Mt Baldwin - Follow the Trail to the Summit

10-11 Jul 2004 - by Peter Maxwell

Kelly Maas led this trip, ably assisted by co-leader Linda Sun. Other participants in the adventure were Landa Robillard, Chris Prendergast, Dot Reilly, Tom Curl, Joerg Lohse and Peter Maxwell (scribe). The peak is rated class 2, but it's unusual since there is a trail (of sorts) leading almost to the summit. However, it is quite easy to get into loose class 3 by taking alternative routes (see later), and the trail loses itself in places and the terrain turns into hard class 2 .

Despite reports of mosquito infestations elsewhere in the Sierra, it was remarkable that there were virtually none anywhere on our trip. Bug juice wasn't needed at any elevation, which was a welcome surprise for this time of year.

Numerous discoveries occured on this trip, perhaps the most important of which is the fact that the Forest Service has completely obliterated the road leading up to many folks' favorite crash site off Obsidian Dome Road on Deadman's Summit. This caught three groups by surprise, leaving us scratching our heads wondering if we'd gone out of our minds. At the turnoff usually taken, there is now only a road bending to the left, and nothing going up the hill. In it's place is an incredibly well placed camouflage of bushes, twigs, and even a large broken tree trunk right in the middle of where the road should have been. Kelly walked up to this and found that he could wobble it! From a distance, it looks like it's always been there.

It's still possible to get to the sites by continuing further on the road to where it forks, the right one signposted to Hartley Springs campground (this is a free Forest Service campground, which would be interesting to check out). Taking the left fork, it goes up the hill and the first track off this heads back into the area where it's flat enough and stone-free enough to sleep. A front came through Friday night and all through the night the trees were roaring with the wind, but it eased off by morning. I had forgotten to get my balaclava out of the car, and not being bothered to get up and get it, put my shorts on over my head for the night, which worked extremely well. The front blew in more than wind, since Joerg got stung on his eye by something, causing it to swell up to the point where he couldn't close it. Luckily the swelling went down sufficiently to allow him to summit and not worry about trying to drive home at night with only one good eye.

The next discovery was Kelly's group's taqueria in Oakdale. Behind the Beacon station (formerly Rotten Robbies?) on the east end of town is a relatively new shopping center with a Richland supermarket. To the right of the supermarket is a taqueria. Kelly doesn't remember the name, but there's only one. It's light, airy and clean, and they thought the burritos were pretty good. The clincher is that these full size burritos are $3.30, or $4.30 with extras. Also note that the Richland market has take-out Chinese food, inexpensive deli sandwiches, an eating area and bathrooms.

For me, the gourmet discovery was the Mobil station at 120/395, where I followed Chris' recommendation of the fish tacos, which were delicious, although more than twice the price of Kelly's burritos. Many people have eaten here, so now I feel part of the in-crowd.

I had just returned Thursday from Malaysia and being jet-lagged, Kelly kindly moved the start time at Convict Lake from 8 am to 8:30 am. We actually started at 8:40. The ranger at the Mammoth Station had warned that we might not be able to cross the creek by the washed-out bridge, and both Tom and I had brought special water shoes to cross, expecting a wet'n'wild adventure, but in reality it was a piece of cake. A couple of logs bridged the widest part and the rest was a simple step onto a large flat rock in the middle poking out of the water. We both stashed our shoes under some rocks, to pick them up on the way out.

Along the trail there were stunning views of neighboring peaks. Notable was Red Slate, with it's snow couloir beckoning. We arrived at Mildred Lake around noon, where we ate lunch. At the point when the trail turns left and uphill, a vote was taken as to whether we'd do the peak that day or Sunday. The ones wanting to do it Sunday seemed more insistent since they voted with both hands, shaking them in the air. Others were more ambivalent, so the decision was made to press on to camp further up. Kelly obviously wanted to do the peak that day, and did his best to influence the vote, but graciously agreed to Sunday and didn't try to exercise leader's privilege.

The first potential camp site was at 10300' at a wide, totally barren area which did happen to have a water source at the west edge of the bench. Although nicely close to Baldwin, the cool wind whipping across this area and the desolate nature caused us to decide to continue on to Bright Dot Lake, even though it's out of the way. Our own Dot felt quite at home with a lake named after her, and there's even Lake Dorothy just on the other side of Mildred Lake, so she was definitely a VIP in that area. Going to Bright Dot was a great decision, because the lake is beautiful and, like many other parts on the trail, had a large number of wildflowers blooming. Arriving around 2:30 pm gave us lots of time to soak it all in and socialize, chatting, nibbling and brewing cups of tea, all in a wonderfully mosquito-free environment. Everybody except me had a canister stove, and after some gear discussion the recommendation for my next purchase was Snow Peak, and stop living in the past with my trusty XG/K. Tom took advantage of some nearby snow by putting it in a bag and icing his painful knee.

The next morning, Kelly's cock-a-doodle-doo was at 5:40 am and we were packed up ready to start hiking at 6:50 - quite an achievement. There was no point in returning to the lake after the climb and we left the packs on the ridge before heading up to the peak.

About halfway up the trail lost itself in sand and rocks and it wasn't obvious which way to go. Linda, Landa and I headed up the rocks just to the right of a snow gulley but this quickly turned into class 3, with loose rock to make it even more "enjoyable". There was enough solid stuff to enable climbing, but one had to be very careful to test any rock wasn't going to pull out before using it. Linda said they were fine to push on, but don't pull on them. I was left wondering how I was going to climb by pushing only.

The rest of the group was watching our progress and decided it was more than they wanted to do so elected to go to the right and pick up the ridge lower down. This, of course, was the correct route, and the trail soon became evident again. The 3 of us continued on, not particularly wanting to downclimb what we'd already done. Linda did a great job in route finding and we had a fun time on relatively straight forward class 3. Amazingly enough, we crested on to the ridge at exactly the same time as the rest of the crew arrived, so we all rejoined forces for the final assault. We made the summit by 9 am and were treated to unlimited visibility and no wind. It doesn't get any better than this!

After spending 45 minutes or so we reluctantly headed down. We were back at Mildred Lake for lunch at noon and at the cars around 2:45. Some of us had deliciously greasy and salty fish and chips at Mono Cone in Lee Vining, while others had "pretty good" pizza in Groveland. Back home by 9:20 meant there was actually time to unpack before hitting the sack. Many thanks to Kelly and Linda for organizing such a successful trip.


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