Thu, Jul 11, 2013
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Bald Top is a modest summit located in the northeast corner of San Luis Obispo County, just off the Pacific Coast in the Santa Lucia Range. It lies just south of the Los Padres NF border on land owned by the Hearst Corporation. The Baldwin Ranch Rd rising up from Highway 1 is closed to public vehicles, but open to foot traffic. This can be used to get within half a mile of the summit, at which point the chances of running into anyone are remote. The peak overlooks the coast at Ragged Point, considered the southern terminus of the rugged Big Sur coastline. South of here the coast highway descends from the precipitous cliffs and enters the more gentle ranchlands around the Hearst Castle. The hike to the summit is not particularly difficult, less than 4 miles each way with just less than 2,500ft of gain.
As I did the day before on Pine Top Mtn, I got an early start around 5a so as to get back in time for breakfast with the family at Cambria where we were vacationing for a few days. Coastal fog hugged the base of the mountain for almost 1,000ft before opening to blue skies above. In the fog layer, it was dark, but with just enough ambient light to see by. I avoided touching any plants on either side of the road since I knew there was abundant poison oak in the area (on the return I would find this highly justified). By 6a, just before sunrise, I had hiked the several miles of road to the summit ridgeline, here running roughly north-south. The decent dirt road turns north while I turned right on a poorer road that continued towards Bald Top. The San Carpoforo Creek wraps around Bald Top to the south and west, helping to give it an isolated look though it sports only modest prominence (the ridgeline running north connects it to higher summits and ridges in the range). Fog had penetrated inland along the creek to the east side of Bald Top, but this would dissipate now that the sun was shining upon it. The poor road ended at fenceline. I managed to open the primitive gate and continued following an animal track through the grass towards the summit, only a few bumps away. A lone oak tree stands at the rounded, grassy summit overlooking the early morning scene looking down upon a pillowy blanket of hundreds of square miles of fog.
I wandered down the southwest side to a lower subsidiary bump where I knew the benchmark to be located, as depicted on the 7.5' topo. It took some searching, but with the help of a reference mark pointing me in the right direction, I came across the 1887 benchmark half hidden in the grass. Less than 10 yards away was a second one, from 1932, a bit of a surprise (not sure why they would place a second one 45 years later). After taking in the views and pulling a few wayward thistles from my socks, I reversed the route and returned in less than an hour with the help of some jogging for most of the downhill. It was a very pleasant way to watch a sunrise and spend a few hours in the early morning. I was even back at the motel in Cambria before anyone had waken up. After a hot shower I snuck back in bed for a little more rest. When my wife woke up she was surprised to learn from the kids (who had not slept through my departure) I had been out, finding me in the same place she had last seen me before falling asleep last night...
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