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Three Baldy Mountains in the West Elk Wilderness

Friday & Saturday, September 9-10, 2022

This weekend I needed to be home on Sunday to get prepared for an upcoming river trip, but I still wanted to make sure I got out into the mountains for a hike on Saturday morning. I was originally thinking about heading up into the San Juan Mountains somewhere, but the weather forecast for that part of the state wasn’t looking too good, so I had to look elsewhere for a more favorable forecast. After getting a little taste of the West Elk Wilderness on our failed backpacking trip last month, I decided to head back up into the West Elk Mountains this weekend to hike a couple ‘Baldy Mountains’ from the southern end the range. Since Diane and I had hiked though part of the very scenic Mill Creek valley last time, this time I wanted to stay high on the ridges above treeline for more expansive views of the area.

I left after work on Friday, grabbed a quick dinner in town and then drove to Rainbow Lake via Hotchkiss and Crawford on Highway 92 since US 50 is still under construction during the week until 7:00pm and I would have made it there before then. I stopped at the shore of Rainbow Lake and then checked out the nearby trailhead before driving back down the road a little way to find a campsite and watch the sunset.

Rainbow Lake

Rainbow Lake Reflection

Rainbow Lake

A view over East Elk Creek as I headed back down the road.

East Elk Creek

Home for the night.

Camp View

Looking the other direction from camp I could see South Baldy Mountain (12,380) and Middle Baldy Mountain (12,620), both of which I planned to hike in the morning.

South & Middle Baldy Mountains

Although I didn’t have the best view from camp, there was a very colorful sunset this evening. Probably from all the smoke in the air from the wildfires burning in northern California and the Northwest right now.

Colorful Sky

Color at Sunset

Once the color had faded I crawled into my sleeping bag and got right to bed. I woke up before sunrise on Saturday morning and drove up the road to the trailhead and started hiking at dawn.

Entering the West Elk Wilderness on the Rainbow Lake Trail.

West Elk Wilderness Sign

Once I was out of the trees I had a view of South Baldy Mountain as I hiked up its south ridge. It was also very windy and cold once I was out of the trees and on top of the ridge. These were the coldest temperatures I have hiked in for a while and I had to wear my windbreaker the entire time! The season is finally starting to change…

South Baldy Mountain

When I was high enough on the ridge I could see over into West Elk Creek.

West Elk Creek View

Soon I found myself standing on the summit of South Baldy Mountain.

South Baldy Mountain Summit

The Rainbow Benchmark is found on top.

Rainbow, 1939

A moody view over to West Elk Basin from the summit.

West Elk Basin Shadows

The West Elk Mountains were looking great today with fast moving clouds in the sky above!

West Elk Mountains

Next, it was time to drop down to the saddle and then hike up to the summit of Middle Baldy Mountain.

Middle Baldy Mountain

Following the ridge to the top of Middle Baldy Mountain.

Middle Baldy Mountain Ridge

The Middle Baldy Mountain Summit

Middle Baldy Mountain Summit

Next up was the most scenic and fun part of the hike as it followed a narrower ridge to the summit of Middle Baldy.

Down The Ridge

Middle Baldy Ridge

Just below the west side of the ridge were some large towers and spires.

Along The Ridge


To the east was a smoky view into Beaver Creek. Just on the other side of that narrow ridge in the middle of the photo is Mill Creek.

Smoky Beaver Creek

Middle Baldy Ridge View

Middle Baldy Ridge View

Once past the narrow ridge it was an easy tundra walk to the top of Middle Baldy (12,709).

Middle Baldy

On the Middle Baldy Summit

Middle Baldy Summit

Looking down the ridge to North Baldy Mountain.

West Elks Ridge

Although North Baldy Mountain (12,850) was just a little bit further along the ridge, my legs just didn’t have it in them for me to try for that one today. Three out of four isn’t too bad, though!

North Baldy Mountain

There was a great view of West Elk Basin from the summit of Middle Baldy.

West Elk Basin

Hopefully I’ll be able to come back for West Elk Peak (13,035) another time…

West Elk Peak

Mount Gunnison through the Smoke

Mount Gunnison through the Smoke

One last view over West Elk Creek before I headed down the ridge and caught the trail below.

West Elk Creek

I followed the Beaver Creek Trail back to the Rainbow Lake Trail and returned to the trailhead. Then it was an easy drive back home after a great morning in the mountains!

>> Three Baldy Mountains Photo Gallery


  1. Robert L Walters
    Robert L Walters September 12, 2022

    I enjoy your posts, as always. In case you haven’t already been notified, you have a typo in the headline. Badly instead of Baldy.

    • Randy Langstraat
      Randy Langstraat September 12, 2022

      Thanks for letting me know. Spellcheck kept wanting to change that word and I guess I didn’t keep an eye on the title! Fixed now!

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