My wife Julie wanted to hike to a lake and I wanted to summit a mountain. We decided on the Waterdog Lakes and Bald Mountain. Bald Mountain is located along the Continental Divide just north of Monarch Pass and the Monarch Pass Ski Area. I see Bald Mountain on my frequent western slope work trips over Monarch Pass. The route we chose would be to hike from the Waterdog Lakes trailhead along US Hwy 50 just east of Monarch Pass up to the Waterdog Lakes. I then hoped to find a route up to the Continental Divide and then north to Bald Mountain.
We headed over to the area on Friday evening and found a dispersed camping spot about two miles up F.R. 230. F.R. 230 is to the north of US Hwy 50 in the small community of Garfield near Monarch Lodge. It was fairly late by the time we reached the area so we quickly set up camp and hit the sack.
I awoke near sunrise and saw a big mule deer buck staring at our campsite from about seventy five feet. After a brief stare down he ran off into the forest. I woke my wife and after a quick breakfast we broke camp and headed out on the short drive to the trailhead.
Approach to Waterdog Lakes:
We headed out from the trailhead early Saturday morning. The trail up to the lower lake was only about two miles with moderate grades. Other than crossing under/along an overhead power line the trail was mostly through beautiful forest. We had one major creek crossing across some logs before the forest began to open up as we approached the lower Waterdog Lake.
As we approached the lower of the Lakes we could see the large snow cornice on the face of Bald Mountain above. We enjoyed the shores of the lower lake before taking a fairly good trail southerly to one of the upper Waterdog Lakes. Looking northwest across the upper lake we could see a grassy/rocky ramp up to the basin above the lakes. We decided to walk around the south end of the lake on a faint trail. We passed above a huge boulder than had fallen off of the cliffs. We looked back toward the lake on last time before proceeding up the ramp which ended up being more bushy than grassy.
The Route to the Summit:
At the top of the steep ramp we entered a much larger, less steep ramp sloping gradually towards the face of Bald Mountain. We proceeded up this ramp towards Bald Mountain for a good while with the steep slopes up to the Continental Divide on our left. When we decided that we had found the most gradual grade up to the Continental Divide we started up. About halfway up the views of Banana Mountain to the east were really nice. Near the top we went south around a large remnant snow cornice. From this area the views of our route back down to the Waterdog Lakes was very obvious.
Once on the divide the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) was quite obvious heading north towards Bald Mountain and south towards Monarch Pass. Julie decided to do some exploring along the divide while I completed the last few hundred of vertical feet to the summit. The views from the summit area were very nice in all directions – I was obviously the only one on the summit.
I decided to descend down the talus fields on the west slopes to find the CDT. The views from the west slopes were great to the north and the south. I headed down and met Julie near the CDT where we had ascended. While we were resting there along came some guys who were carrying their mountain bikes – they had come from Monarch Pass. After speaking with them for a few minutes we headed back down past Waterdog Lakes and arrived at the trailhead by late-afternoon.
On the way out we stopped at the Winery along US Hwy 50 between the trailhead and the town of Salida. Nice little place with free tastings!
I wish I had seen this report sooner. In 2006, my wife and I hiked up to the lower lake after being evacuated from Monarch Lodge due to a fire alarm. At the time, we weren't really aware of the upper lake, which would have been nice to hike to, or even on to Bald. We saw mule deer up on the divide.