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.
A view over East Elk Creek as I headed back down the road.
Home for the night.
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.
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.
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.
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…
When I was high enough on the ridge I could see over into West Elk Creek.
Soon I found myself standing on the summit of South Baldy Mountain.
The Rainbow Benchmark is found on top.
A moody view over to West Elk Basin from the summit.
The West Elk Mountains were looking great today with fast moving clouds in the sky above!
Next, it was time to drop down to the saddle and then hike up to the summit of Middle Baldy Mountain.
Following the ridge to the top of Middle Baldy Mountain.
The 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.
Just below the west side of the ridge were some large towers and spires.
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.
Middle Baldy Ridge View
Once past the narrow ridge it was an easy tundra walk to the top of Middle Baldy (12,709).
On the Middle Baldy Summit
Looking down the ridge to North Baldy Mountain.
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!
There was a great view of West Elk Basin from the summit of Middle Baldy.
Hopefully I’ll be able to come back for West Elk Peak (13,035) another time…
Mount Gunnison through the Smoke
One last view over West Elk Creek before I headed down the ridge and caught the trail below.
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!