I took a rest day yesterday and puttered around Dillon and Frisco and sat around in my motel room hoping for an early start to the thunderstorms so I wouldn't feel bad for taking the day off. That didn't exactly work out, but I think things did get going on the peaks by about 12:30pm.
I had made a half-assed attempt on Bald Mountain ten years ago after bailing on something else that had some access issues and also dense fog at the trailhead. But, I didn't get very far. That attempt was way back in my 3rd year of hiking in 1996 and I really wasn't thinking much about the lower 13ers like Boreas Mountain, which makes for a logical add-on to Bald. Now that I'm more seriously working on the 13ers, I decided to make this combo a priority for this trip. Bald is a very significant mountain that rises more than 2000 feet above the saddle (Georgia Pass) that connects it to higher terrain and is visible from Breckenridge. For you skiers, it is the major ridgeline that you see across the valley to the southeast from the slopes of the resort.
I think some people may climb it via the north ridge from closer to Breckenridge, but I'm pretty sure that the most popular route is the one given in both Garratt and Martin's high 13ers book, and Muller's "Colorado Summit Hikes For Everyone". The latter has been reprinted and prettified by Colorado Mountain Club Press (although they have missed some needed updates on access and such). There are a lot of nice color photos in there now. Anyway...one drives up to the vicinity of Boreas Pass, the old narrow-gauge railroad grade into Breckenridge that first made it into town from the south in the 1880s. The road is good for cars, although there are a fair number of potholes. The fact that it is an old railroad route guarantees an easy grade without sharp switchbacks. It's easy to drive right past where you should park, so one can drive all the way to the pass, then backtrack about 0.6 miles to a parking turnout on the west side of the road at the bottom of a distinct drainage coming from 12159-foot Black Powder Pass which separates the two peaks. This drainage is much easier to see when backtracking from Boreas Pass. It was a treat to be able to start a hike of a 13er at 0615 after starting my drive at 0515!
This is essentially a sans trail climb, but the terrain is mostly easy. I found a couple small climber's trail sections and there seems to be a trail up to Black Powder Pass from near where you park, maybe starting at Boreas Pass. However, for Bald, it is most likely best to start up the left side of the drainage, break through the trees, then take a left curving path up to the south ridge. The exact point where you reach the ridge is a matter of choice, but I ended up traversing quite a bit on talus and didn't reach the ridge until about 12900ft, and a mile into the hike according to GPS. This leaves just over a mile of ridge to the summit. After descending, I actually think this was probably a good "mistake".
The sky was essentially clear during most of the hike (just a few cirrus clouds), but because my route was on the west side of the ridge I didn't get any of that Sun until nearly reaching the ridgecrest. That wouldn't have mattered, but there was a stiff north-northwesterly breeze up to 20 mph on much of the hike. It was worst at the first of many false summits, and I had to put on a hooded fleece over my unhooded fleece, as well as glove liners to stay warm. I was in shorts, and my legs were just barely able to stay comfortable. I measured a temperature of 41F at this summit. I was sort of pissed off at the weather because I knew that despite this chilly north wind there would be the threat of late morning monsoonal thunderstorms.
As one approaches the true summit, crossing over many false summits, the footing tends to get worse, which slowed me down after what I thought was a pretty good climb rate up to that point. It's just the usual small talus, scree, and dirt assortment that one gets on most peaks, but still a bit rugged and steep at times. In fact, the latter makes it difficult to skirt around the false summits, so expect a fair bit of extra work.
When you have the breath to enjoy it, you have the canonical view of pretty much the entire Tenmile-Mosquito Range to west. There was still a little snow in the couliors (I actually walked on snow for a few feet on this climb), and I could identify some of the peaks I've climbed.
Those views mostly waited until I finally reached the main summit at 0804. There was a nice rock wind shelter, which was welcomed. The register was in rather sad shape, but I signed it anyway. Actually, some of the register pages here and on Boreas appear to have intentionally been ripped down the middle. Several people had been up on the weekend and I think there was one on Monday, but no one on Tuesday (today was Wednesday).
