Peak(s):  Baldy Alto  -  13,698 feet
Date Posted:  02/10/2013
Modified:  02/12/2013
Date Climbed:   01/23/2013
Author:  Dancesatmoonrise
 Baldy Alto in Winter - Dome Lakes Approach   

Other Side of the Calendar:
Baldy Alto by Bike, Summer Approach

Peak: Baldy Alto
Route: Nutras/Stewart Ridge
Approach: Dome Lakes (FR 794)
Date: January 23, 2013
Length: 28 miles
Vertical: 4300 feet
Ascent time: 8.5 hours
Total time: 15 hours
Ascent Party: Dancesatmoonrise

Morning glow graces Baldy Alto and Stewart Peak.


Ever since driving the 794 Forest Road from Dome Lakes to the Stewart Creek TH in June 2010, the thought of cross-country skiing the 53 miles in to
San Luis Peak becons. With mostly rolling hills, it seems doable, though would make for a long day. The idea is naturally relegated to the back burner...

January 18, 2013. I'm driving over to the Mill Gulch TH, to join Teddy and the guys for Redcloud and Sunshine. Somewhere after Monarch Pass, the
light bulb suddenly goes on: heck, it's Friday, and all I'm doing is car camping at Mill Gulch tonight. Plenty of time for a quick 50 mile detour.

The road down to Cochetopa and the Dome Lakes area is quiet and pleasant. Chains, shovel, ropes, and tarp, are standard winter-issue for the vehicle
of any winter-14er enthusiast, but I don't want to blow the Redcloud/Sunshine trip spending tomorrow digging snow, so I take it conservatively.
Getting back onto the 794 road, I'm pleasantly surprised to find low enough snow to get 6.5 miles in. This knocks 13 miles off the potential 53 mile RT
to San Luis. Sure, 40 miles is still long, but it's starting to sound more feasible. And I'm sure the car will get a couple miles further in. I'm off to Mill
Gulch, quietly enthusiastic, project preview in my back pocket.

Is that Stewart Peak in the moonlight?

Wednesday is the last day of this nice 10-day run of good weather and some of the most reasonable avalanche conditions this year to date.

Ah... Wednesdays. Mid-week. Perfect. The lusty thought of stealing away unnoticed between the busy boulevards of the workaday world
to quietly emerge in the backcountry... it's too much to resist. When business is poor, the poor get down to business. Never mind the backlog;
it's winter. Work is for days of sideways snow and people who don't know how to fly fish; as the expression goes. OK, back to business...

A bike, a full moon, the Honda Hotel.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013. Tuesday is supposed to be car-camp day, but phone calls, faxes, and fires to put out abound. I manage to get out to
Dome Lakes, drive in about 8.5 miles (as far as I dare) and get to bed shortly after midnight.

Originally, the idea is to ride the bike back as far as possible on Tuesday, then come back to the car to camp. This way, it would be clear whether skis
or bike would be better - I have both in the car. But given the way my Tuesday goes, I make a rather stubborn administrative decision. I know skis
would likely be more efficient, but I feel more like riding the bike. The bike it is.

No kickstand required.

First light comes too soon. Fortunately, winter is now in full swing and I remember the trick of burying a thermos of coffee deep within a down jacket,
all in a stuff sack. So there is coffee. And soon thereafter, intelligent life.

Seems no matter what the forecast, starting the TH this winter clocks in at a balmy 2 degrees above. The Shimano juice brakes run on mineral
oil - a great idea if you live in Japan. In Colorado winter, you loose all modulation at these temps. No matter, we'll be on the pedals more than the
brakes this morning.

Not as deep for 29" wheels.

I'm lucky that my predecessor decides to chain up and drive back as far as he or she could. How far back? Don't know yet, but as long as the bike
stays in the track, the going isn't bad. Progress seems to move along at a great clip, but the map doesn't seem to want to cooperate.

Chain of fools?

The lens is more generous than the trail: Stewart Peak is still 11 miles in the distance.

Shouldn't complain; got a track, right? Oops, complained too much - here's the end of the line. Time for snowshoes. I stash the bike, change out
to boots and beartraps, and start the long plod.

End of the line.

What's this? Stewart Creek summer trailhead 6 miles? Oh joy. A quarter mile later the sign says 5 miles. Let's hope this keeps up.

Stewart Creek, 6 miles.


Map waypoint.

Guess the critters like to confirm their bearing, too.

Finally at Nutras Creek, I make the decision to go in here. It should cut 4 miles RT, not having to go all the way to the Stewart Cr TH, plus the route
up Nutras should be 1 mile RT shorter than the Stewart Creek route. That brings calculations down to somewhere around 30 miles round trip.

The thought is, knocking 5 miles round-trip off the route is significant. Still, it is unknown which route may be more efficient, as there could be less
snow-breaking up the south-facing aspect of Stewart Creek. No matter, I"m tired of this road; time for some new scenery up the drainage. Besides,
the idea of trying this new route sounds appealing.

The Nutras Creek drainage. Stewart Peak at right; 13183 and Baldy Alto at left.

The Stewart Creek drainage on the other side of the calendar.

Route planning calls for taking the second bump to the left. The first is 11,400. The second bump constricts the drainage; it's easy to tell where
to hang a left. Unfortunately, the trees are thick with snow. One would think it's winter or something. Trailbreaking takes its toll.

Looking back: Kinda rough.

Which way is up?

