Mount Baldwin is a striking peak. The area boasts the oldest rock in the Sierra, revealing picturesque patterns and colors that contrast strongly with the typical grey Sierra granite. From 395, Mount Baldwin stands out with its bold layers of white and red, and it is only accentuated in the fall when the aspens on its slope start to turn. I love to climb peaks that for some reason stand out to me, and due to its fascinating geology Mount Baldwin has been on my todo list for a long time.
Baldwin is quite doable as a dayhike as far as Sierra peaks go, but since I am still rebuilding my endurance after my injury I wanted to take it easy and do it as a two night trip. Our plan was to hike in to Mildred Lake out of Convict Canyon on Saturday, dayhike Baldwin on Sunday, and hike out on Monday. The peak ended up taking less time than expected so even with a leisurely start to the day we were still able to hike out Sunday evening and be munching fish tacos at Whoa Nellie before dark.
The trail climbs along Convict Creek for about five miles and a little over 2000 ft. The trailhead signs warn of washed out and dangerous trail, so traffic is minimal, especially since there are no pack animals once past the lake. There are washouts but nothing that can’t be passed with a bit of attention and care. The real trouble comes at the washed out bridge where the creek has to be crossed. I’ve read that this crossing can be sketchy, difficult, and dangerous during high water, but in late September during this dry year it was a simple rock hop.
Once at Mildred Lake we dropped our packs and took a while seeking out a good campsite with a view of Mt Baldwin. It definitely felt like fall as we settled in – the wind was chilly and the sun dipped behind the ridge really early. By 6 pm we were done with dinner and bundled up in our down jackets, and it wasn’t much longer before we were snuggled in our sleeping bags for the long night.
After a great night of sleep we were up and ready for our climb of Mt Baldwin. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect since trip reports and photos I had looked at described the climb from easy to really difficult. Ratings can be so subjective so I just figured I’d climb until I was either at the top or needed to turn around.
It starts off easy right from the start. There is a well defined use trail that climbs out of Mildred Lake. At about 10,400 ft the trail flattens and crosses a plateau that looks more like the moon or Death Valley than the Sierra. As it crosses bands of rock and climbs to the Baldwin ridge the views start to open up, and the colorful local landscape provides lots of photographic opportunities.
The trail disappeared for a short while along the ridge but we easily picked it up again before the terrain got steep and loose. It is well defined until below the calcite mine around 12000 ft. Below the mine the trail splits into some rough use trails that scramble up the steep and gravelly hillside. This was the only icky spot, but never that bad.
Did I say calcite mine? Way up on the side of the mountain are the remains of some old calcite diggings. The specimens are strewn all over the mountain side, some as clear as glass. We spent quite some time looking through the piles, until finally we decided to move on to the summit.
From the mine it was easy to pick up the use trail again. We followed some cairns up a small slit in the rock and it spit us out on the slope leading to the summit. About 600 ft of climbing through loose rock and a bit of solid stuff put us on the summit. Boom!
After enjoying the views for a while, huddled next to the summit cairn to stay out of the wind, we descended via a loose but more direct path. It took us four hours to get up to the peak and a little over two to get down. The use trail saves a lot of time, reducing those moments of ‘where do I go now’?
Back at camp, we decided to pack up and head out. All downhill, the five miles out would only take about two hours, which would mean we could be home before midnight and David wouldn’t have to use a vacation day on Monday. So out we went, stopping at Whoa Nellie for dinner, naturally.
Baldwin was a really fun, unique peak. Do it!