Having made two previous ascents of White Baldy, from Red Pine (west ridge) in 2001 and White Pine (east ridge) in 2003, I decided it would be fun to combine the two routes and do a complete traverse of the two ridges. This would make a nice loop hike with an ascent up Red Pine Canyon and a descent down White Pine Canyon, all from the same trailhead parking area. It was quite cold as I started up the trail at ~6:45am, but I quickly warmed up by maintaining a brisk pace. About a mile into the hike I began to encounter new snow which had fallen two days prior, but with the cold temperatures the snow was very firm and I was able to easily walk on the surface. I made good time to Lower Red Pine Lake, which was still frozen beneath a layer of ice, then slowed a bit as I began climbing the steeper terrain leading to the Upper Red Pine Lake basin. The rim near the upper lake was covered with a deep layer of soft wind blown snow, which quickly put the brakes on my quick pace. Here I turned and headed west up the slope leading to the upper west rim of Red Pine Canyon. The drifted snow soon gave way to concrete-hard frozen snow, and as the angle increased it became a tedious chore to kick tiny toe holds into the surface, and even planting my ice axe required repeated vigorous thrusts to obtain a semi-solid placement. I finally reached the top of the rim where the summit cone of the Pfiefferhorn makes its appearance to the west. To this point my route had followed the standard approach used to ascend the Pfiefferhorn, but now I made a left turn and began following the long ridge curving eastward towards White Baldy. From my 2001 ascent I remembered this was not the easiest of ridges to cross, and being partially snow-covered made its appearance even more intimidating. I actually stopped briefly and entertained the idea of sacking the White Baldy attempt and instead climbing the Pfiefferhorn as a consolation summit, but then mentally reprimanded myself for allowing these slacker thoughts. The ridge crossing was a long and tedious affair, complicated by soft snow on the south side and strong winds from the north. Nearing White Baldy the ridge increased in steepness, and I kept hopping back and forth on either side of the ridge as I attempted to locate the path of least resistance up the cliffs and boulders. After a seeming eternity I finally arrived at the false west summit of White Baldy, a sharp boulder perched atop another flat rock. The true summit was now just a few hundred feet to the east, and was reached by an easy scramble across the nearly level snow covered ridge. I started eating a sandwich on the summit but with the strong winds I quickly became very chilled, so I packed up and began my descent down the east ridge. About 100 yards down the ridge I came to a nice spot which was semi-sheltered from the wind, and stopped to finish my lunch and apply much needed sunscreen. Continuing down the east ridge I made slow but steady progress, taking time to enjoy the view down the very exposed north face and White Pine lake far below. I remained on the ridge for a few more hundred feet of scrambling until I came to a steep drop-off which I had no desire to down climb, so I retraced my steps back up the ridge until I located a suitable spot to drop onto the north face. The slope was very steep and icy snow, requiring careful step kicking and firm planting of my ice axe to obtain even a slight feeling of security. As I traversed down the north face I passed two skiers who were ascending the ridge, on their way to ski the insanely steep slopes which began just below the summit. The ridge eventually leveled out at the saddle between White Baldy and Red Baldy further to the east. Red Baldy appeared relatively close, and since it was still early in the day I decided I might as well summit Red Baldy as well. It was an easy scramble up the west ridge of Red Baldy, although my legs were now beginning to feel a little rubbery from the terrain I'd already covered. I made a brief stop on the summit for a few snacks, then decided to descend down the east ridge rather than retrace my ascent from the west. This was new territory for me but it looked doable so down I went. This ridge turned out to have several challenging spots, and I was surprised at the severity of the exposure on the north side of the ridge. Nearing the saddle between Red Baldy and Red Top Mountain further to the east, I came to a reasonable looking escape chute off the ridge. This chute put me on the steep snow slopes on the north face of Red Baldy. I managed to get a few short glissades in, but by now strong sun was quickly transforming the snow to mush, and I ended up plunge stepping down the remainder of the steep stuff. I maneuvered across a few snow fields then through several stands of pine trees, until I finally intersected the White Pine trail some distance below White Pine Lake. Once on the trail I made quick time down these last several miles to the trailhead, passing large numbers of Memorial Day hikers along the way.
"After the first glass, you see things as you wish they were. After the second, you see things as they are not. Finally, you see things as they really are, which is the most horrible thing in the world."
--Oscar Wilde on Absinthe