Baldy Alto is a Class 2 hike with a fairly long mileage approach from the Stewart Creek TH. To reach the trailhead, you'll need to do nearly 30 miles of graded, dirt road driving into a remote section of the San Juans. While some passenger vehicles can make this drive in, we recommend a minimum of a cross-over style vehicle with a little better clearance and gravel/dirt road capability. Baldy Alto is located near the 14er, San Luis Peak, and two other high ranked 13ers, Stewart and Organ Mtn. To climb all these summits, we recommend a brief backpack trip into the area to clean out all of them.
Baldy Alto ESE Ridge Route
South Fork of Stewart Creek
2.2 mi / 1,660'
The Stewart Creek Trailhead is accessible by driving on many miles of Forest Service maintained gravel roads. As such, any number of basic, passenger type vehicles may be able to access this trailhead, but sometimes road damage from rains, ruts and runoff can create a hazard for lower clearance vehicles, therefore we recommend that this trailhead is best accessed by crossover style vehicles that have a little more clearance.
The most straightforward access to Stewart Creek TH is from State Highway 114, which turns south from US 50, 7.5 miles east of Gunnison. SH114 connects to the town of Saguache in the San Luis Valley by way of what is now called "North Pass." If coming from US 50, drive 20 miles south on SH114 and turn right onto NN14, aka: BLM 3083. If coming from Saguache and North Pass, the intersection is about 7.5 miles down from the pass. Once onto NN14, drive seven more miles on a well-maintained gravel road to the southernmost end of the two Dome Lakes and make a right turn at the end of the lake. Measure mileage from here. This will be CR2166, (aka: BLM 3086 or 15Gg). The gravel road circles the end of the lake, turns back north and goes one mile on the west side of the lake where you'll make a left turn to continue on CR2166. At about 4.2 miles, stay right. The road designation technically becomes 14Dd, but is still CR2166. Between miles 6 & 7, enter Forest Service land. The road designation becomes FS794 and the road condition deteriorates some. Remain on FS794 all the way to the Stewart Creek TH. Total mileage is just under 21.
In some older source books, one access to Stewart Creek took you to the Old Agency station utilizing FS788 & 790. The route described above goes faster with less confusion. If you need more detail for access to this area, consult either of Roach's book on the 14ers or the high 13ers.
There is limited camping at the trailhead.
The trail up Stewart Creek is a fairly gentle one for the first three miles or more, all the way to about the 11,400 foot level. It always remains on the north side of Stewart Creek and keeps hikers above the many beaver ponds and bogs of the creek that lace the valley floor. There is an abundance of willows. This is prime moose habitat and you have a good chance of spotting one if you hike quietly. The hiking starts out in meadows, then follows the forest border. There's also a good chance of spotting some beaver. For flower lovers, the valley has numerous plots of wild iris. The last mile of trail climbs more steeply as you pull up out of the forest and into the willow-covered upper basin below San Luis Peak. The last good tree camping will be in the vicinity of where the trail begins to climb well above Stewart Creek. Where the south fork of Stewart Creek comes in and joins the main drainage, cross the main creek and hike up along the west side of the south fork into lower willows. We found tolerable camping in this area. See coordinates below.
In the upper valley of Stewart Creek, the only shelter will be from the plentiful willows. Follow the directions above to an area that offers tolerable camping with a minimum of sloping ground.
South Fork Stewart Creek
N 37° 59' 57.76", W 106° 54' 34.77"
Elevation 12,115 ft.
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Year Climbed: 1992
From our suggested base camp, walk back north to the main creek drainage, get back on the San Luis peak trail and head back down trail (east) a little until past an intermittent stream that comes down to the SE from near the summit of Baldy Alto. Head up Baldy Alto on the east side of this stream and gain the ESE ridge. There will be a few willows to work through initially, but if you stay near the stream course, you'll be out of them soon enough. The angle of ascent is moderate and mostly grassy tundra for much of the way. We hiked in the direction of one of those large rock cairns built we assume by shepherds, that was located near where the ridge took a more westerly turn. From here, as you gain more altitude, the tundra gives way to more smaller rock, but it's never an inconvenience. The ESE ridge will intersect another ridge that runs more east-west. Follow the rockier ridge west to the summit. Baldy Alto is connected to San Luis Peak by an easy 1.7 mile-long ridge. The most difficult aspect of this traverse is the initial, steeper descent SW from Baldy Alto. The hike tends to be laced with sheep trails.
We have sequenced Baldy Alto with Stewart Peak. See the directions for Stewart for more information.
Links to other information, routes & trip reports for this peak that may be helpful.
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“Human life is far more important than just getting to the top of a mountain.” – Edmund Hillary