Intro/StatsColony Baldy (13705')
Sangre de Cristo range
12 miles RT, 4700' gain
From Horn Creek TH (9080')
Participants: Pete Krzanowsky, Adam McFarren, and Kevin Baker
I was hoping to get back into pursuing the 13er list this weekend, and the forecast looked "reasonable" in the Sangres to take a shot at bi-centennial Colony Baldy. This peak is a nice one to try in the winter or spring and is also a no-brainer in terms of routefinding once you find the right ridge with its broad n.e. ridge. I left work early Friday and hit a few easy peaks off Hwy 96 to stretch the legs for the long day ahead. Pete and Adam were already at the trailhead as I arrived just after dusk.
Perserverance 101: Is it Spring Yet?
I slept in the 4Runner for the first time and was a bit concerned when the wind stirred up quite a bit during the night. Foreboding of things to come? Nah, the forecast was for 2-4" with moderate winds. We'll be fine! The wind let up during the night and we woke up to fairly mild temps and no wind, temps probably in the low 30's. We set out at 6:05am and headed up the Horn Creek trail a little over half mile to the signed Rainbow Trail. Here we headed south as the trail zigged and zagged, contouring across many drainages. There was enough snow initially to go sans snowshoes, but as we climbed higher, postholing commenced.
We kept telling ourselves that the next south facing drainage would be better, but the postholing was taking too much effort, so we donned snowshoes. I had a waypoint set for just beyond the Macey Creek trail, where we left the trail as the trail hit the nose of the n.e. ridge. As expected, it began snowing, and would not let up until near the end of the day.
Trailbreaking on the ridge was pretty easy initially as the snow was quite consolidated, but it didn't take long until we were plowing through fresh powder.
The ridge is pretty mellow other than a couple short steep sections just below treeline. We took a break at treeline knowing that a battle with the banshees was about to commence. I thought I had said goodbye to these tormentors until fall, but they weren't done with us yet!
Into the maelstrom we went, wondering how much punishment we would need to endure to attain the summit. I was hoping to cache my snowshoes at treeline as we could tell from the night before that the wind was pretty wind scoured, but it had already snowed enough for them to cover most of the talus. We left them on for the added traction. The wind greeted us fiercly and reminded us that we are not far removed from winter, but at least the temps were fairly moderate as I was able to get by sans the dreaded, cumbersome mittens. Visibility varied from about 50-200 feet during the climb, so there would be no stunning views of the Crestones today.
We took turns breaking trail up the ridge, keeping our breaks very short to keep the body heat going. The ridge was fairly easy to follow on the way up, being pretty distinct in the first 1000' above treeline.
Training for Everest?:
There were a few brief areas where we enjoyed a wind shadow, which was a huge relief. We finally crested the summit at 11:50am, where the banshees greeted us with their full fury. Go pick on somebody your own size like your old buddy Ken Nolan! And this is supposed to be Easter weekend?
Happy Easter from the summit of Colony Baldy:
We only hung around long enough to shoot a celebratory summit video, complete with Adam's ptarmigan chants and my summit whoop.
Colony Baldy didn't go down easily on this day. With no rest for the weary, we headed down the ridge, eager to take a real break at treeline. I did my best to navigate through the abyss, with near whiteout conditions for a brief stretch.
The brief whiteout confused me enough that I spun around and started walking the wrong direction, downhill but to the s.w. instead of the n.e.! I soon discovered my error when the visibility improved enough to see that the terrain was too steep. The ridge is so broad near the summit that it would be easy to take the wrong bearing. I started checking the GPS more frequently and got back on track after some annoying sidehilling. We plunge stepped our way quickly down to treeline, wiping out occassionally on the slick, hidden talus. Around a foot of snow had dumped on the ridge above treeline!
A cool, weathered bristlecone at treeline:
We took a much needed break to refuel for the remaining slog down. It only took us about 30 minutes to descend the 1400 feet down to the trail as we boarded the snowshoe bobsled run amidst the fresh powder. The trees were beautiful, heavily laded with the wet snow.
We wore our snowshoes a bit longer down the trail until they were of no use getting clumped up with mud. We were back at the trailhead at 3:20, happy to have gotten up a high 13er in a storm that was a bit more than we bargained for. I'll have to come back and repeat Colony Baldy in summer to enjoy the views it is known for!
Humboldt and Colony Baldy just after the storm cleared:
Notice the confusion we had in the whiteout on the ridge!