Last weekend I hiked up Mt. Baldy with a group of four: my friend, Chris, my brother, Jim, and Jim’s friend, Scott, and his son, Ryan. Mt. Baldy is the second highest mountain in Arizona at an elevation of 11,424. However, the summit is within the boundaries of the White Mountain Apache Reservation and is off limits unless you have permission to access it. We did not have that permission, so we went as high as the trail would allow, where East Baldy Trail #95 connects to West Baldy Trail #94 at about 11,175 feet of elevation.
I drove up with Chris Friday night after work to the Big Lake campground. We arrived about ten o’clock at night and ended up sleeping in the SUV. Next morning, we woke early and met with the rest of our group and headed to the East Baldy Trail 95 trailhead after we left two shuttle vehicles at the West Baldy Trail 94 trailhead. There is a three mile connector trail, #96, between each trailhead that makes the whole loop approximately 17 miles, but we decided on foregoing the connector trail as it is an uneventful walk through the woods.
We started up East Baldy 95 which takes you in and out of a tree line along a pleasant green meadow and gradually inclines into thicker woods and brings you through some very impressive granite rock spires and formations that I was surprised to see in this area of Arizona. The trail winds up through these rock giants and up the mountain until you find yourself on top of a range of these boulders that stretches a good portion of the mountaintop. From up here you get a great view of the surrounding land and Big Lake without the obstruction of any trees in the way.
At this point, approximately four miles in, my brother decided he would turn back due to headaches, shortness of breath, and chest pains as he did not want to get too far in and become an emergency situation. Sad to see him go, but understandable that he should play it safe, we parted ways. Two of our party were already far ahead of us, but it didn’t take Scott and I long to catch up with them.
Once we passed through the stretch of boulders, the path was obstructed with frequent downed logs. We had to climb over and under and around them for most of the remaining trail. We caught up to Chris and Ryan and carried on. Shortly after, we came upon a meadow of tall, green grass on top of the mountain of thick woods and found pieces of a fuselage from an old military plane (Beech AT-11) that crashed there in 1943. Not far after that, we reached trail 94.
The highest point we could go without violating Reservation boundaries was the junction of 94 and 95. If you had permission from the White Mountain Apache Reservation, you could follow signs south that would take you to the true peak. However, we continued onto East Baldy 94. At that point we had hiked approximately six miles and we had plenty of daylight ahead of us. From the boulder area where we parted with Jim to this point, the elevation grade was very low, so we were able to cover more ground quickly. Since it was all downhill from that intersection on (an intense decline on the trail), we kept up with that pace, and probably could have gone faster if it weren’t for the downed trees creating obstacles.
Since we were on a mountainside for most of the descent on 94, there was no where we could have pitched a tent for the night due to lack of flat ground and so many fallen trees. And with plenty of daylight still, we kept going and eventually met with the Little Colorado. This is where the land began to even out and we started looking for a good camp spot. We eventually found one in a nice little clearing that had soft ground and good tree coverage. At that point, we had hiked about 11 miles. We pitched our tents, made dinner, and settled down for the night.
The next morning, we spotted a coyote traipsing across the hillside down the trail from us as we drank coffee and made our breakfast. Ryan and Scott packed up and headed out before me and Chris. We said our goodbyes, finished breakfast, then packed up and headed out about a half hour after them.
The rest of the hike out was relaxing and we enjoyed the scenery as we paralleled the Little Colorado for the last three miles. At the end of the trail we met up with Jim and exchanged accounts of what each of us did after we parted. We then went back to Big Lake, rented a boat, and fished for about four hours.
More accurately, I sat in a boat getting sunburned with a string floating in the water. I caught nothing, maybe a few taunting hits at my lure, Chris had a few bites, and Jim came out victorious with two fish, each about seven inches long. But it was a great way to end a great hike.