Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Bald Knob, 11,637', Via Eagle Pass

Essence: Visit historic mining structures while walking up Lewis Creek Road to Eagle Pass, the distinctive saddle between Lewis Mountain and Baker Peak. Give up 900 feet and then climb Bald Knob, the easternmost mountain in the La Platas. This strenuous climb to a peak relatively short in stature is almost entirely below timberline. However, the open, stand-alone summit affords an exclusive perspective on the range. Look out over Durango and afar into the Weminuche Wilderness.
Travel: From the US 160/550 intersection in Durango, travel 11.0 miles west on US 160 to Hesperus. Turn north on La Plata Canyon Road, CR 124, and measure from there. After passing the hamlet of Mayday the road turns to smooth dirt at 4.6 miles. In 8.5 miles the roadbed deteriorates with sharp, sizable rocks. A 2WD vehicle with sturdy tires and moderate clearance may continue to Lewis Creek Road, CR 124A, at 9.4 miles. Turn right and park just before or after the bridge crossing the La Plata River. Vehicles with 4WD, high clearance, and beefy tires may proceed up Lewis Creek Road. The serious track is steep and rocky for its entire length. Because the road is bound by private land, parking is limited to: the beginning of CR 124A at the La Plata River, the Gold King Mine ruins 1.8 miles up the road where the land owner has granted permission, and the upper parking platform at 3.1 miles on public land.
Distance and Elevation Gain: 11 miles, 4,000 feet of climbing
Time: 6:00 to 8:00
Difficulty: 4WD road, social trail, off-trail; navigation challenging; no exposure.
Maps: La Plata; Monument Hill, CO 7.5' USGS Quads
Latest Date Hiked: July 10, 2019
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 

Viewed from College Rim, Bald Knob is the easternmost peak in the La Plata Mountains.

Route: Hike east up Lewis Creek Road to Eagle Pass and climb Point 11,900'. Descend on the ridgetop east-southeast to Point 11,391'. Drop south to the saddle at 11,020 feet. A hunter's trail scales the peak. Return to the saddle and do a rising traverse on a faint path to a two-track that skirts Point 11,900'. Retrace your steps from Eagle Pass.

From the bridge across the La Plata River, elevation 9,440 feet, hike east up the chipped rock 4WD track.

The road serves private property and cabins; please stay on the road, a public easement. The walk through an aspen forest with good flowers is quite pretty. Cross Ashland Gulch at 1.1 miles. In 2019, after a big winter the road was blocked to vehicles by a major avalanche path at 1.6 miles. We crossed the north fork of Lewis Creek on a snow bridge. Off the right side of the road is an historic boarding house.

It provided housing for miners working at the Gold King Mine, 1.8 miles, 10,460 feet. The mine was situated on the north bank of Lewis Creek. The existing road and an aerial tramline connected the mine with the Gold King Mill on the La Plata River. Large-scale production began in 1927 when La Plata Mines Company bought the property.

East Babcock Peak in the west block of the La Platas is a noble backdrop.

The road splits at 3.0 miles, 11,300 feet. Take the left branch which passes by the upper parking turn-around. The road continues on but drivers are warned of a locked gate in half a mile. The track makes a right hairpin turn and ascends southeast.

The field of vision increases with steady gain in elevation. Across La Plata Canyon, Tomahawk Basin has a significant snow load for July. The peak on the right is Mount Moss. (Thomas Holt Ward, photo)

At 3.5 miles, pass through the locked gate, leave the road, and cut up to Eagle Pass, elevation 11,780 feet.
(THW, photo)

Eagle Pass is on a divide separating the waters of Lewis Creek from Junction Creek to the east. The pass is a launch point for climbing Lewis Mountain; I have not been on this particular route.

Ascend south to Point 11,900', shown. (THW, photo)

The prominent knoll is the high point of the hike, standing taller even than Bald Knob. In this image, hikers are looking past the weather station, radio transmitter, and other communication towers to Centennial Peak, the banded mountain between Mount Moss and Diorite Peak. (THW, photo)

This is a good place to get your bearings. Bald Knob is the highest prominence nearby in the southeast. This hike stays on the ridgecrest over three rises to Point 11,391' and then drops to a saddle north of the peak. There is no trail on this fine little ridge with a mix of trees, shattered rock, and flowers. The first drop is pretty steep, one of several highly angled pitches. Watch for snowball saxifrage, kittentail, and purple fringe.

Point 11,391' is a crucial juncture and yet it is nondistinctive. Watch carefully for the ridge to split at 4.7 miles. This image was taken approaching that location. Branch to the south and again, stay right on the spine, this time in a heavy conifer forest.

Drop to the saddle at 5.0 miles, 11,020 feet. The first time my partner and I climbed Bald Knob we had no information and were surprised to stumble on a rudimentary trail making shallow switchbacks up the north ridge. In 2019, that trail was somewhat obscured by patches of snow but it was still a helpful assist up the steep slope. (THW, photo)

Break out of the trees on the broad summit ridge at 11,620 feet. Walk west to the grassy, softly rounded crest, topping out at 5.5 miles after 3,300 feet of climbing. The peak register was placed in November, 2013. Since then only a couple of hunters have signed, multiple times apiece.

Bald Knob sits out in front of the La Plata range and the vantage point is spectacular. Southwest is Silver Mountain and Baker Peak. (THW, photo)

North is Lewis Mountain, Snowstorm Peak, The Notch, Cumberland Mountain, Peak 12,101', and Olga Little Mountain. (THW, photo)

In the east, the disordered summits of the Weminuche Wilderness create a horizon line that would make an ace name-the-geometric challenge. (THW, photo)

Southeast is Durango, Perins Peak, Barnroof Point, and Lake Nighthorse.

In 2012, orange sneezeweed on the summit was covered in butterflies.

Return to the saddle. In 2010, we located a trail cutting across the saddle heading east into Chicago Gulch. If this footpath is indeed viable it would intersect the Colorado Trail in the Junction Creek drainage. At that time we discovered a faint pathway heading northwest; we took a chance and it worked beautifully as a return route. The trail is subtle. It takes off slightly above the lowest point in the saddle on the north side. It begins by holding the contour and then it ascends easily and gradually. To stay on it, follow your trail intuition. It was maintained some time ago so look for cut logs as clues. The path holds true to its mission.

The thin treadway rises to tag the ridge at the saddle east of Point 11,670'. It flanks the knoll on a contour and then climbs to meet the old road east of Point 11,900'. Stay on the two-track as it swings around the south side of the industrial knoll and returns to the locked gate. 

The snow was just receding near the upper turn-around and glacier lilies were glowing little spots of pure yellow.
(THW, photo)

Personal Note: I fell in love with the La Plata Mountains on my very first hike, a solo climb up Madden Peak and Star Peak in 2001. 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.

This momentous ascent occurred on July 4th, 2012. (Thomas Holt Ward, photo)


  1. Hi Debra! It looks like this route crosses some private property. Is there any easement for hikers or has the owner regularly permitted access? Thanks! CW

    1. The only possible conflict is on Lewis Creek Road, La Plata County Road 124A where there is a public easement. So long as you stay on the road to Eagle Pass, you're good. I appreciate you comment and will make a note on the blog post. Debra