Thursday, June 11, 2015

Baldy Peak, 10,866': The Long and Legal Approach

Essence: A gorgeous, proud mountain with unusual flowers defining the southern terminus of the La Platas. The lowest peak in the range, ironically, requires the highest effort to summit.
Travel: Zero-out your trip meter at the US 160/550 intersection in Durango. Drive west on US 160. Turn right on Lightner Creek Road, CR 207, at 3.3 miles. Take a soft right on CR 208, Dry Fork Road, at 4.4 miles. Enter the Perins Peak State Wildlife Area. The dirt road is prone to potholes but 2WD vehicles should make the trailhead. At 6.3 miles take the left fork. Swing left into the generous parking lot at 6.5 miles. It is a mere 15 minutes from Durango.
Distance and Elevation Gain: 16.0 miles; 5,150 feet of climbing
Time: 9:30 to 11:00
Difficulty: Trail, off-trail, abandoned mining road; significant navigational challenge; no exposure; brushy.
Maps: Durango West, Hesperus, Colo. 7.5 Quads
Latest Date Hiked: June 11, 2015
Quote: You cannot stay on the summit forever; you have to come down again. So why bother in the first place? Just this: What is above knows what is below, but what is below does not know what is above. In climbing, take careful note of the difficulties along your way; for as you go up, you can observe them. Coming down, you will no longer see them, but you will know they are there if you have observed them well. There is an art of finding one's direction in the lower regions by the memory of what one saw higher up. Rene Daumal

As seen from Smelter Mountain in Durango on February, 2014, Baldy Peak is positioned well south of Silver Mountain and rises to the northwest of Twin Buttes. It is girded with aspen groves and opens to a wide summit expanse. The long approach over, climb the eastern flank of the mountain.

Map: This map shows the route from Dry Fork to Baldy Peak. It is hand drawn since I was not carrying a GPS. While not exact, it is very close. The route circumvents several parcels of private land.

Route: Baldy Peak is the lowest mountain in the La Platas but it is the hardest to achieve. It is only two miles due east of Mayday but you cannot get there from the hamlet because of private property issues. We considered going by way of Deadwood Mountain and Paine Ridge but that is a daunting task. This hike begins quite near Durango but it takes a navigational wizard to find the way.

From trailhead 7,380', walk directly west along a tributary of Dry Fork on a well-defined trail. The land is within the Perins Peak State Wildlife Area. The peregrine falcon habitat is closed yearly from November 19 to March 31.

The path climbs softly through old-growth ponderosa, aspen, and beside a prize-winning scrub oak.

Pass through a grove of blossoming hawthorn trees, shown. In 1.0 mile, reach a rise at 7,800 feet directly north of Barnroof Point.

The trail turns north onto a low ridge. Mules ears and lupine are profuse in late spring. Silver Mountain rises stately on the skyline. Pause and get your navigational bearings. In the image below, Deep Creek is the first depression. The moraine, shown, separates Deep Creek from Lightner Creek. Next is the southeast flank of Baldy. The peak is center-left.

The path crosses a gorgeous meadow. A gate at 1.5 miles marks the National Forest Boundary.

Continue on the trail to Deep Creek at 2.0 miles. There is an old irrigation ditch that serves as a stellar path around the south end of the moraine. However, it is on private land. Therefore, upon reaching Deep Creek move up the drainage to the north half a mile and then climb northwest onto the moraine, topping out at 8,040 feet.You must reach this elevation on the ridge to avoid private land.

The western side of the moraine is steep and cliffy in places. Work your way down 400 feet to Lightner Creek, thrashing through dense oak and snowberry.

We crossed Lightner at 7,640'. It is worth noting that in 2015, we got chased off the mountain by a severe thunder storm just shy of the summit. Lightner Creek was flashing when we crossed it once again. Sketch!

There is an old road that parallels the creek on the west side. Cross this road and climb west through the forest. In time you will hit an abandoned road that winds for miles up to the Texas Chief Mine. We reached it at 8,400'. Relief! (If you get on the road any lower, you will be on private land.) Turn right. The road switches up the east flank of Baldy, crossing dry Big Stick Ditch.

At 8,980 feet the track makes a final left and goes west toward the peak. It skirts to the south of Pt 9,668' posing as a false summit. Stay on the road another half mile, leaving it at 9,600 feet to walk through a lovely mixed forest, including limber pines, on the east ridge. Half a mile before the top, trees mysteriously disappear and the rounded, grassy crest is visible.

To review, navigation may seem complicated but really you are just walking west or northwest from the Dry Fork to Deep Creek to Lightner Creek to the eastern flank of the mountain, making the most of an old road which will greatly assist your climb.

On the summit it feels like you are tucked under the purview of Silver Mountain. Ohwiler Ridge furthers the sense of encasement. It seems fabulously remote considering we are in Durango's backyard.

This is one of the best nature hikes in the La Platas. It took three of us holding hands to get around an old growth ponderosa. One aspen had the four card suits carved into its trunk long ago. Ladybugs covered the summit. Fresh bear and elk scat littered the way. We saw two kinds of swallowtail butterflies, a Milbert's tortoiseshell butterfly, red-tailed hawk, and two golden eagles soaring. A horney toad pressed his belly against a warm rock.

Since this is a low elevation hike, unusual flowers complimented the regulars, including the rare Pagosa bladderpod, Rocky Mountain milkvetch, pigmy bitterroot, sugar bowl, spotted coralroot, golden banner, bastard toadflax, evening primrose, strawberry, chokecherry, serviceberry, dogwood, clematis, blue-eyed Mary, townsendia, heartleaf arnica, pussytoes, wild iris, sweet cicely, wall flower, rockcress, flax, woods' rose, Indian paintbrush, lupine, larkspur, bluebells, cinquefoil, New Mexican senecio, and scarlet beeblossom, below.
Yes, this was a long hike to a low peak but that was a good deal of its charm. Baldy Peak is quintessentially western and very much kin with the town of Durango, a stones throw to the southeast.

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