Big Baldy

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Big Baldy is an exploration of Idaho wilderness that should be on every hiker's list.

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I was way stoked for this trip: three days hiking in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness.

Just getting to the trailhead promised to offer up some adventure. I called the Forest Service in Cascade, and they said someone had driven the road the day before. Nonetheless, I had a shovel and a chainsaw on board.

I met Dave in Cascade and we did the 90 minute drive on amazingly good road the whole way. Lots of trees had been partially cut out of the road (not sure why they don't cut them at the road edge.....?). Elevation: about 8000'.

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We were on our feet at 9:30. Cool and shady for the moment.

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The first mile or so climbs about 400', then you get your view east at the wilderness boundary. There's Big Baldy. Waaaay over there.......

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But this trip was so much more than climbing Big Baldy. The place is gorgeous. And amazing. And way, way huge.

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Okay, we'd better get moving.

From that first overlook, you traverse the first ridge over a low pass and get a view of Chilcoot Peak. At Chilcoot Pass, we dropped our packs and ran up-and back on the trail up this one (Peak #1).

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After reclaiming our packs, we dropped down the other side of the pass heading east, downhill.

We weren't sure how much water we might find along the way today, so Dave topped off at the pond by the Trapper Creek Road.

Yes, there is a road through the wilderness here. It's a corridor that leads to a mine (more on that later).

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From just past the pond, you get on the road and walk uphill till you see this sign, "Hiking Trail."

Thanks for clarifying that, Forest Service. Might there be anything else we need to know?

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So the hiking trail led us uphill to a saddle, where we left the trail to climb Pistol Rock.

Just below the rock, we startled an elk. Wildlife sighting! The first of many.

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Dave on the last stretch to Pistol. Packs in the background. Peak #2.

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Looking back to where we had come from. Already some distance.

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We had a lunch in the saddle under Pistol, then shortcut off the east ridge to rejoin the trail. Note the sign- we were at the junction with the Indian Creek trail.

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We left the trail again to hit Peak #3, then came some long, sunny stretches along the ridge top.

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Flowies.

Yes, Dave is on the trail. Pleasant walking.

Soon after this, the trail dipped back down to the elevation of the truck. Then, at about 4pm and the heat of the day, started the ~700' climb back to the top of the ridge. It was steep, eroded, and in direct sunlight. Nothing all that bad until the horseflies found us. And I mean found us. We were both hurting and wanting to take a break. But if you did, you were going to be attacked. Actually, they attacked us while we walked. They swarmed us if we stopped for even a moment. So we named that Horsefly Hill (aka Horsefly Hell).

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When the trail leveled off a bit and we finally got back into the wind, all was good. But that hard grind without a stop had taken a toll. But we were still enjoying the scenery. Trailhead
Time for today's Peak #4, Once again, we were off the trail. At least now, Big Baldy was looking much closer. Trailhead

There's Papoose Lake. Buck Lake, where we would be camping, must be just over that ridge?

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Ah, there's Buck Lake. And some snow!

On inspection, the snow was a rather tall cornice that covered our trail.

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We wandered around, trying to find the best way down. Eventually we settled for this. Dave is in the picture. With full packs, it wasn't fun. Trailhead
Once we got back on the trail, though, it was merely steep. Trailhead
Here's a look back up to that pass from the pond. Trailhead
And there's the pond, with Big Baldy. It's starting to look kinda close! Trailhead

We got into camp around 6pm. 8:45 elapsed time, around 14 miles and 4500' of climbing. With full packs.

We were tired boys. Foot sore. Somewhat dehydrated. But happy.

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Sitting in camp, we could watch the goats on the hillsides above us. Trailhead
More goats the next morning. Trailhead
We could have goat-watched all day, but we had places to be. Here's Dave off trail again, nearing peak #5. Trailhead
Looking back at Buck Lake. Trailhead
And forward to the Big One. We'd be there soon, but first had to do Peak #6 along the way. Trailhead

That done, we were now on the slopes of Big Baldy.

