Belknap, Baldy, Blue Lake Loop in Tushars (UT)

pics by Harlan W.S.
July 16, 2011

 

I first saw Belknap and Baldy from Delano, 6 years ago.  The geology changes across the Blue Lake drainage, and the NW Tushars are more rugged and starker than the beautiful, green Delano. I decided then that, one day, I would make a loop of Belknap and Baldy, preferably when there was still a fair amount of snow, as these mountains are much prettier with partial snow cover.

 

There are two problems with such a loop. First, the normal approach to Belknap requires driving a fair ways up the forest road 123 (aka Marysvale or Beaver Creek Road).  This dirt road is often closed until July because of the snow, and even then the road may be gated at the first meadow of Big John Flats, near 9950’. When one starts from the 1st gate, versus the traditional trailhead, there is an extra 1500’ accumulated gain (the ridge is a bit of a roller-coaster, and you typically go back over all these lumps), and an extra 13 miles round-trip.  Second, if one wishes to cut from Baldy directly back to the Beaver Creak Road, there is a deep canyon in between – the Blue Lake Creek drainage.

 

All told, accounting for grade, the round trip was 19 miles, with over 7000’ accumulated elevation gain.  Some of the elevation gain was from snow avoidance.  I finished in 11.5 hours.

 

The plan looked good on paper, but there were a few wrinkles. First, the wind was gusting to ~70 mph; second, the snow on the N side of Baldy was often treacherous; third, the talus decent to the creek (2700’ vertical) was rougher than I expected; and fourth, the climb up from Blue Lake was through a chaos of downed trees on very steep slopes.  All-in-all, a great day, but not an experience I would repeat soon!

 

I saw no one else on the “trail” all day, and previous sign-ins on the peaks were from last year. I carried a lot of emergency gear, including a Blizzard bivy bag (3-layer) and a SPOT satellite transmitter—else this was not a hike to do alone.  I took trekking poles, as I expected a lot of loose steep talus, and snow, and I wanted emergency crutches!

 

 

geo thumbnail

Geology of Belnap area (from PD Rowley
et al, USGS I–2645–A). This area represents
a deeply eroded, massive volcano
(caldera complex).  Belknap and Baldy are in
resistant, intra-caldera rhyolites, and Delano
is in resistant welded tuffs.  Between them are
a variety of less-resistant flows, tuffs, and
coeval conglomerates. If I'd known the rock

type would change on the way down
Baldy, I might have avoided the bad talus.

 

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This is the 100k topo for the trip.

Red marks this year’s trip;

blue marks the 2005 venture.

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The 24k closeup of the route.

bprofile

This profile gives some idea of the

“problem.” There are lots of

ups-and-down, some not very

subtle. The total mileage shows up

~18.3, but accounting for grade,

it was over 19 miles.

 

 

 

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I arrived at Big John Flat the night

before. Lots of folks were car camping

in the “dispersed” sites…

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...but it was easy to find campsites

amid the trees. There were some

mosquitoes, but just a minor

inconvenience (for those who grew

up in the NE USA).

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Next morn, at ~10300’ (well past

the gate closure).  The road has been

graded since 2005.

 

 

 

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The graded road still had some

rapidly-melting snowbanks.

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As one got higher, the snow covered

the road, often several feet deep.

More significant, the road was muddy

and eroded.

 

 

 

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First view of Baldy (L) and Belknap (R).

From here, you can’t see the gorge.

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Typical snow coverage on the road.

 

 

 

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View SE; Delano is the high point.

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View NW to Belknap; I opted to

follow the old mine trail at R. The talus

on Belknap is incredibly steep, but

there is a switch-backed herdpath.

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View E, ~11450’ on SE side Belknap.

 

 

 

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View SSW to Baldy and Blue Lake

drainage.

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Manganese dendrites were everywhere.

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View SW from summit, to i-15 valley.

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Pano S to SW.

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Pano S-SSE.

 

 

 

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Pano ESE to SSE.

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View E.

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Summit log on Belknap.

 

 

 

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It was far too windy for my normal pose.

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View to Delano from summit

cairn. There was an elaborate

register container made of PVC

plumbing.

 

 

 

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Another pano S.

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Polemonium (sky pilot).

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Alpine Collomia?

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I’m on the ridge betweem Balknap

and Baldy, looking SE to Delano.

 

 

 

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Baldy from ridge. The ridge is a bit

of a roller-coaster,  and was quite

scenic; unfortunately, it was fiercely

windy, and my camera was under

my anorak.

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Now I’m looking up the NE side

of Baldy, at a steep angle; this snow

field is ~30-45 degrees.  I think one is

supposed to travel up this route.

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Instead, I opted to find the narrowest

part of the snow chute, and cross

over to the rocks, since I didn’t

treasure an uncontrolled glissade

with poor run-out.

 

 

 

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Now I look back across the ridge

to Belknap.

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View E. The snow chute averaged

Just about 40 degrees, but was

more like 50 degrees in places, and

consisted of a soft layer on hardpack.

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On top!

 

 

 

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I’m not sure why they come here in

helicopters.

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Even though the wind was still fierce,

I could do my pose in the lee

of the summit.

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View E from Baldy.

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View NE.

 

 

 

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Next I decided to scree-ski down a

gulley on the SE side of the summit.

Regrettably, after 200’ of a 2700’

descent, the soft scree turned to nasty

blocks of large, sharp talus.

It’s hard to get a sense for the

slope in this photo; I kept looking

down at the creek, across snow

and rock. and it never seemed to get

any closer!

 

 

 

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Finally I got down to the beautiful

Blue Lake Creek, which was really

Rushing.

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I traveled upstream, often negotiating

cliffs on the west bank.

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Eventually I needed to get to the

east side.

 

 

 

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Bluebells.

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Looking back up (steeply!) at the

E face of Baldy. In my na´vetÚ, I

originally planned to come straight

down the E face.  It looked good

on the map, but was full of cliffs.

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Finally at Blue Lake.  This lake

has a flood control structure on

the outlet, and is rimmed with

a chaos of downed trees.

 

 

 

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This also looked good on paper! I

started up the steep slope on the E of

Blue Lake, only to find a chaos of

downed trees, piled like pick-up-sticks.

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This chaos continued on the very

steep hill for ~500’ vertical.

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View W to Baldy and Blue Lake.

Now I’m on soft talus so steep

that I can barely get purchase.

 

 

 

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I topped the first ridge… only to

find more snow. In places, the road

was deeply incised into the steep banks,

and was drifted over, so the route

back to the Beaver Creek Road (123)

was fraught with snow avoidance.

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Hallelujah!  I can see the real road!

Actually, I’m on top (3’ above!)

the road in this photo.

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Finally!  Delano sure looks gentle

at this time of day!

 

 

 

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Here’s a feature that may make it

difficult for vehicles to travel to

the base of Belknap for a while. There

is a deep rut  on the E side of the road,

and this 5-6’-deep gash that cuts

diagonally across the road.

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Flox.

 

 

 

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You say sheepherder, I say

shepherd.

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They are serious about closing

the road until it “dries out.”

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Hmmm, don’t think I’ll fill up the

water bottles here.

 

 

 

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This deer on the second meadow…

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…looked a bit thin. Time to fatten up!