Soon the mellow ridge between the Stewart and Nutras Creek drainages makes it difficult to tell which way is up. I follow the compass, and lean
toward the south side. A warm day is nice, but south side snow is thick and goopy. Soon my snowshoes weigh about 10 pounds each. Back to the
trees and downed timber of the north side. Why did these hardy trees decide to grow all the way to 12,000 on my ridge, anyway?

That's us: San Luis at center, Baldy Alto at right.

Steepest hill on the route. The NE aspect, at far right, is less than 30 degrees, and mostly bare.

Finally at treeline, I'm nearly out of water, and food as well. I push on for Baldy Alto. One would think four liters would be sufficient for a daytrip.

Getting closer.

Baldy Alto.

Extra credit: "Column Ridge" 13,795, shares the high saddle with Stewart Peak, unseen at right.

Excuse me, guys.

At the Baldy Alto summit, more than beat from six or eight miles of continuous trenching, I'm half-dead, but sure I can get San Luis - but not sure I
can get back at a reasonable hour. I've started carrying a stove, which will surely come in handy today to melt some snow. Prudence would suggest
paying respects and turning back here. Even if you don't care much for Prudence, it's best to listen to her; she'll kick your ass if you're not careful.

Besides, I've got a couple of friends waiting for an email when I get home - if it's not there by 6 am, I'll have the embarrassment of Search and Rescue to
motivate me. Some quick calculations suggest getting San Luis would put me on the ragged edge of that 6 am home-time. Mountaineering would be
nothing without desire. Especially the desire of summits unattained. I feel like Arnold. "I'll be back." OK, let's get out of here, and hurry up.

Looking down the ridge from Baldy Alto to 13,183 and the expansive Cochetopa drainage below. Shavano and Tabeguache appear on the distant horizon..

Long way home.

Wetterhorn and Uncompahgre looking closer than the car.

San Luis: so close.

Other side of the saddle, other side of the calendar: What Baldy Alto looks like from San Luis in summer.

May as well start signing these things. Summit grafitti in a tube isn't all bad.

Still becons.

Rule One - The way back is always longer.

Farewell till next storm.

No batteries required.

Treeline, a moon, a track. What more could a man ask?

A gorgeous evening in the San Juan.

At the corner of Nutras and 794, I stop to cook some snow. It's a long process, but gets an extra liter in me. Still not enough. Slogging along 794 in
the dark, I can't believe I finally get to the bike. Problem is, this ride is hard. The downhills keep things going and keep the front wheel in the track.
The occasional uphill is difficult. My erstwhile equine enigma bucks me off a few times. Makes it tougher with a pack. Gotta loosen up those new
pedals next time I think of it.

Soon I realize I don't have the necessary energy to pilot this pony. Pushing is not such a good idea - you're either walking in deep snow next to the
track, or pushing the bike in deep snow. No help for it. I do my best to ride. There is good news. There is no doubt that San Luis was not in the
cards today. Today being defined as the day that ends in a couple hours when the clock strikes midnight. Maybe with a little luck I can be back and
take advantage of my trench before the next big storm.

Route overview.

Route map 1/4.

Route map 2/4.

Route map 3/4.

Route map 4/4.


Moon above Nutras Creek.

Soon I'm at the car. Another red-eye express home. I pull in to one of my favorite campgrounds along the way, fall asleep in the front seat, and
awaken refreshed. The clock says I've only slept 15 minutes. Amazing how much it can help. I get home, get the necessary emails out, and crash.
Ah, sweet winter sleep, and dreams of a quiet journey, far far away, in a place seldom traveled under January moonlight...



Comments or Questions
dave alex
02/10/2013 21:12
Your ambition and perseverance is inspiring. Completing a remote La Garita summit so far from any paved roads is nothing short of amazing. This is my favorite area in Colorado.

Seeing my name in your register photo brought a smile.


You were so close!!
02/10/2013 22:12
Couldn't go to San Luis, huh??

Well - you know the plan. Let's get back out there soon and bag San Luis and Stewart. Should be a grand old time.

Nice job, using the bike again and trying out a visionary appraoch. Hopefully it pays dividends.

(BTW - This was Iman, didn't realize whcih account I was signed into)


02/10/2013 22:15
to get creative. I bet those 13ers do not see too many winter ascents!


02/10/2013 22:31
Dave, glad you enjoyed the report. Cool to see your name on the register.

And Sarah, here I thought you were planning to join us! : )

Derek, thanks. Column Ridge, Stewart, and SL don't seem to want to let me sleep at night.


02/11/2013 01:32
incredible solo trip! I don't have the guts to do what you are doing.

Amazing photos and drive. close and yet so far.

”Treeline, a moon, a track. What more could a man ask?”

How about a snowmobile...a tent with a -20˙ bag, 4 other strong partners to break trail with you. You could ask for those!


02/11/2013 04:38
Way cool.


Digging it.
02/11/2013 16:38
Totally digging these bike reports.


Holy cow
02/11/2013 21:25
What a day. Nice work, I assume you didn't get back before new snow?


Rockin that Bike
02/12/2013 00:10
Great pics as usual Jim. That's one solid day


Thanks .... and edit.
02/13/2013 02:22
Thanks, everyone.

Totally missed the fact that the maps came up small. Had these big beautiful maps but forgot to post them that way. Problem now fixed!

Mike, there's probably at least an additional foot. Slumgullion got about 18” more since this trip. That said, yes, I'd like to go back in and get San Luis in the winter from this approach when the time is right.


Nice Report Jim
02/13/2013 03:27
That area intrigues me, especially after reading this TR. Way to persevere a long way in there and then make the right call when you had to! I always admire prudence displayed on this forum.

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