple of Tecates Colin had hauled in before the sun went down and the temperature dropped to the point it was no longer comfortable to be sitting around outside. I was stuck doing homework in the tent (can't wait until I'm done with my MBA in April) while Colin brought in his own book to pass the time. I'm guessing I drifted off to sleep around 8 or so and got a very good night's sleep, all things considered.
Sunday, March 1 ~7 miles and 3,000 feet
We were both awake at 6, but this was the moment that I was dreading all weekend. I hate leaving the comfort of a sleeping bag in summer, so knew I didn't want to get ready in the dead of winter – so I got my book back out and procrastinated getting ready for a half hour or so. As luck would have it, some clouds rolled in during the night to keep things very comfortable and when we stepped outside we were greeted to a very temperate morning with nothing but blue sky overhead. This day would be a real test since we would have to carry our full packs over the peaks in route to the trailhead. We were packed up and on the trail by 7:15. The ascent back to Snow Mesa was definitely steep enough to wake us up and we left the comfort of the road right at the top and went straight up 13,162's south ridge. The climb was gentle to 12,641 and once up there, the cornice to the east was significant but we had a wide expanse of gentle tundra to hike on. Again, we saw all sorts of paw prints, but no boot marks. We gained the summit without much incident at 9:15 – 2 hours from leaving the campsite about 1,500 feet below us to the east.
Miner's Creek from 13,162's South Slope – our camping spot was in the bottom of the three "fingers" of trees in the bottom right.
Snow Mesa's Enormity can be seen in these pictures:
Colin Ascending 13,162's South Slope
Heading Up with RGP on the Horizon
Baldy Cinco from 13,162
After enjoying the summit for 20 minutes, we set off for our first named peak of the weekend, Baldy Cinco. We had one little stretch of loaded snow about half way up Baldy's east ridge that did have us a little concerned. We decided it was short so we'd approach with caution and figure it out when we got up close for a better look. Once there, we realized that we'd have no problem just sticking to the ridge with a very short (maybe 20 feet) bypass along very stable snowpack.
Once over our little bump, we saw what was making all of those paw prints. A grey fox was trolling the tundra at around 13,000 feet. Neither Colin and I had ever seen fox up that high; my guess was that he was looking for pika that we occasionally heard squeak from beneath the rocks. Anyways, he didn't really pay any attention to us, just kind of went about his day and seemed happy enough. The rest of the way to the summit was uneventful and we topped out at 11:00. We relaxed on the summit for another half an hour since the weather could not have been better and those views of the San Juans really were amazing – now even the mighty Grenadiers were in view and we could make out Jagged, the Chicago Basin group, and Pigeon's distinctive shape in the far distance. I remarked I would have been happy with this weather in June, let alone March.
Baldy Cinco from about halfway up the east ridge
Our laziness on preparing water the previous evening was catching up to us as we were becoming more sluggish as we climbed each peak. I knew I had one more climb in me, but that pack was feeling awfully heavy and the fact that I had lugged my snowshoes for all that distance without needing them was getting frustrating. The connecting ridge between Baldy and "No es Cinco" did not look safe so we would have to descend into the shallow bowl to the southwest where we could pick up a gentle ridge with rocks poking through the snow leading the way to the summit. At the base of the west side of Baldy Cinco, we saw another fox trotting along the tundra. A few hundred feet below the 13,313 foot summit, I saw another interesting animal I had not seen prior at that sort of elevation. An elk was standing about 50 feet below the summit and seemed to be mesmerized by the same view to the west. He turned and stared at us for a little while but as I took my pack off to get my camera he was off down the SW ridge. The summit cairn could be seen during the entire ascent (It's around 7 ˝ feet tall) and we made steady progress up the rocks. The final summit of the day did not come easy but we got up there at 12:30, a little surprised we covered so much ground so quickly since our energy level was pretty low and we were getting increasingly dehydrated. But, this gave us a few more minutes to enjoy the day and relax before starting our long slog home. We were the first signatures on any of the registers for 2009, the most recent were last October. The west face of "Baldy No Es Cinco" is amazingly sheer and gnarly – especially considering how gentle the east and south aspects are.
Wetterhorn, Matterhorn, Coxcomb, Uncompagre from Baldy No Es Cinco's Summit
Redcloud and Sunshine
Any Idea Why It's Called Half Peak?
Rio Grande Pyramid and I believe the Oso Massif to the right.
Peering down Baldy No Es Cinco's West Face
Me on Baldy No Es Cinco's Summit
After another half an hour on a summit, we descended the south slope which was pretty annoying. I thought we'd have an easy glissade back to Snow Mesa, but the snow was soft and the slope angle was too gentle to allow any movement. After a half a dozen times failing to slide more than 10 or 20 feet, I realized I was expending more energy getting up and down than if I'd just hike the thing. After nearly 12 hours of hiking, 4 summits, and 15 miles, I finally put my snowshoes on. We had about a mile and a half of virgin snow to cross to get back to the snowmobile road (continental trail) so they did come in handy as the post holing that would have ensued would have led to another half of a day's adventure.
The trek down to the car went fairly quick, and it was so hot out, I couldn't wait to turn on the air conditioner. At 3:00 we were on the road to Creede to find a good burger. I found a saloon my wife and I had eaten at a few years prior and I ordered way too much – a burger and a full plate of nachos. It was delicious going down, but made for an uncomfortable ride home. The drive through the San Luis Valley spurred conversations of future trips as we attempted to name every peak in the Sangres. I can't wait until I can get out again.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):