Mount Baldy • Highpoint: Apache County
• Range Highpoint: White Mountains
• Highpoint: Mount Baldy Wilderness
• Highpoint: Fort Apache Indian Reservation

Date Climbed
1. June 24, 2000
2. September 19, 2004

Elevation
11,403+ feet

Distance
14 miles

Time
7 hours

Gain
2,200 feet

Conditions
Pleasant and cloudy first time,
Clouds and rain the second time

Prominence
4,703+ feet

Click on the thumbnail to see a full-size version


The peaks are to the left in this photo taken during early-morning blustery conditions
 

Shot of the peak as we hiked in and crossed an open area
 

Beth crosses a rocky bald section
 

Wreckage of an old airplane
 

The final push to the top
 

Beth descends the peak in heavy fog

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The County Highpoints of Arizona

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Mount Baldy is the highest peak in the White Mountains in Eastern Arizona and is the state's second highest mountain outside of the San Francisco Range near Flagstaff. The White Mountains feature many peaks breaching the 11,000-foot barrier, so Mount Baldy itself kind of "hides" amid many of its surrounding subpeaks. Also, Mount Baldy itself is a broad peak, further reducing its effects of height on the eye. A nearby sub-summit called "Baldy Peak" on the maps has a sharp, conical shape, but from most vantage points many miles distant, this little conical summit can itself blend into the melange of peaks in the range. Nevertheless, the Whites are the most expansive of the large mountains in Arizona, and it gets snow on par with peaks in Colorado or Utah. Arizona's coldest temperature of -40 (C and F, it's the same at this temperature) was recorded at Hawley Lake, near Mount Baldy, back in the 1970s.

It's easy to assume Baldy Peak, the 11,403-foot-named summit on the maps, is the highest point in the range. However, on a rounded ridge about 2,000 feet to the north-northeast, a slightly larger contour of 11,400 feet is found, and sighting between the two areas shows the northern ridge-summit to be a little higher. This is good because Baldy Peak is actually off-limits to the general public as it is located within the Fort Apache Whitewater Indian Reservation. The boundary of the Reservation runs along the ridge containing the other summit, putting half of it in Indian possession and the other half within the Mount Baldy Wilderness. The public is technically welcome (and legal) to visit the northern, slightly-higher summit. Although looking over at Baldy Peak will probably convince you that it is higher, this is more a trick of perspective. I have climbed this peak twice and have sighted back and forth between the two summits and both times my sight-levels supported the fact that the northern summit is slightly higher. Others have done the same with similar results.

This brings us to the sticky conundrum of "visiting" Baldy Peak. In 2000 (see below) there was a sign at the saddle between the two peaks attesting to the sacredness of Baldy Peak, but interestingly, not prohibiting visitation: in other words, by the literal reading of this sign, it did not explicitly forbid visitation. This probably wouldn't fly if you got caught, though. I opted to run up Baldy Peak for the express purpose of sighting back with my level to the northern peak. In 2004, we did it again in very foggy, rainy conditions. I would suggest that there is no need to visit Baldy Peak. The publicly-accessible northern "Mount Baldy" is sufficient in my opinion.

Which brings us to yet another twist in the story: the older forest maps showed the Reservation and Wilderness boundary as being right along this northern ridge, while later maps show this boundary seemingly "shifted" east a little east so as to completely encompass this northern summit. The shift seems to agree with what would happen if old waypoints (from the NAD27 datum) were replotted within the newer WGS84 datum. In other words, it just may be sloppy mapwork. However, parts of the southern trail cross into the Reservation without any complaint from the Indians, so my gut tells me that the northern summit is 99.9% legal. Yes, Baldy Peak is sacred and should be avoided. The rest should be fine. Anyway, our tales:

First Visit, June 2000: I was down to one remaining county highpoint needed to complete the set of 15 county highpoints for Arizona when I got my act together enough to plan a trip east to the Whites for a hike up Baldy. I left my home in Chandler at 3 p.m. on Friday after work, driving to the Baldy Wilderness Area via Globe and Show Low, and arriving around 7:30 in the evening. I hit a lot of rain from the monsoon storms around Show Low. The weather began clearing but when I arrived at the Winn campground, the roads were muddy and there were many puddles.

I awoke the next morning at 4 a.m. to clear skies and cool temperatures. I broke down camp, ate some food and drove to the West Baldy Trailhead. The nomenclature is a bit odd: the East Baldy Trailhead is south of the West Baldy Trail, but the names have to do with the fact the trails parallel the West and East forks of the Little Colorado River respectively, not so much their relative positions to one another.

I began my hike at 4:45 a.m. It's an almost 8-mile one-way hike to the summit along an excellent trail. The first mile actually loses about 200 feet of elevation, where it meets up with the old original trailhead. I spooked a herd of elk grazing in the small meadow, and they all took off into the trees except for one big guy who stared me down until I was about 100 feet from him. I clapped my hands and made "whoop" noises and he finally joined his buddies in the trees. The next three miles are mostly level, paralleling the West Fork of the Little Colorado. The route alternates between open meadow and small stands of trees, and gains about 600 feet overall. I made excellent time on this part and had covered the first four miles in a shade more than an hour. The meadows grew larger and larger the farther in I walked. The scenery was lovely.

After about 4 miles the trail enters the forest for good. It begins a gradually steeper ascent for the next mile, then crosses a major drainage. About the sixth mile, the route gains elevation at a moderate grade, gaining about 600 feet, before coming to a small set of long (and in places, steep) switchbacks. These switchbacks get over some rocky cliffs and outcrops, and covers about a mile. The last mile is along a pleasant grade through the trees, before coming out to the main ridge just north of the summit, elevation 11,200 feet. The junction with the East Baldy Trail comes a few minutes before reaching the open ridge.

