Hiking | Mount Baldy Misadventures

So if you want an actual hiking review on Mount Baldy, check out this article from earlier this year, when we actually made it to the top. This hike was a little different. It just is, when you’re driving up to the trailhead and there is ice on the trees and a miserable “winter mix” is actively falling. It became much more snow-like the higher in elevation I drove, and when I arrived at the trailhead, there was no mix about it. It was snow. Which is so much better than “winter mix” for hiking in, by the way. It was colder than I had expected, but both of us were very well prepared with rain resistant gear and plenty of warm layers.
IMG_20181013_140245073_HDRIMG_20181013_140329983_HDRbaldy mapOut we went, into a world of gentle snowfall. The snow creates a profound and expectant silence, as little sounds are muffled and you become more aware of the sound of your own footfalls or your sleeve brushing against brittle tree leaves. IMG_20181013_141955025_HDRIMG_20181013_141950427_HDRAnd it was beautiful. I mean, absolutely gorgeous. The snow was enchanting, and the little bit of autumn still clinging to the aspens and birches shone out from under the layer of snow. Fallen leaves were covered thickly with shimmering water droplets, not cold enough yet to freeze.
IMG_20181013_142105734_HDRIMG_20181013_150206772_HDRIMG_20181013_150755072_HDRWe lost the trail for a bit when we headed up the mountain, but Baldy is an easy hike as long as you keep looking up. If you can still go higher, you’re not there yet. We rambled and wandered, both pretty familiar with the area, picking our way through deadfall and patches of juniper and old burned trees and massive boulders, eventually emerging at the base of the boulder field which begins the true ascent up Mount Baldy. In the summer time, the ascent is a challenge but very doable. But not so on this hike. Icicles sparkling on the edges of higher boulders suggested some inclement conditions, and we cautiously worked our way higher, the thrill of a challenge before us.IMG_20181013_154907495_HDRIMG_20181013_151828309_HDRAnd it was a blast. Definitely an adrenaline rush, but we were extremely careful and moved slowly, making sure of good footing and good handholds. We finally arrived at a point where we knew we could probably make it up higher, but would definitely have a hard time getting back down. Both of us are first responders, and the prospect of getting ourselves into a situation and having to call people we know and the subsequent embarrassment is a good deterrent for stupidity. Probably a good thing.
44091789_107112940231804_4791317240261640192_nIMG_20181013_151852002_HDRIMG_20181013_153043989_HDRWe headed back down, glad to get off the boulders and back onto somewhat more stable footing. If you can call snow-covered pine needles on a slope stable footing. The scenery was getting prettier by the minute, and the trail was dramatically changed from when we had hiked up. Tangled places were now a tangle of white, and the trail mud was covered over. It was a winter wonderland. I could feel ice on my eyelashes, but the rest of me was toasty warm, except for where my pants were wet from sliding and crawling on wet rocks. Mount Baldy really is a great cold-weather hike, since it is strenuous enough you warm right up!
IMG_20181013_164753487_HDRIMG_20181013_162647483_HDRIMG_20181013_163242177_HDRWhat we didn’t realize as we hiked back down is that while we were hiking, a surprise winter weather advisory was issued and warnings were going out all over the place. There we were up in the snow and ice, happy as larks, somehow not really thinking of the fact that the snow actually was accumulating a little and falling a little harder. But it just wasn’t very much. Our mistake. (In our defense, everyone in the area was surprised.) Here’s a view from the parking lot on our return, where Baldy should have been easily visible somewhere behind those trees and falling snow!
IMG_20181013_165303222_HDRAnd our day wasn’t over. When we arrived back at our vehicles and I went to start my (actually, my sister’s) truck, there wasn’t even a click. The engine was dead. Axel had jumper cables so we successfully jumped the truck. Hooray! But our trouble was only just starting. See, the entire time we were hiking, the snow wasn’t just laying down snow. It was laying down a treacherous layer of ice. After managing to get out of the parking lot with a lot of slipping and sliding and several attempts due to rear wheel drive, I fishtailed 100 yards down the desolate highway, looking in the rear view mirror just in time to miss seeing Axel’s car slide right off the highway into a ditch. With the amount of fishtailing I was doing at only 5-10 miles per hour and the road a steady incline for the next mile or two, I knew there was no way the truck was making it out (I really dislike 2-wheel-drive vehicles), and Axel’s car was stuck hard. Fortunately, a nice DOT guy drove past and we managed to hitchhike with him down to the fire station in Keystone. (That makes that the second time I’ve shown up at the Keystone fire station because of a vehicle-related issue. The last time was because I locked my keys and my phone in my truck at the gas station on the other side of town on my way to work. So I ran across town, borrowed a truck and went home for spare keys.) The rest of the saga doesn’t bear repeating, but let’s just say we had a jolly night driving back and forth on worsening roads with Sarah and her friend Luke (who had to rescue us again, the first time because I locked my keys in Axel’s car on the other end of French Creek Natural Area. There’s a scary pattern in all this.) to get Axel’s car towed out, and towed another person on the way home at the foot of Hayward Hill, which is something of a local legend and landmark. We topped off the night with hot chocolate and popcorn back at my Grandma’s house.
IMG_20181013_170631119Yet another in the series of Hiking Misadventures.

Hiking | Mount Baldy

Mount Baldy is behind Mount Rushmore. Old Baldy is near Spearfish. However, some maps have Mount Baldy labeled as Old Baldy. And the register box at the top of Mount Baldy says “Old Baldy.” Someone got their wires crossed, somewhere along the line. Anyway, it was a beautiful day for a hike, and to Mount Baldy we went. We had a group of thirteen, I think, trekking cheerily through the springing afternoon. The trails and sights in the Mount Rushmore area are truly stunning. The granite spires pierce from the ground towards the sky. Large boulders perch precariously on top of larger boulders, which is essentially what Mount Baldy is. A very, very large boulder pile.IMG_5022eIMG_5029eMoss and kinnikinnick provided lush ground cover, and stands of stately aspen caught the sunlight in their white branches. They, too, will be green soon. Cairns were stacked carefully at intervals along the less-visible part of the trail. They were few enough that not seeing them didn’t mean we weren’t on the right trail, but seeing them suggested that we were. IMG_4922eIMG_4967eIMG_5016eIMG_5007eIMG_4972eIMG_4971eI’m not going to attempt to provide any sense of direction for this hike, or what trails to take, other than to say that the trailhead is at the Wrinkled Rock climbing area, the segment of the trail we did was only about 3.5 or 4 miles round trip, and the right direction is up. If you can go higher, you’re not there yet. It is an exhilarating chore to get to the top. A fair amount of elevation gain is packed into a relatively short hike. The last 20 or so minutes to the top is nothing short of a rough scramble, finding foot and hand holds on steep rock faces, squirming up narrow and deep crevasses. I’ve never been much for scrambling. Perhaps I’ve taken too many falls on level ground, and had one too many close calls on the ladder up to our loft bedroom. Clumsiness creates some paranoia. But I have to say, it was great fun. And the views from the top were unbelievably beautiful.
IMG_4956eIMG_4953eIMG_4942eWe didn’t linger at the top, since a freezing gale was blowing up there and we’d left the warmth a few levels down. We admired the views, signed the register, snapped some pictures, and scrambled and slid back down the way we had come. The sun was just getting low when we got back to the trailhead. A great afternoon hike. The perfect hike to kick off the spring hiking season!