I didn't feel too bad, certainly better than on Geissler two days before. So, I was confident about adding Boreas Mountain onto the day even though GPS was able to tell me that it was 2.9 miles by air to that summit. I would have to descend to Black Powder Pass (I kept wanting to call it "Ball Breaker Pass" for no particular reason) and then ascend more than 900ft to Boreas. But, there didn't seem to be any reason that I couldn't do it and do it before the weather turned.
The descent down to the pass along the Continental Divide is what makes me think that my curving ascent to the ridge may be better because staying on or near the ridgecrest I encountered more scree and loose talus that I really would have wanted on an ascent. But, it was a reasonable descent and you more or less have to do this to get over to Boreas.
I could see Boreas all this time and it looked okay. The summit area looks weird on a topo map with an elongated slot separating two elongated bumps with the left (west) one being higher. Before that, you have to climb up to a 12815-foot minor ridge point which is where the ridge coming up from Boreas Pass connects with the long Bald-Boreas ridge. That's why you generally don't climb both peaks from Boreas Pass itself because you would have to skirt across the terrain to do Bald without all that extra gain climbing to the 12815-foot point.
The initial slope up the ridge to Boreas looks steep and loose, but if one wisely avoids the ridgecrest itself (there is a very steep part around 12400ft) by skirting around to the right, it's not bad. After hitting the crest again around 12500ft, it levels off somewhat with more tundra. The final approach to the summit is interesting because that "elongaged slot" I mentioned earlier looks like a giant trench that someone dug out of the mountain. In fact, there are mining pits dug into the rocks in many places, but the gross features seem to be natural. As you approach this area, you can see a climber's trail heading up the left side of the slot and although short, it is the best way to go. The entire summit area is small to medium talus, but the footing is reasonably good and it's not steep.
I had GPS to help vector me to the true summit, and regained the weak crest just below the summit, leaving a short stroll to the summit, which also had a nice rock shelter, again welcomed. At least the wind on this long stretch from Bald was from behind. I actually measured an average wind speed of 19 mph in a one-minute check with gusts to 23 mph, but at least the temperature was all the way up to 43F. I had abandoned the extra layer and the gloves coming down from Bald and it was actually rather warm below 12500ft with a tailwind.
Even though it was just after 10am by now, there were just a couple small puffy clouds and I was confident that the weather would hold for the descent. So, I was able to enjoy the summit a bit and took a lot of pictures.
I left the summit at 1015, and had already decided that instead of vectoring straight to my car, I would traverse across to the slope below Point 12815, and head more or less straight down the Continental Divide to Boreas Pass. That way I could look around a bit if I wanted and then stroll the last 0.6 miles down to my car.
This worked out well, with just a couple parts that were a little steep to descend, but my hiking poles helped. I was able to avoid most of the talus once I got off Boreas, and could see a clear path through some ground willows on a bench at about 12000ft. There were quite a few wildflowers on this descent and I captured some on, um, pixels. I reached a somewhat busy Boreas Pass just before 11am. Many tourists and 4-wheelers were milling about, so I only spent a couple minutes there. There is a railcar with some railroad artifacts you can look at and a couple of cabins that can be rented from the Forest Service for overnight stays. Also, an outhouse which I didn't need at that point. I felt conspicuous and out of place in my hiking garb and poles sticking out of the top of my pack and made no contact with the natives.
The views of Bald are great along the first part of the road down from the pass, and I took advantage of that. Clouds were building up, but mostly over the Tenmile-Mosquito Range with no immediate local threats when I reached my car at 1112. With traffic and some photo stops, the drive back to Dillon took a full hour, but that also included driving through KFC at the start of the Dam Road to get my full day's supply of trans fats.
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File last modified: 02 October 2006