Parting the curtains in the living room of my cabin, Carol looked out into the early morning darkness and remarked. “The good news is: No snow on the deck. The bad news is: No stars are visible.”
Yesterday was cold and snowy in the high country with heavy rains in the lower elevations. Uncertain of what today would have in store, Carol, Elissa, Laraine & I set out towards the mountains with several plans (joking that our options ran clear down to “Plan E”) depending on how the skies looked as the sun came up.
Misty Boreas Pass departure
Low clouds hugged close to the ground and we decided to take a chance and go high, above 13,000 feet. Bald Mountain, it is! Climbing Boreas Pass road into the clouds, the first of autumn’s golden aspen appeared out of the fog. We were, not surprisingly, the first vehicle parked near the Section House. Shouldering our packs in Boreas Pass, we all had our doubts. “…and to think you were worried yesterday about visibility on Peak 10…” someone snickered, recalling the horizontal snowfall, strong winds and low visibility encountered on the previous day's outting. One day prior, our hike to the Thirteener Peak 10 had been one of those mountain days the calendar calls "Summer", but your senses recognize clearly as "Winter." We laughed and agreed we would prudently mind the weather…And then troopered on.
Bald Mountain through the clouds
Shortly after leaving the truck, the southeast ridge humps of Bald Mountain began to hover in the northern distance like specters. It felt somewhat like an invitation. And so we accepted, and continued our climb through the early-season snow.
Southeast Ridge makes an appearance
The Tenmile Range
Red Peak & Red Mountain
Ascending toward Black Powder pass, larger, brighter patches of blue were opening in the clouds above. We turned west and the views of the Tenmile Range almost knocked us over: Bright yellow aspen, gold-and-rust tinged tundra, bright white, fresh snow and bluebird skies. The higher clouds were burning off, while the low points were filled with shifting, eerie cloud cover creeping westward up valleys. The scenes unfolding, constantly changing before us, left us at times speechless. This was going to be a very special day in the Colorado highcountry.
Weather conditions improved as we left Black Powder pass and began ascending the Southeast Ridge of Bald Mountain, kicking our first steps of the season through fluffy new snow. Hearing the rythmic crunch and squeak of fresh powder under our boots for the first time in months was exciting, familiar and comforting. It seemed we spent nearly as much time gawking at the scenery and taking photos as we did climbing. We found a wind shadow and enjoyed a snack and a break. Life was very good.
Southeast over the cloud blanket
After ascending numerous smaller false summits (for which the Southeast Ridge route on Bald Mountain is infamous), we reached the top of the lower, southern summit (13,679 ft.). With the true summit more than ½ mile of up-and-down scrambling and tundra hopping to the north, two of the ladies had enough. Elissa and I forged on together to the true summit.
Grays Peak, Torreys Peak & Mount Guyot (foreground)
Being constantly mindful of every slippery step on the snow-covered, somewhat loose rock was taking a mental and physical toll. We pushed on, mostly in silence, with the summit marker in our sights. Finally reaching the summit, we hugged and celebrated, took the obligatory “Captain Morgan” summit-cairn shots, grabbed some quick sustenance, then began the short but demanding journey back across the Southeast Ridge toward Black Powder Pass to meet back up with our team.
Obligatory Captain Morgan summit pose
Descending the gully from Black Powder Pass toward the Boreas Pass parking area, most of the snow we trod through earlier had melted. The trail that parallels Boreas Ditch Number 2 was now full of frolicking tourists and excited dogs. The Boreas Pass parking area was now nearly full and leaf-peepers roared by on the gravel road in spotless SUVs. Returning to the brash civilization of the pass was a bit like waking up from a fantastic dream: Fantasy now over. This first snowfall of autumn against the golds and reds of fall with a crisp blue sky seemed almost too good to be true. This was one of those days that only happens once or twice a year and we were incredibly glad to have spent the day in such alpine splendor.