I attempted to summit Old Baldy in early July last year, not realizing at those elevations that snow would be such an issue. I trudged through hip deep snow for a while before deciding that I just wasn’t going to make it. Ever since then, I’ve been wondering about what was beyond the snow and thinking about reaching the top. It’s a pretty grueling hike, but I knew that the hikes I had been on sufficiently prepared me for the challenge this year from a physical standpoint. Waking up extremely early on Sunday sealed the deal for me – it was time to try again.
I arrived at the trailhead at almost exactly 7am, and it was shocking how many of the parking spots were already taken. I think there are more people that use this trailhead to access dispersed camping than there are people coming for a day hike. Luckily, I was early enough that I was able to snag one of the few spots left at the trailhead, which was a huge win, as last year I added almost half a mile to my journey by having to park further down the road. In fact, when I came back with Carly last year, we had to turn around because we couldn’t find a spot at all! Everything was shaping up just the way I would’ve hoped in order to conquer my first 13er of the summer, and complete a hike that had been bothering me since I wasn’t able to complete it last year.
I knew what to expect for the first half of the trek up, as I was successfully able to navigate a couple miles in last year. Just as I remembered, there were numerous streams crossing over the trail as they continued their journey downward to lower elevations, although there was quite a bit less water this year – a necessary reality of coming later in the year when more of the snow had melted.
The wildflowers were few and far between – a huge difference from the Booth Lake trail a couple of weeks prior. The drought that we’ve been experiencing surely isn’t helping, but it was also another signal that the summer hiking season is coming to an end. The wildlife also seemed to be sparse, with a few chipmunks crossing my path, but none of them eager to have their picture taken.
I reached the turn off for the Arapahoe Glacier Trail, as I had last year, but was greeted with mud instead of snow this year. I’m not sure which is preferable, but at least I was able to get past the mud this year and make it to drier ground as the trail continued upwards. At this point, I was feeling confident and comfortable. My legs felt like they were warmed up and I was sure that I was going to make it to the top.
As the trail climbed and climbed, I started to feel that fear of heights kicking in, though. I kept trying to convince myself that it wasn’t so steep that if I were to fall, anything really all that bad would happen; however, there are just certain parts of trails that catch my eye in a certain way to make me freeze in my tracks. Looking back at the map now that I’m on solid ground, I probably should’ve just slowly pushed my way through the next couple of switchbacks, and it seemed like things leveled off. I didn’t have the focus or mental fortitude to check the map at the time and make those kinds of logical decisions, so I decided to turn around and start heading back down.
I honestly don’t think I’ve ever felt that level of disappointment on a hike before. I think there was a part of me that was disappointed that I was going to have to admit I failed to summit Old Baldy yet again and a part of me that was disappointed that I realized I probably won’t ever be a 13er/14er type of person, and had effectively eliminated a lot of trails from the list of trails I felt like I could do.
Feeling this disappointment is what propelled me to take a detour on my descent. I reached the turn off for Diamond Lake, and knew that it was another trail that I wanted to do in the area, but wasn’t sure if I would make it back to this trailhead anytime soon. So I checked the map and determined that the extra distance wasn’t going to kill me, and just went for it. At least this way I wouldn’t feel like my trip was a total waste.
The trail started downhill, venturing further into the surrounding forest, and I was met with the lower portion of the streams that I had encountered further up. I started to feel my spirits lift again. I guess I’m not a heights person, but I really enjoy the forest and the water – and started to feel lucky that there are plenty of alpine lakes that I haven’t explored yet, and there was plenty of hiking left for me to do in this state without having to go over 13,000 feet.
Exhausted, I made the final uphill push to Diamond Lake, and it emerged in all of its glory. Diamond Lake is one of the largest mountain lakes that I’ve seen and it had campsites dotting the shore all around. By this point, my legs were killing me and I didn’t really take the opportunity to walk around the lake too much. Instead, I found an inviting rock sticking out of the lake that was asking for me to come take a break on it. I sat looking over Diamond Lake for a while, as I rested and rehydrated for the hike back to the trailhead. Without the attempt at Old Baldy ahead of time, the hike to Diamond Lake wasn’t too terribly difficult, and I could see us returning at some point to camp on the banks.
I had already spent way more time on the trail than I had planned to, so I started the trek back. My mood had completely changed from before I decided to take this little detour, feeling a sense of accomplishment at making it to Diamond Lake, and I’m glad that I didn’t let the disappointment of Old Baldy ruin an excellent hiking day.
Taking the detour to Diamond Lake also turned out to be a huge blessing in disguise, because it was perfect timing for me to spot this moose as I was leaving the trailhead! It was one of the largest moose I’ve seen and it was so peaceful watching it walk through the trees, taking bites of underbrush as it went.
While I will never say that I can’t climb a 13er or 14er, I think I finally came to the realization today that those aren’t the types of hikes that I really enjoy. I’ll continue to challenge my fear of heights on trails at lower elevations, but throwing myself into something that is clearly going to be uncomfortable isn’t my idea of an enjoyable way to spend a weekend. It’s funny, when I starting writing this Sunday night, I had “Final Attempt at Old Baldy” in the title, but now it’s been changed to just second attempt. I could see myself returning at some point once that comfort level has increased with heights, but I think it’s safe to say that I’ve crossed Old Baldy off my “want to do” list for quite some time now.
What I was reminded of, though, was that no matter what happens on a hike – it’s really the journey that keeps bringing me back. If I had let my disappointment get the best of me, I wouldn’t have seen Diamond Lake and I wouldn’t have seen the majestic moose. I can’t wait to see what awaits me on my next journey!