Watch: Bootprints Hiking Guide to Bald Mountain via Black Powder Pass
BRECKENRIDGE — There’s nothing like some snow in August.
As I headed out on Saturday to hike the ridgeline of Bald Mountain from Boreas Pass, it was a bit cold. It was windy. And it was evident that clouds moving into the mountains early could result in an early turnaround. Nonetheless, after stashing my bike at the top of Boreas Pass at 11,482 feet, on Saturday, Aug. 29, 2020 I hiked up to Bald Mountain via the Black Powder Pass trailhead.
The first 0.7 miles of the trail only saw 150 feet of elevation gain through a canopied high-Alpine grove. Continuing on the singletrack trail, the grove gives way to Alpine vegetation above the timberline. From here the trail continues more steeply to Black Powder Pass, which I reached at just under 12,200 feet and about 40 minutes into our hike.
A singletrack trail continues left, to the north, beginning your trudge on and around the ridgeline of Bald Mountain. Beginning here the ridgeline continues north along the the Continental Divide
The trail through the talus navigates a rocky outcrop, at which I skirted via a trail on the left, before a wooden post juts out of the ridge just before a terminal rock pile at 12,500 feet. At this post I hiked left toward the northwest through high-Alpine vegetation toward the upper ridgeline.
Hike diagonally through here for a few moments and you will soon see three successive cairns that show you the way. The cairns will soon give way to a trail through the talus — black and gray rock and dirt that is pretty clear to see. This will come just over an hour into the hike, after gaining 1,200 feet of elevation gain from the starting point at Boreas Pass.
Following the trail carefully, 2.3 miles from Boreas Pass and 1,600 feet of elevation gain in, you’ll reach the first sub peak as you climb above 13,000 feet. It was here during my hike of “Baldy” where it began to become apparent to me that reaching the true summit at 13,684 feet was likely not going to happen due to the clouds and weather blowing in from the west and northwest.
Then the snow began to fall.
Tiny flakes began to appear in the air 1,900 feet and 2.6 miles into my hike. So I decided to turn around at 13,420 feet. I was only 259 feet below the first false summit at 13,679 feet. For what it’s worth, it’s from there where the Continental Divide continues at right, to the east, descending to French Pass and then up to Mount Guyot.
This first false summit is just five feet lower than Baldy’s true summit, which is at 13,684 feet, though it requires scaling two more peaks to get there. So turning around and looking at Boreas Mountain to the south, it felt like I was amid the Summit County heavens.
Clouds enveloped around the ridgeline quickly from the northwest. The flakes picked up in intensity as, for a few moments, I was lost for a bit as I hiked further along the southwestern slope of Bald Mountain than I would have liked. It ultimately meant carefully cutting back to the east, to regain the trail. It also meant trudging through loose dirt, scree and over sharp talus — a reminder of why I turned around up top. Above timberline it’s so easy to lose your bearings when the white room of cloud cover is all around you and all the rocks look the same.
After regaining the trail on the spur above Black Powder Pass, getting back to my bike and, eventually to my car was simple enough despite the snow, rain and cloud cover.
As for another hike of Baldy on another day, what should you know about choosing to continue over the undulating ridgeline to the true summit? From summiting the summer prior, my advice is that if you continue on remember though you may be tempted to skirt some of Baldy’s scree towers once up on the ridge, it’s probably best not to.
I successfully skirted one of the towers on a return trip from the true summit in September 2019, but the rock on the slope on the Mount Guyot side of the mountain is loose. That drop-off to French Gulch nearly 1,000 feet below is super steep.
So be sure to choose your path wisely as going out and back along Baldy’s up-and-down spine the views are stunning 360-degrees around.
Difficulty: More difficult
Distance: 6.5 miles round-trip from Boreas Pass
Elevation gain: 2,700 feet round-trip from Boreas Pass
Starting elevation: 12,481 feet
Ending elevation: 13,684 feet
Parking: Pull-offs on Boreas Pass Road (low-clearance vehicle) Boreas Pass lot (high-clearance vehicle)
Ideal for: Wildflower views, views of classic mountain peaks, talus scrambling, multiple summits, 360-degree views
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