The last official day of winter, it seemed fitting to do a backcountry trip in to Indian Peaks Wilderness such as Old Baldy via the Arapaho Peaks route from the Caribou [ghost town] townsite.
The avalanche danger has been holding in the Level 3 / Considerable zone for quite awhile. To quote the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC);
Some slopes will have wind-drifted slabs on the top of the snowpack. The slabs are sitting on crusts or softer faceted snow, you could trigger one in an avalanche. The most significant problem, however, continues to be the deep persistent slab avalanches. There was another round of large, destructive avalanches during the wind event as drifting snow overloaded slopes. Deep persistent avalanches have been triggered every few days since mid-January. Many of the avalanches have been triggered from low in the starting zone or on slopes below the starting zones. Expect slopes to avalanche large, and give yourself a wide margin of safety.
The approach from the Caribou townsite is best served via the historic Anchor Mine in to the wilderness boundary. The Caribou townsite is widely owned by Tom Hendricks, whom allows access through the area (please be respectful of the posted signs and restricted vehicle travel). No snowmobiles are allowed in this area.
From CO72 (Peak to Peak Highway out of Nederland), you will turn left at Caribou Rd, and continue for 12 miles until the road dead-ends at the old Caribou townsite (just east of Klondike Mountain). From the FR505 Forestry Road gate at the Caribou townsite you will TH here and proceed NW about a half mile down the jeep road (now FR505, formerly CR128J to Eldora). You will take the first turn in the road that heads north at almost exactly .5 miles. This fork of the road is the former CR129J that serves the historic Anchor Mine on the Indian Peaks Wilderness boundary. You will travel .92 miles up this road until you see the buildings of the historic Anchor Mine complex. Please keep in mind this is PRIVATE property. The owners of the Anchor Mine have granted access to the Wilderness boundary which is just a few hundred feet past their property. Be respectful of the private lands and the owner’s that have granted this access. Do not go in to any of the structures, or mine shafts in the area.
Once you reach the Anchor Mine, you will travel north a few hundred yards to wilderness boundary. From here it is a dead climb up Old Baldy in a WNW direction. The snowfield from 10,400′ – 11,200′ is a steady slope averaging 28 degrees in incline. Be vigilant where you are traversing in this area as some of these slopes (as you head North) exceed 30 degrees which can slide. If you stay to edge during avalanche season you will not exceed 28 degrees and you will have natural anchors [trees] until you reach 11,200′.
If you choose to go further north from the Anchor Mine area – you will get in to a natual terrain trap. This area can be traversed (like couloirs) when the snow consolidates, but it is not advisable before then. Once you reach 11,200′ (no trees), you can set a course due-north for Arapaho Peaks (about 2.4 miles). The 11,200′ area is technically called Bald Mountain [11,289′], and continues on to Mt Old Blady [13,047′] and North [13,502′ ranked #253 – the highest point in IPW] & South Arapaho Peaks [South Arapaho is also a hard ranked 13er].
As with anything in the Indian Peaks Wilderness be extra vigilant of oncoming storms. Mt Old Baldy & Klondike are notorious for lightning strikes due to the iron ore / magnatite content in the soil. Also be vigilant of the City of Boulder watershed boundaries in the area which extend from Arapaho Glacier down through Triple, Goose, and Island lakes. This area is off limits to humans and incurs a $1500 fine. You could technically drop this area from Mt Old Baldy in to the cirque and ride out in to the Rainbow Lakes area. From there you can take the North-Northeast FR 505 route back to the Caribou Townsite. Again though, since the Republic of Boulder frowns upon this route; if you do it – don’t get caught, and don’t post photos of it 😉
This area is beautiful, the gem of Indian Peaks Wilderness. Again, please be respectful of the private property boundaries.