On Sunday, June 12 2011 I decided that I needed a break from work and headed off to the mountains for some "me" time. I had an idea in the back of my mind that if the weather looked decent I would attempt a short, but difficult, scramble out of Andrew Nugara's book - Mount Baldy via the West Ridge.
As I drove into K-country I noticed that the weather was cooperating. There was a mix of sun and cloud with some scattered showers but nothing too dramatic. I knew that the crux would have to be dry to attempt it without a rope so I committed myself to turning around if things became to scary or unsafe. Famous last thoughts for a scrambler - I know! ;-)
The lower part of the route was very pleasant hiking in open terrain on a very well-worn trail. I was surprised at the size of the trail - apparently this is a well used route. The weather was fantastic, giving me great views down the Kananaskis corridor with dramatic lighting and a warm sun on my back. Flowers were abundant and I did my best to capture them with the various lenses I had brought along.
[Pleasant hiking towards the ridge.]
[Great views south down hwy 40 including McDougall and Wasootch. ++]
[Scree slog to the ridge - note the orange trees above which is pine beetle damage.]
[GULP! The ridge looks more intimidating the closer you get! There's nothing like sticking your nose in it to see if it's really as bad as it looks though.]
[The weather is unsettled but great views over Yate's Mountain and Barrier Lake. Mary Barclay on the left. ++]
[Rain to the south - note the snow on Nakiska's ski runs in the distance.]
As I approached the start of the rock ridge I realized there were a couple of guys ahead of me. This was strange, because nobody had passed me and nobody was parked near me either. Upon chatting with Greg I realized that him and Denis had left from the regular (Kane) parking lot for Mount Baldy and that there is a trail option from there as well. Good to know! Greg and Denis use this route more often as a season warm-up. This was good news because now I didn't have to worry about route finding - not that route finding is a huge issue on this route, but as you'll soon read it wasn't ideal ascent conditions either...
Of course, just as we approached the first crux the first drops of rain began to fall! :-( A rain shower had already just missed us to the south and this slow-moving cloud burst was not going to be so nice. I knew that the crux was hard enough dry and began to worry a bit with the rain - thank goodness we were on limestone and not granite I guess.
[Looking down from the bottom of the first crux.]
I was ahead of Denis and Greg at this point and knew that the first crux was easy stuff compared to the real one, so I tackled it directly. Any time I'm unroped in exposed terrain and pass a piton it makes me pause - this time was no different. The first crux has an awkward move right at the start with very minimal hand or foot holds and slabby terrain. With the rain, my boots didn't want to grip as readily either. I had my climbing shoes in the pack but felt I didn't really need them. (If you feel the need for a rope at the first difficult section you will DEFINITELY need a rope for the real crux further up the ridge.)
[Note the rusted piton at lower left! This is the first -and easiest - crux.]
[Looking down at Denis from part way up the first crux.]
[Looking up at the main crux as I make my way up the ridge between the cruxes.]
After the first section I continued up the ridge, now in a steady drizzle that was quickly freezing my hands. It was obvious that we'd be back in sunshine fairly soon so I resolved myself to keep going. There was no way I was going back down at this point unless I absolutely had to - the first crux move would be very awkward with wet rock.
When I got to the main crux section I waited for Denis to catch up. Since he'd done the route before I asked if he minded showing me the way. At this point the rain had pretty much stopped, but obviously the route was now soaking wet. Denis indicated he'd lead the way and up we went. I've done a lot of difficult scrambling but there's a new level of 'excitement' when the rock is wet and you have exposure like this ridge! :-) It's a good thing I was following someone who knew this route could be scrambled or I would have been a bit more intimidated - this is certainly not for the faint of heart if you're unroped, in boots, on wet rock. Even on dry rock, this is a serious bit of scrambling. IMHO Smuts was less exposed than this section. Northover Ridge is the closest I've come to this kind of ridge and it had better holds near the crux (if you're on route).
[At the base of the crux looking up it.]