I was now about a quarter-mile north of the north summit, and I began my hike up the ridge, gaining the final 200 feet of elevation and the big rock cairn at 8:00 a.m. sharp. The forest opens up and allowed for some awesome views. From my vantage point at the north summit, I sight-leveled (using my water bottle) to see if I could determine if Baldy Peak is higher or lower than the north summit. It was inconclusive. I decided to walk the final quarter-mile to Baldy Peak (south summit) anyway. Knowing I was trespassing I kept my visit short, just long enough to tag the summit cairn and look back to the north summit from which I'd come. It looked higher. I suspect the two summits' elevations are almost exactly the same (give or take 5 feet). It's hard to gauge which is higher without fancy clinometers or electronics. In any case, I had both summits visited so I figured I was okay.

I made a quick retreat back across the Indian Reservation border (a small sign at the saddle between the two summits mentions the sacredness of the site but says nothing about no trespassing, although its common knowldge if you get caught you get fined. Update, September 2004: this sign was gone). Back to the north summit, I picked up my pack, walked down the main ridge back into the trees, and ate my lunch, even though it was only 8:30 in the morning. The weather was very nice, with breezes and blue skies and a smattering of puffy clouds. After "lunch", I began my 8-mile trek back to my truck. I was out at 11:00 a.m., legs tired and a small blister on my right foot. I met up with numerous hikers while coming down. An hour later, while passing through Show Low, I hit some heavy rain. Hope the hikers on the trail knew about the monsoon. That's partly why I started the hike so early.

Second Visit, September 2004: Beth herself was getting close to finishing the 15 Arizona county highpoints, so we made plans to revisit Mount Baldy so she could claim it, and for me to enjoy the hike once again with my wife. We left home on Friday afternoon and drove to Show Low, where we gassed up and got supplies for the next day's hike. We arrived at the Winn Campground (another 40+ miles) about 7:30 p.m. in darkness and set up our tent using my truck's headlights. We ate dinner and listened to the bugling of the nearby elk. The night was clear but we were aware of a big storm moving in from the Sea of Cortez, the remnants of a big hurricane off of Cabo San Lucas over a thousand miles away.

In total darkness, I tripped over a rock and hit the ground hard. I though I broke my arm! After some whining, I determined I was fine. Beth reported she'd forgotten some meds she usually takes and was concerned about possible side effects from missing a dosage. Things seemed to be looking grim: the potentially bad weather, Beth's lack of meds and my sore arm. Also, neither of us slept well. The weather was nice, but the strange bugling of the elk never ceased. Beth was up at 4 a.m. for good, and I was up by 5 and had the tent packed up by 5:30. We had breakfast in the truck and discussed our options.

We decided to go for it, and follow the East Fork trail. We pulled into the parking area and got moving around 7:20 a.m. in cool conditions. The sky was mostly clear but a band of clouds sat low to our south. We decided to hike in for about an hour then decide whether to proceed or not. The first mile was mostly level through open meadow. We met up with another hiker and his two big dogs. Soon we entered into the forest and zig-zagged in and out of drainages before coming to a tight switchback. We walked up a ways and stopped near some cliffs and spires, where we took our first break. I figured we'd covered slightly less than 2 miles in about 45 minutes.

By now, the clouds had moved in, and we heard distant thunder. Obviously, this concerned us. But on the other hand, there was no rain, the clouds weren't really that low, and despite the appearances, things seemed to be stable. So we decided to hike another hour and see how things went. The trail gained moderately with a few level stretches through forest. In one area it crossed some rocky outcrops. Actually, we made really good progress, and we stopped after another hour, having covered over 5 miles from the truck. The weather was holding steady. Just cool, cloudy and gray.

After our second break we made a decision to go for it. We were pretty close, feeling okay, and the weather was still more bark than bite. As we hiked up the remaining two miles in an intermittent drizzle, we met a couple of hikers and a whole team of people on horseback. The thick forest helped keep us reasonably dry, but crossing some open areas we got wet in the steady rain. We finally came up to the trail junction near the ridge, and hiked up the final grade to the north summit. Despite the feeling that it probably is higher than Baldy Peak to the south, Baldy sure looked higher, so we hiked to it, following the fine trail to its summit. We stayed briefly, but the fog rolled in thick so we descended and started our slog out. We took an extended break at the saddle between the summits.

The hike out went fast. The rain subsided and the clouds broke up, giving us some sun for the last few miles back to the truck. We were done about 2:20 p.m., beating a whole band of Boy Scouts by about 15 minutes. After changing and resting, we drove out via Greer, then back to Show Low where we stayed at a hotel. We had a nice dinner at Licano's Mexican Lounge, and watched as the rain really came in heavy! The next day we drove back home, forced to make a 50-mile detour through Globe after mudslides wiped out part of the Beeline Highway between Payson and the Phoenix area.

Update: Highway AZ-273 is now paved to the trailheads (and beyond), and the East Fork trailhead is now paved too.

(c) 2000, 2006, 2012 Scott Surgent. For entertainment purposes only. This report is not meant to replace maps, compass, gps and other common sense hiking/navigation items. Neither I nor the webhost can be held responsible for unfortunate situations that may arise based on these trip reports. Conditions (physical and legal) change over time! Some of these hikes are major mountaineering or backpacking endeavors that require skill, proper gear, proper fitness and general experience.