I have wanted to broaden my hiking horizons for a long time, and this spring I finally bought myself an ice axe and was itching for an excuse to try it out. It was too late in the year to enroll in a mountaineering course (and that's expensive anyway), so I was looking for a route that I thought would be safe to do on my own, armed with mere book-knowledge of self-arrest and self-belay technique. The previous weekend I had hiked to White Pine Lake with the Wasatch Mountain Club, and while there I took eager note of the broad columns of snow on the headwall below White Baldy. I resolved to come back the next weekend with my ice axe and tick White Baldy off my list--another thing I've wanted to do ever since seeing it while climbing the Pfeifferhorn back in the '90s.
The headwall and the ridge
The first notable event was running out of water before even reaching the level of White Pine Lake (drinking more than I expected). I had passed the last stream crossing thinking maybe I should fill up, but decided to wait until I reached the lake. Later on, I noticed the lake was mostly ice, and was out of my way anway, so I just kept going up. Fortunately, it had snowed a couple days earlier, so the top layer of snow was fine for eating, though not as satisfying as chugging water.
original ascent plan
My original intent was to ascend the main leftward-sloping snowfield under the cliffs up to the east ridge, but I decided that I'd rather risk slipping on a snowfield that has a long run-out in case I have trouble self-arresting.
So I went up this snow slope instead, which was just out of view to the left of the previous image. Towards the top of the snow, I worked my way onto the rock, and scrambled the rest of the way to the ridge.
The ridge scramble was fun and demanded a bit of caution due to the snow and the gradually-mounting exposure. There is a cliff on the ridge that I bypassed along the headwall to the north. This section was a bit scary (just enough to be exciting!), because the slope was quite steep and I was relying on good boot-holes in the snow and self-belay to keep from sliding down the mixed snow/rock surface. Here is the view looking down from this part:
looking down from my buttress bypass route along the headwall, with the east ridge below
Surprise on the backside
Before long the ridge narrrowed and the north side was becoming a sheer cliff instead of a slope. At one section, to stay on the ridge seemed to require some more exposed and tricky scrambling than I, with my easily-experienced vertigo and being all alone, was comfortable with, so I decided to drop onto the backside (south face) and traverse across under the summit and regain the ridge via a notch just west of the peak.
Not much sooner had I descended a few meters, than out of the corner of my eye I saw movement in the vicinity of the notch I was planning to reascend in. It was a bear! And it was coming nearer!
The bear had come down my notch and was traversing the slope below me towards the east. I had no idea if it knew I was there, but I held still hoping that it would come close enough for a photo but not so close that a confrontation could occur. I quietly got out my camera, and picked up a rock just for safety (and remembering that in the worst case, I could very likely scare it away by swinging my ice axe wildly or something). I got this picture:
the cinnamon bear behind White Baldy
Bears are fairly rare in the Wasatch, so I felt really lucky to see this one. On the downside, within a week of my hike, and within only a few miles of here, a bear ate a young child right out of his sleeping bag and was hunted down and beheaded. I have no idea if it was the same bear I saw, but as an animal lover and as someone not entirely misanthropic either, I have a lot of mixed anger about the whole scenario.
The bear continued on its way not seeming to notice me, and I continued across the slope and climbed the notch back to the ridge.
The summit and descent
On the west ridge I encountered three guys I had seen at the trailhead, who had come up from Red Pine. I offered to pump some water at the lake for them on the way down if they could spare me some now, since I was pretty thirsty by now (despite eating snow). They seemed more than happy to unconditionally hand over the water bottle, but it was not until after I had taken a few gulps before I learned that this water had come unfiltered right out of the lake! I didn't drink any more, and hoped I wouldn't get sick (I didn't).
We talked about our summitting exploits on the top while eating lunch, and then I sort of led the way back down the west ridge. Once I got near the largest snow-covered section of the Red Pine face of the mountain, I dropped off the ridge and headed for the snow, hoping for at least ice axe practice, if not a glissade. The others followed me. I had turned onto the snow a bit too high, though, and it was shallow and icy, and I had no crampons, so I got back on the rock and regained the snow a bit below.
Once there, though, the descent was fast, and I got a bit of self-arrest practice at the upper section before I felt the runout was safe enough to relax and just slide. Towards the bottom the slope becomes gentler and it was plunge-stepping, with occasional sinking to the waist. Here is my descent route:
I came down the main snowfield via the visible tracks here is the full thing
Here is where I stopped for water and to finish my lunch
I also stopped and relaxed a bit at lower Red Pine Lake; it was just too pretty to race down the trail just yet. But the rest of the trip was uneventful.