[Good thing it's raining. NOT. Views of Baldy (R) and over Barrier Lake (L). ++]
There were a couple of especially tricky spots on the crux, both of them involved tiny holds that were obviously wet and provided very little in the way of security. Watching from below as Denis tried to figure out an especially interesting move as his feet slipped on the slab was kind of amusing until I realized I had to do the same section... ;-) It was fun but also a bit of a relief when Denis declared the hard stuff "over".
[Denis leads up the crux.]
[This is not for the faint of heart! Especially when damp... Here Denis is negotiating one of the more interesting sections - there's a bit of a bare section right above him and then another one about an 'inch' over his head. For the upper one you have to force a friction move and then move left along the ledge where at least you have hand holds to help out. From there it's diagonal up and over!]
[Looking back down the ridge.]
I continued to the summit where I took some pictures of Greg coming up the last part of the ridge and enjoyed lunch in great weather with no wind whatsoever. My original plan was to descend to the Baldy Pass Trail via the south ridge option but Denis interested me in another option that Nugara doesn't mention but which I really enjoyed.
[The remaining terrain to the summit of West Baldy - slick with recent rain.]
[Terrific summit panorama looking south, west and north includes (L to R), Midnight, Old Baldy, McDougall, Wasootch, Kidd, Ribbon, Lorette, Barclay's, Heart,Yates and Baldy - along with many others obviously! ++]
[Looking towards Baldy, South Baldy and south towards Belmore Brown and Tiara Peak. ++]
[Greg along the crux ridge.]
[This gives an idea of the crux terrain / exposure.]
[Greg continues up the crux.]
[Looking along the summit ridge towards Baldy Pass at lower left and Midnight Peak. My descent line followed the ridge at far left.]
[Denis approaches the summit with main Baldy in the bg.]
As another rain squall threatened us, Denis urged us to descend the tricky terrain just below the summit to the col leading to the south summit of Baldy. This terrain is also not for the faint of heart. It's easier than the ascent ridge, but still in the realm of 'difficult' scrambling. One section in particular can not be wet or icy - it's a traverse on down sloping slab with a few handholds, but a slip would be costly. Good thing the slab was dry by this time or we wouldn't have descended to the col. Don't attempt this route to early in the season, it's a north facing slope that holds snow and ice.
[Starting down towards South Baldy.]
[Loose and tricky down climbing - you really don't want snow or ice here!]
[Descending the crux off West Baldy towards South.]
[Almost at the West / South col.]
[Looking back at West Baldy and our descent ridge (R) with Midnight at left and my descent ridge just out of sight to the left. ++]
Denis and Greg continued on to the south peak of Baldy (they would descend the Kane scramble ascent route) while I enjoyed a very pleasant stroll along the eastern-most ridge on Baldy all the way to Baldy Pass. This was a great route with an obvious trail and no more than moderate scrambling for a few very short sections. I highly recommend this as another descent option if you want to be on trail the entire way.
[Looking along my descent ridge towards Midnight Peak over Baldy Pass. I would follow the Baldy Pass trail in the valley below, to the right. ++]
[Telephoto looking back at the crux descent from West to South Baldy.]
[Looking across hwy 40 to Mount Lorette.]
[Mount Kidd (R) with South Kidd just to its left.]
[A view over some clear cuts to the east and along my descent ridge at right. ++]
[Looking back along the ridge at West, South and main Baldy and down highway 40 on the left. ++]
[Green spring in the valley bottom with snow on the Nakiska ski hill above.]
[The Fortress with James Walker on the left.]
[Looking south at Midnight and Midday Peaks. ++]
[The south ridge is easy but loose - a view back from the descent to Baldy Pass.]
[Descending to Baldy Pass, looking back at the ridge (R) and Baldy (C). ++]
The hike back from Baldy Pass was quick and enjoyable in the great weather. My round trip time of 5 hours included over an hour of breaks and lots of time to take photos. A highly recommended (but certainly difficult) scramble.
[Following the Baldy Pass trail back to highway 40.]
[A sure sign of spring - my favorite flower the Ladies Slipper.]
[Another sign of spring, the climbing Clematis flower.]