Old Baldy Saddle

April 16-17, 2005

Back in the saddle again! We just love those high elevation toe-holds where the wind tugs at your tent stakes all night long. Old Baldy Saddle sits at 8800 feet just below the towering granite dome of Mount Wrightson (9453'), the highest peak in the Santa Rita Mountains.

I avoided climbing Wrightson until now because of reports of overuse, erosion, and, more recently, rumors that this area is being used by drug runners posing as ordinary backpackers.

As for overuse, these trails see plenty of traffic, but they're in excellent condition. There are two trails to the summit. Old Baldy is shorter by about about three miles, but it's much steeper. In fact, it's an unrelenting series of switchbacks that ascends 3400 feet in four miles. The reward was nabbing the "honeymoon suite" -- a primo campsite just above the saddle, tucked under Ponderosa Pines with great views in all directions.

Of course, the real reason for this hike was to test out our brand new backpacks -- a Gregory Forester for Dennis and a women's Coyote 4750 for me. These are our first internal frame packs, and we were really impressed by how well they redistribute the weight and take the strain off your back and shoulders.

With the tent pitched, the bags unrolled, and dinner cooked and eaten, I profited from the last few minutes of sunshine. Temperatures dipped into the 30s overnight and the half-moon flickered on patches of snow on the flanks Mount Wrightson.

We hit the trail at 8 am, this time following the Super Trail around the east side of Mount Wrightson, and taking on water at Old Baldy Spring. The dry air was fragrant with pine sap, the wind was sighing in the trees, and there was snow underfoot, including one large patch of ice that we crossed on all fours clutching at tree branches.

Dropping down out of the forest onto the rocky southern slope, we startled numerous lizards and snakes sunning themselves on the rocks, including this terribly handsome horny toad.

The Super Trail is longer, but with the backpacks, easier hiking probably makes up for the increase in distance.

Past Riley Saddle, you have a bird's eye view of the Mount Hopkins Obervatory.

Beef stew for lunch, and a long nap in the shade before descending from Josephine Saddle.

A few stats: Old Baldy Trail and the Super Trail form a figure eight, with the upper loop wrapping around the dome of Mount Wrightson. It's 2.2 miles from the Old Baldy trailhead to Josephine Saddle. From this point, it's 1.8 miles to Baldy Saddle via Old Baldy Trail, and 3.3 miles via the Super Trail. Our time was 5-1/2 hours up and 4-1/2 hours down with stops. Our loop was approximately 11.1 miles in length.

There are two springs -- apparently reliable -- Bellows Springs, .7 miles below Baldy Saddle on the Old Baldy Trail, and Baldy Spring just below Baldy Saddle on the Super Trail.

We only saw one possible campsite on Old Baldy Trail. However, there were plenty of campsites under the pines on the upper section of the Super Trail, and Old Baldy Saddle affords numerous possibilities.