Though within a Nolan Ryan's stones-throw of our mine shack, it had been some 15 years or more since we'd hiked Old Baldy. The lasting impression I had was that it had been a rutted, steep, and extremely HOT hike through uniform-green oak-brush that provided scant shade for refuge from a July sun. At higher elevations sun and temps can beat a hiker/climber into a state of desiccated submission. By noon-thirty all I could think about is puckering my lips to the brim of a sweaty 20 ounce mug of well hopped IPA. But this is mid-September, cool and clear as the spring water that spills from our mountains. Hillsides around Lovely Ouray are alive with on-fire red and orange oak brush leaves, and pockets of yellow-flamed aspen lick at cobalt skies.
"So we're doing this?"
Bobbie studied the map, "Yeah, we can make a loop out of it... up Old Baldy and back on either Storm Gulch or Shortcut, depending on whether you want an 8 or 10 miler."
Alrighty then, let's do it!
What a picture perfect day; temps in the mid 60's, a gentle breeze out of the south, and a few clouds listing over mountain horizons. The hike set off through pockets of aspens, leaves of gold quaking in the breeze. Old Baldy's beard was smoldering, a dazzling, three-alarm oak-brush fire on the mountain.
You know, the mind is like a camera's memory card, and mine was filling mine up so fast I feared I'd needed a few more gigs before the day was done. I was blinded by sensory overload, like looking at the backside of God.
Moses: Dude, show me your face.
God: You can not see My face for no man has seen the face of God and lived.
Moses: Okay, that's cool... just curious.
|The broad peak on the far right is Coxcomb. Directly to its left is the 13,640 foot Redcliff... the summit Bobbie and I made a few posts back. Sure looks different from this angle.|
|Courthouse and Chimney Rock... been on top of Courthouse several times.|
|The peak left of middle is Mount Sneffels, a 14'er I summited earlier this summer.|
As you know, Bobbie and I seem have a way of turning routine hikes into misadventures. What on the topo-map appears to be a no-brainer loop hike, ended up with us being confused and lost and fighting through a crosshatch of deadfall on a come-and-go game game trail through some of the darkest timber I've ever seen.
Beyond Baldy Mountain our trail headed east. It was obvious and easy to follow except for a couple lesser trails that veered off here and there, which we paid no attention to because they were lesser trails.
We came to a sign that marked the Uncompaghre Wilderness Boundary, found it on the map and decided that, by the looks of contour lines and scale, we needed to stay on Baldy Ridge for another mile. Soon, the trail led us right through a hunting camp. I say "camp," but really it was more like a small town, with a three-ring circus tent serving as a dorm and mess hall for greenhorns in need of an 8 point trophy elk to hang in their otherwise unimpressive man-caves, along with 75 inch widescreen tv's. I fail to get all goose-bumpy in such man-caves with walls of stuffed heads of once majestic, wild, and free animals staring down with glassy-eyed looks of contempt. Yes, and now I'm about to blame for-profit hunter/guiders for getting us lost.
Hunting season being a few days off, no one was around. But they come, year in and year out, staking out a city block's worth of territory with a basecamp from which a dozen trails took off in all directions. There were no signs so we just walked through the beatdown grounds of camp and continued out the other side, assuming we were still on Baldy Ridge. After a quarter mile or so the trail began to peter out... it became hard to follow for all the deadfall, disappearing for long stretches at a time. We fought our way through, thinking that maybe it was an unmaintained section. I kept waiting for a sign and a trail that the map showed cutting off to the right and down into the basin below.
Finally it became obvious that we were not where we thought we were when the ridge we thought was "Baldy" disappeared into the abyss of Cow Creek Canyon.
You know you've missed a turn when you need ropes to keep going. Thankfully, the ropes were back home or I'd still be out there somewhere trying to make sense out of a stupid topi-map when I should have just invested in a GPS.
Time to backtrack the wasted mile and start over at the hunting camp, checking out each trail one by one and cursing the circus of men and horses that obliterated it. Even Bobbie was pissed, "I'm calling the DOW. They're not supposed to set up hunting camps anywhere near designated trails."
Finally, way down off the south side of Baldy's ridge, we picked up what we thought was our trail. It meandered through an immense grove of aspen, caught smack in the middle of Ms Autumn's metamorphosis.
Yes, "the hills are alive," and so are we :)
Till next time, Peace Out.
Mark and Bobbie, filling in the "dots" around Lovely Ouray,