Hike StatsJoe and Frédérique Grim, Steve Martin, and Carolyn Randall
8.8 miles round trip
2327’ gain (10% avg. grade)
6 hours, 30 minutes (8:30am – 3:00pm)
The HikeWe started the hike from Manhattan Road/CR 162 (N40.75143 W105.61690, WGS84) under cold, crystal clear blue skies and moderately strong winds. After bundling up, we headed west on NF 171 toward our destination. Since there isn’t a gate blocking access to NF 171, you can normally get a lot closer to this peak before starting your hike; 3.1 miles closer if you have a very high clearance vehicle, or 1.8 miles closer if you have a regular passenger car. However, when there is sufficient snow on the ground, as there was on this day, all but the most heavy-duty vehicles cannot get up this road. Although most of the early portion of the road had hardly any snow on it, there were occasional large snow drifts that blocked access. We hiked up NF 171, past several side roads until we came to an intersection with NF 171C (N40.73938 W105.63630). Along this stretch of the hike, we caught occasional glimpses of our triangle-shaped destination to the west. Veering right onto NF 171 C, we followed it for a while before reaching another intersection where our choices were NF 171 B and NF 171 D (N40.74105 W105.64710). We veered left onto NF 171 B and followed it a short distance to where NF 871 (aka the Swamp Creek Cutoff Trail) turns off to the right (N40.74105 W105.64869). I should mention that I have only pointed out the intersections where we turned from one road onto another. This area is a maze of roads, some with names and some without.
We turned onto that trail, which is actually still a 4WD road and followed it for a ways. The snow suddenly got deeper as the trail crossed over to the north side of a small ridge. Along this trail we caught our last glimpses of “Southeast Bald” as it disappeared behind the false summit of X10,546’. We could also see that the trees were still very covered with snow on the ridge above that we would climb, indicating that it had been out of the wind since the last snow. After a while, we reached a fence at the end of the 4WD portion of the road (N40.74142 W105.66101). At this fence is a sign that indicates that all 4-wheeled vehicles must stop here. Frédérique and I had followed this trail in the summer, when we climbed South Bald Mountain, but under all the snow, there was no trace of it at all. It was just as well, as this was about the place we needed to cut off the trail anyway.
We headed along the ridgeline to the west that leads up to X10,546’, trying to stay just on the south side of the ridge in order to hopefully enjoy the shallower and more consolidated snow on that side. The forest was relatively open, with very few downfalls, so it made the going relatively easy. The wind was also light to non-existent; that, in addition to the warm sun and increased exertion soon made us shed a layer. As we hiked up, we discovered that along the south side of this ridgeline is a rock band. For a while we stayed below it, but upon finding a break through it, we opted to push above. We figured it was better to climb above it now, than risk getting stuck below it later. We stayed above the rock band until we reached the base of the large rock outcrop atop X10,546 (N40.74458 W105.67314). This summit would require class 3 scrambling, and I think would be a very fun climb without snow. From there, we had to drop down a little to avoid the rocks at the base of the outcrop. We then contoured around until we were almost due east of the summit (N40.74491 W105.67596), where we again headed uphill.
The final push to the summit was still in pleasant forest. However, the first clouds of the day appeared a short distance above. Their fast speed indicated that it was very windy up there, despite the nearly calm conditions we still enjoyed. As we climbed further, the forest started to thin and the views began to open up around us. Below and to the east we could see the rocky summit of X10,546 (it looked even more fun to climb from this vantage point.) Beyond, we could also see the lower mountains and far off even the plains. We could also see some of the lower peaks of the Mummy Range to the south, while the higher peaks were in the clouds. This side of the mountain has many large boulders. I think it is probably an easier climb in the winter than the summer, because we got to walk over many of them, as they were buried deep under the snow that had blown off and over the summit.
Finally, as we neared the top, we also encountered the strong wind we had expected, gusting to 40 mph. We scrambled our way across the boulder-strewn summit ridge over to the highest of the boulders (N40.74414 W105.68275), where we each reached up and put our hand on the top of it. The time was only 12:23. After enjoying the views for a couple minutes and taking a few photos, we turned around to get back down out of the wind. It was only 12 degrees there at the top; that, combined with the strong wind, disappearing sun and light snow, was making us cool off pretty fast. The views were slightly limited due to the light snow, but we could still see pretty well the rest of the Bald Mountain family to the west: South, Middle and North Bald Mountains, each of which are nice peaks.
After heading down a little ways, we got back out of the wind and had a pleasant lunch. We were fortunate that the sun decided to shine on us for this little while, because as soon as we were finished, it soon became mostly cloudy again. We descended down the same way we had come, except this time we decided to drop down a little lower to avoid the short climb up to the base of X10,546. Well, we ended up getting on the downhill side of the rock band, so we followed it down to where we had previously decided to push above it on the way up. From there, we retraced our steps all the way back to the vehicle.
This was a great winter hike. Truly one of the best we have had all winter. The weather was great almost the entire time, the snow conditions were nearly ideal, and best of all, we were out in nature!