So, one summer day I called a hiking buddy. We made a plan. Mary Lois Brown and I decided to hike up the east side and descend down the west side for a near total of 13 miles. If we wanted to make a complete loop we could have included the three and half mile Crossover #96 trail. We decided that we didn't want to do all three trails so this necessitated us taking two cars for shuttling between the east and west trailheads.
Planning is critical to enjoy this adventure as frequent thunder and lightening storms occur in this area. A few days before our big day we started checking this area's weather by logging onto the national weather site (www.nws.noaa.gov). The day we hiked this trail the weather promised to be partially cloudy without rain.
What to wear is always an important consideration. Hiking in high altitude and in the wilderness can offer varying degrees of cold, hot, wind, and rain. Taking a backpack, wearing study hiking boots and layers of clothing gives you the best chance for a safe and comfortable hike. A good clothing combination would include a T-shirt, a long-sleeved shirt, a thick vest, windbreaker and a long rain poncho. The poncho should be big enough to go over your body and backpack and extend down to the knees. A hat is also handy to keep the sun off your head and out of your eyes. Your backpack can house the clothing you don't need during your trip.
Rising early, I rendezvoused with Mary Lois at Hon-Dah at 7:30 am, and then followed her in my car to Sheep's Crossing (the single lane bridge on Rte. 273). This bridge crosses the West Fork of the Little Colorado River and is a popular area for fishing and picnicking. We left my car there and drove together in Mary Lois's to the East Baldy trailhead, approximately three miles further down Route 273. The entry road and parking area were rough to get into so I would recommend a 4x4 or parking out near the road. If you've ever heard of Phelps Cabin, this is where it once was as it was burned down ages ago, but the directional sign for it still exists over on the West Baldy Trail. We began our actual hiking at 8:50 am. Mary Lois had hiked both these trails before and she led the way. We reached our first zenith at 10:10 am. This was a rocky outcrop affording fantastic views of Big Lake in the distance. This was a great place to take a rest break and we enjoyed a ten-minute one there. At 12:10 we reached the place where you could see the wreckage of a plane crash that occurred in the 1950s. Three parts of the plane were visible. We took another short break there. We had another half a mile to go before reaching the top.
The forest was a mixture of white pine, Douglas fir, aspen, and ponderosa trees. The trail is not marked along the way, but the path is easily followed and there is a sign at the top. The Reservation Boundary pole is in a small clearing and signifies the intersection the East and West Baldy trails. We reached the top of the East Baldy trail at 12:40. The actual summit is on the Indian Reservation and its access is cut short by less than half a mile. This part is closed to the public because it is on the Indian's sacred land called Dzil Ligai. No permit is needed as long as you respect and stay off of this sacred area.
Clouds were building up so we decided it wouldn't be smart to tarry on top of the mountain. We headed on down the West Baldy #94 trail. We enjoyed a 15-minute break on the way down at a place, which overlooked a large grove of dead aspen trees. I have no idea what killed them, but they were ghostly looking among all of the evergreen trees. We kept descending. The day got brighter, yet it looked stormy way up behind us. Down at the bottom, where the trail levels off and travels alongside the Little Colorado River, is where we started seeing other people. People were out fishing and picnicking, just enjoying themselves on a beautiful summer's day in a gorgeous setting.
We didn't see much wildlife other than a lot of chipmunks and butterflies. Rather than walk over to the West Baldy trailhead, we veered off toward my car at Sheep's Crossing. I don't recall Mary Lois's reasoning as to why we didn't leave my car at the actual trailhead. It has a huge parking area. Needless to say we cut this part of the trail a bit short by parking my car at Sheep's Crossing.
We finished hiking at 4:15 pm. We got into my car and drove back to Mary's vehicle. We then each drove home. I was in my kitchen fixing dinner by 6:30 pm. It took us approximately 7 ? hours to complete our entire hike. The Mt. Baldy challenge was now a good memory.
This is a classic hike. The key is to have good weather, plenty of time, good clothes, a camera, food, and water. Mt. Baldy Wilderness maps are available at the Springerville Ranger District office. Remember that this trail should not be hiked if there are going to be any storms in this area. Lightning storms are common and are a serious threat to the safety of hikers anywhere near the top. Be sure to check the weather before attempting this trail. Get an early start and allow plenty of time. So, that you too can rise to the challenge.