Time: 4 hours
Distance: 10 km (return)
Elevation Gain: 830 m
How To Get There: Heading west on the TransCanada, turn south on highway 40. Drive for about 13 km until you reach a very small stream bed beside Barrier Lake. The trail head is immediately visible on the east side of the stream bed.
A decent forecast late in October is rare so I decided to take advantage of it and head out for one last big scramble before the snow really started to set in. I had heard of Mt. Baldy when I went to Slow & Steady’s Scrambling 101 Course back in March. So I set out at around 8:00 am and reached the trailhead around 9:30 am. Or at least it was what I assumed was the trailhead. I ended up mistakenly parking at the Mt. Baldy Pass parking lot and hiking for about 0.7 metres before realizing I was heading the wrong way. So I turned back and drove until I reached the correct start of the trail (which starts right at the rock slide sign going north on Highway 40).
The trail reminded me a lot of King Creek Ridge as it immediately started going straight up through the forest. It was a heck of a climb as I hiked up a narrow dirt and root covered path.
Immediately, I could see why it had been named “Baldy”. The higher I climbed, the more I could see exposed rock protruding from the sides of the mountain. It didn’t take long before I reached the first plateau, giving me a chance to both catch my breath and also take my first picture of the valley bottom behind me.
The skies were grey but Barrier Lake still looked amazingly blue. After that, the trail turned into graveled scree as it braided upwards, curling around thinning trees before reaching back into the forest and continuing upwards.
There were no breaks on this trail. After I reached the second scree filled part of the trail, I knew I was getting closer to the intense scrambling portion of the hike as the trees were beginning to give way to boulders and even more amazing views.
Every time I turned around, more and more mountains began to come into view, along with Highway #40. The climb took my breath away. Both visually and literally.
I finally reached the sub-alpine and was faced with a fork in the road.
If I went left, I would immediately be scrambling up a rocky and almost vertical ridge. While I briefly considered the challenge, I also knew that since I was solo it wasn’t the best time to be testing out my balance. So I opted to go right which would lead to me traversing along the ridge for a little longer. This way was in no way easier but it did provide a little less exposure.
As I moved along the south side of the ridge, ducking around various pine trees, I could start to make out my final destination. Mt. Baldy summit stood tall yet almost unimpressive ahead of me. The trail itself became less visible and eventually disintegrated into lose scree.
The only reason I knew which way to follow was because the rocks had been so worn down by the many hikers before me. Eventually my journey began to turn upwards again and I found myself in a “one step forward, two step back” situation. There were several ways to get to the top of the ridge as the faded trail began to braid again. None of them were easy. I had to take my time as one wrong misstep could send me sliding back the way I had come. I used the occasional tree root to propel myself upwards and had to get down on all fours at certain points to provide myself more stability.
It was a bit of a grind but I eventually found myself hiking past the meet-up point for when the two trails collided once more. When I looked to the west, I could see the tumultuous ridge some people have opted to scramble over and I found myself relieved that I had chosen the other way.
As I looked ahead, I was blown away by how stretched out Mt. Baldy truly was. Across the way I could see the south peak and I vowed to myself I would tackle that challenge another day.
For now, I had a current task ahead of me. While Mt. Baldy’s north summit hadn’t looked all that impressive to me before, a closer look had me reconsidering. The last part of the climb was going to be a straight uphill scramble.
The trail loops around the north end of the ridge, making the ascent a little more bearable. There was some rock hopping involved and I definitely had to use both hands to pull myself up 90% of the time. I opted to stow away my hiking poles so I had free use of both of my hands.
Even though the weather was decent that day, the higher I climbed, the colder it got. There wasn’t much wind but the air itself was dry and bone-piercing so I put on all of my layers and continued on. Moving around the north side of the peak meant that I was able to see the seemingly-never ending blue of Barrier lake as well as where the mountains meet with the prairies. It was a unique and “worth the climb” view.
As I approached the summit, I started to come across more and more hard-packed snow. So I took out my trusty micro spikes in order not to slip and continued on.
After a continuous scramble upwards, I finally spotted the cairn that indicated I was almost to the top.
Being careful to go slow over the icy talus, I finally made it to the summit, which was marked by a button (just like on Mt. Allan).
The panoramic view of the mountains, lake, river, road and prairies was something to behold.
I wanted to stay up there forever but the cold weather told me otherwise. So I managed to take a view pictures up top and then started to make my way back down immediately, only stopping for lunch when I reached a portion of the ridge that was a bit more protected. As luck would have it, the place I decided to stop also held a nice surprise for me. One single yellow flower had managed to withstand fall’s might and was still standing tall among it’s rotted counterparts. It was an eerie but almost magical thing to see.
Climbing Mt. Baldy was no easy feat but it left me feeling stronger and more resilient. If you are looking for a challenge that isn’t far off the beaten path, this scramble/hike is definitely for you!