From here, you can just take off cross-country for the summit. Or with some looking, there is an unsigned trail that goes to the lookout (we didn't see it).

But the day was so nice, and so was the trail, that we opted to keep walking on the trail.

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More trail. This trail takes one to the Middle Fork, so doesn't go to the top. Trailhead
Eventually, the trail led us around the south shoulder of the mountain. More flowies. Trailhead
And more scenery. Trailhead
At the second junction for the lookout, we found a sign. Trailhead
And there it is! Trailhead

Summit.

The lookout was empty, and in a state of disrepair. We walked the shaky catwalk around the lookout deck, peering in through a couple of the unshuttered windows.

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Then we sat down for a well-deserved lunch. Dave noticed a benchmark, and a small cairn next to it. Inside, we found a Starbucks bottle with the register. Apparently, we were the first ones up here in seven years.

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We stayed on top of over an hour. It was glorious. We watched a bald eagle circle the mountain below us. We could clearly see the Sawtooths, White Clouds, Big Horn Crags, a peak in the Pahsimeroi, the Lick Creek peaks, the Needles, etc. etc. Amazing. We could even identify the spiky top of Warbonnet.

Several nearby areas of particular interest for me were Red Ridge, which I had visited last year withTom.

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And Sleeping Deer, which Tom and I had also visited.

So close, but so far.....

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But we were now quite a few miles from our campsite, so it was time to head back. On the return, we took the shortcut off to rejoin the trail.

Most of the way out here, the trail is still there. But most of the way out here, it has burned. So as time goes by, more and more dead fall is going to cover the trail. The picture at right is a mild example of what that might look like. It's not so bad at the moment, but we encourage you to do this, and do it soon!

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On our return, Dave chose a slick shortcut to the lake, which we think was probably the original trail (see map below).

At the lake, we went for a swim at the outlet. Nice to get the grime off, but I think the bushes I dried my clothes on were full of ticks. Afterwards, I found ticks in my clothes and then in my hair. Yuk.

Then we lounged around camp. We watched the goats, then found a new diversion. Despite how tiny the campground creek is, it was full of fish. Like up to 8 or 9". And we could see them swimming and feeding. Tail fins and dorsals sticking out of the water. And if you walked nearer, the water would explode with flipping fins as they tried to escape.

This is the next morning, pumping up before we hit the trail. To beat the heat, we were on our feet at about 6:15.

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Not yet 7:30 and we were on peak #8. Trailhead
And it's a good thing, because there's Chilcoot Pass way back there! Trailhead

More flowies.

If you're getting an impression that there were a lot of wildflowers, it's only an impression. There were way more than I have shown. They were gorgeous.

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Not so gorgeous: I mentioned the road corridor that reaches back to the Springfield Mine. Here's the mine. If you read the linked report, it mentions the fumes from the resulting sulfuric acid.

What the picture doesn't show is the red stain extending down the valley below the mine. That glop ends up the Middle Fork of the Salmon.

I know we need minerals, and this mine was producing tungsten for the war effort. But this mine wasn't done as a public service. After they rape the wilderness for personal profit, mining companies should have to clean up after themselves.

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Okay, back to enjoying the wilderness. On our return, we stayed on the trail under Pistol Rock, but then detoured off trail to climb Trapper Peak, ahead.

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From Trapper, we shortcut down to the road, then dropped our packs near the pond mentioned earlier. Dave had decided that we should only climb an even number of peaks. So we walked out the road a bit, then went after Peak #10.

It was now about 1pm, and the day was heating up. So we were slowing down. But we loved the view back to Chilcoot.

Then it was pick up the packs for one last hard slog over Chilcoot Pass, and finally, mostly downhill to the truck, finishing at about 3:30.

Awesome trip. So much more than a simple climbing adventure.

And props to Big Dan for doing this solo, in just two days!

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