4.24.2005

Heartbreak Ridge

Now that the ski lifts are all silenced until next season, well except for Loveland and Arapahoe Basin anyway, its time to get in shape for climbing season. I decided that it is time to start doing some training hikes on some easily accessible peaks and trails in the area. I had a few ideas for this weekend but decided up heading over near Breckenridge to climb Bald Mountain. Anyone who has been to the town or the ski area has seen it; it rises above town to the southeast and is clearly visible from the main parking lots and the ski runs. The access is easy, its trailhead is located in a residential neighborhood and the first 3/4 of a mile or so is popular with dog walkers in the morning, at least it was on Saturday. After that point is an old mill building where most people turn around, as evident by the tracks in the snow fizzling out there. Beyond that point a slope rises up to some radio towers above 12,000 feet. There is an access road that criss-crosses up the slope to them, but at this time of the year the slope was covered in snow and I opted for the direct approach. Near the top is an old mine that is in very good shape, almost looked like it could still be active. There is a large structure on the slopes in front of it that at one time had tracks on it for the mine cars coming out of the tunnel. At the end there were two ore chutes on either side that dropped down to a tram line below. From here the ore would have traveled along the tramway to the mill below. Even the old tram line was still in tact, hanging from several towers, also in perfect shape and wrapped around the old flywheel. This part of the hike is easily accessed in the summer, seeing as there is an access road all the way to the radio towers. If you want a see a piece of old Colorado mining heritage, this would be a great place to go. The views of the ski mountain across the valley from the mine remind you of the old economy of mining, and the new one of ski tourism, that keep Breckenridge thriving.

The radio towers are the start of the next phase of the hike, the ridge to the summit. The ridge was a little over a mile, and gained an additional maybe 1500 feet or so of elevation. Some sections still had snow, others had been wind blown clear to the rocks. The ridge was fairly windy, and periodically I would travel along the leeward side to get out of the wind. The ridge was basically enjoyable to hike along, generally flat with a few steeper sections of rock that were like short staircases to make it a little more interesting. The only problem was the large number of false summits along the way that led me to nickname it “heartbreak ridge”. For those not familiar with the term, a false summit is basically a high point along a ridge, that when approached appears to be the summit. When you get to the top, however, you realize there is another higher point in the distance. On this ridge, you can see the true summit from the radio towers, but once you get on the ridge you keep being misled by the series of false summits now blocking your view to the summit. Finally the true summit came into view, and to the south of it are two more false summits, one of which is marked on the topo map as only being 5 feet shorter than the true summit. From a distance it appears taller, and I had to check the map to make sure I was actually finally on the real summit! Bald Mountain tops out at an elevation of 13,684’ at a distance approximately 2 3/4 miles away from the trailhead. This is enough to make it the 156th tallest peak in the state, a “bicentennial” summit, and was my 25th ranked summit over 13,000 feet. I was not the only person who thought a warm spring day was a good day to climb, there was a couple I passed on the slopes to the radio towers, and three guys with skis and snowboards who were going to ski the opposite face I had met in the parking area. On my way back down I ran across all of them again and wished them luck on their own summit bids. Although it was 60 in the valley at mid day, the summit and the ridge leading to it were much cooler, and very windy. It felt like winter on the summit, but the blue skies and the great views of the surrounding peaks across valley made it well worth it.