Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Bald Knob, 11,637', Via Eagle Pass

Essence: Visit historic mining structures while walking to Eagle Pass, the dramatic low point between Lewis Mountain and Silver Mountain. Climb the easternmost peak in the La Platas almost entirely below timberline.
Travel: From the US 160/550 intersection in Durango, travel 11.0 miles west on US 160 to Hesperus. Turn right/north on La Plata Canyon Road, CR 124. Zero-out your trip meter. There is a brown, US Forest Service sign with mileages right after the turn. After passing the hamlet of Mayday, the road turns to smooth dirt at 4.6 miles. There are several established campgrounds in this area. In 8.5 miles the roadbed deteriorates with sharp, sizable rocks. A 2WD vehicle with good tires and moderate clearance may proceed. The Lewis Creek Road, CR 124 A, is at 9.4 miles. If you park here at 9,540', it is a 2,210' climb to Eagle Pass. A 4WD, high clearance vehicle can make it to a gate prohibiting further progress at 11,350', just 400 feet shy of the pass. We drove up the Eagle Pass Road 0.7 mile and parked at a small mine opening at 10,000'. The road improves after that. The distance and elevation gain is calculated from there.
Distance and Elevation Gain: 10 miles, 3,300 feet of climbing
Time: 5:30 to 6:30
Difficulty:  4WD road, social trail, off-trail; considerable navigation required; no exposure.
Maps: La Plata, Monument Hill 7.5 Quads
Date Hiked: July 4, 2012
Quote: Just as a white summer cloud, in harmony with heaven and earth freely floats in the blue sky from horizon to horizon following the breath of the atmosphere--in the same way the pilgrim abandons himself to the breath of the greater life that. . .leads him beyond the farthest horizons to an aim which is already present within him, though yet hidden from his sight. Lama Govinda 
Route: Hike up CR 124A to Eagle Pass. Walk the ridgetop ESE to Pt 11,391'. Drop south to the saddle at 11,000'. From there, a social trail scales the peak.

I fell in love with the La Plata Mountains on my very first hike, a solo climb up Madden Peak and Star Peak in 200l. I was attracted by the geology, flowers, proximity to Durango, and the small scope of the range. Each subsequent visit was recorded in my field notes and on my archive map. Over time the ink took over the map and it now has its own story to tell. I'm not a list completer and I never intended to summit all the La Plata peaks. I climbed them out of affection, often more than once, and as it happens, Bald Knob was my final mountain of the 25.

Bald Knob is the easternmost peak in the range easily spotted from all over Durango. It resides to the southeast of Lewis Mountain.

From 10,000 feet, hike up the rocky road for almost three miles to the pass. It stays on the north side of Lewis Creek in heavy woods with fine views of Baker Peak and Puzzle Pass. Historic mine structures are picturesque.

East Babcock on the western side of the La Platas is seen to the right of this three story structure.

Upon reaching Eagle Pass, 11,750', walk past the locked gate and climb 100 feet south to the top of a rocky knob with towers. From here, the western La Platas are lined up, Barnes Mountain is low in the east, Silver Mountain rises in the south, and Lewis Mountain beckons. Eagle Pass is one of the primary access points for climbing to the summit of Lewis.

This is a good place to get your bearings. Bald Knob is the obvious high point ESE. Walk out the ridge for 1.5 miles to Pt 11,391', dropping 459' net and climbing a total of 280 feet up three rises. There is no trail on this fine little ridge with a mix of trees, rock, grass, and flowers.

At Pt 11,391' the ridge splits into two arms. Descend the SSE ridge to a saddle at 11,000'. Locate an unexpected, lovely social trail that has shallow switchbacks all the way to Bald Knob. It stays in the woods on or just off the peak's north ridge. Breaking out of the trees on the broad crest, walk west to the true summit for a unique view of the La Platas and Durango.

Orange sneezeweed on the summit was covered in butterflies.

Descend on the same trail back to the saddle. Interestingly, there is a trail leading from here east into Chicago Gulch. The Colorado Trail crosses this drainage where it joins Junction Creek a mere 1.5 miles away. Now scrounge around and find a beautiful social trail that contours west along the south side of our access ridge. Staying 40 to 150 feet off the ridge, plowing through heavy woods, it climbs easily and gradually. It rises briefly to the ridge at the low point between Pt 11,670' and 11,600'.  It may be followed all the way back to Eagle Pass. Before the pass, the trail becomes more obscure as the terrain opens. Therefore, it could be quite difficult to locate on the outgoing trip to the mountain. The trail joins a road that glides around the south side of the knob leading directly back to the pass.

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