Bald Mountain P300
Peak 6,927ft P300
Peak 6,789ft P300

Thu, May 27, 2021
Bald Mountain
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPX Profile

Aspen Valley is a small private inholding within Yosemite National Park, located about 5mi east of the SR120 entrance station. There are about a dozen cabins scattered about the small, grassy valley at an altitude above 6,000ft. Access is via a Forest road (also called Aspen Valley Rd) forking off Evergreen Rd which connects SR120 to Hetch-Hetchy Reservoir. Poking around online maps, I noticed that Grant Miller had done a 14mi hike to three summits to the northwest, starting from Aspen Valley. I had plans to do this hike earlier in May but was stopped by a locked gate along Aspen Valley Rd at the park boundary. I ended up climbing the northermost of the three summits via another route that day, but still wondered how Grant had managed to get to Aspen Valley. Marcus Sierra had hiked to a fourth summit found south of Aspen Valley, a 15-mile roundtrip effort starting from the locked gate. Wanting to do the this peak along with the other two summits to the north, it was an unpleasant prospect to imagine hiking close to 25mi roundtrip from the gate, much of it along the road. Thinking maybe it had a seasonal opening or perhaps Grant had special access from his time working in the park, I texted him to find out. His reply was short and in hindsight, obvious - "I rode my bike!" It seems only the landowners and the park have access past the gate. While hiking 15mi of road might be a bit much, it was very reasonable on a mountain bike. The road is only partially paved and not very suitable for a road bike, but the mountain bike would do just fine. While looking for something I could do as a one-day trip later in the same month, I decided to toss the bike in the Jeep and do this one.

Leaving San Jose around 5a, I got to the park boundary on Aspen Valley Rd around 8:45a. The road was in decent shape, but it has been decades since it was last paved. The road is cleared of debris and semi-regularly graded, such that it can be driven by any vehicle and makes for decent riding. It has a fairly steadly gradient, rising 1,000ft over the course of the first four miles before it relents. I was able to ride the entire distance at a steady pace, reaching Aspen Valley and the end of the rideable portion of the route after the first hour. I felt a little silly locking the bike to itself at the first downfall, then set off on foot. The downfall blocked the last portion of roadway to the TH, but it was of little consequence as I reached the Wilderness boundary in the first five minutes. None of the trails in this area appear to have been cleared this season. With most of the area burned in the 2013 Rim Fire, the snags from that fire fall regularly across the trail, making it quite a chore to keep clear. I spent about an hour plying the trail, going over and around much downfall and past a trail junction to reach a small, unnamed marshy lake depicted on the topo east of Bald Mtn, my first stop. The trail turns west here to get one within half a mile of the summit. Where the trail turns northwest to descend a drainage, I left it to make my way to Bald from the east and southeast. There was much buckthorn on the first half of the cross-country route, but not much real bushwhacking thanks to breaks in the brush. The second half was mostly stepping over logs or walking around them. In all, I spent an hour and a half of hiking to reach Bald Mtn, the last twenty minutes cross-country. As the name suggests, the summit is open to views with few trees, composed of a granite dome outcrop overlooking Ackerson Meadow some 2,600ft below to the west. A number of the snowy peaks in Northern Yosemite can be seen in the distance to the east. There was a benchmark but no register, and sadly I'd forgotten to bring some with me today. This was the best of the three summits.

After a brief pause, I left Bald off the north side, following the rounded ridgeline that connects it to the second summit, Peak 6,927ft. There were some small cliff sections to avoid, so I kept more to the east to keep things class 2 as I dropped more than 600ft to the moderately brushy saddle between the peaks. It took only half an hour to cover distance of less than a mile, finishing with a 350-foot climb over mostly open terrain to the summit. Peak 6,927ft was also a rounded granite dome, though it had more trees that partially blocked views. I was able to identify Tower Peak far to the northeast and Mt. Conness about the same distance to the east, two bookends of that portion of the Sierra Crest that runs through Northern Yosemite.

My next effort was to return to the trail without going back over Bald Mtn, doing my best to avoid heavy brushy. I dropped southeast than east, favoring the south side of the drainage that empties the shallow gully between the two peaks on that side. I found some marshy places with spongy wet soil that I though might end up soaking my boots, but found it had just enough support to get me through without much trouble. Once back on the trail, (some of it heavily overgrown) it would take me another hour and a half along it to return to the bike. It was now 2p, leaving me plenty of time for the last peak to the south. I rode the bike only about half a mile, stopping just past the southern end of Aspen Valley, on the northeast side of Peak 6,789ft. A woman in a suburban drove by as I stood there, waving but not slowing down, and leaving me to choke on a cloud of dust. It would take about an hour for the roundtrip hike through forest and moderate brush. The summit is partially open to views, not was good as the previous two summits and the least interesting of the three. It was 3p when I got back to the bike and would take only another 30min to coast most of the six miles of roadway back to the Jeep, the easiest part of the day. After packing up the bike and changing into some fresh clothes, I headed back to San Jose, arriving an hour before sunset. I spent about the same about of time driving as I did on foot/bike today...

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