Ascent of Baldy Peak on 2000-08-19

Climber: Scott Surgent

Date:Saturday, August 19, 2000
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Baldy Peak
    Elevation:8378 ft / 2553 m

Ascent Trip Report

The Davis Mountains are in the center of the West Texas panhandle, with its summit, Mount Livermore (Baldy Peak), the second highest peak in the state after Guadalupe Peak. The range is lush with forests and grassy meadows, less desert-like than the other Texas ranges. Mount Livermore rises above the forest and ridges, appearing as a fin of exposed rock. Most of the surrounding lands are private, with little to no public access to most of the range.

Around 1990, the Nature Conservancy purchased the U-up-U-down Ranch, which sits northeast of Mount Livermore and includes the peak within its boundaries. The Nature Conservancy features this property as a showcase, opening it periodically for visitation. Aside from hikers, many people come here for the birding, camping, or the chance to relax a weekend in a rustic ranch setting. The only feasible way to explore in the heart of the range is through the Nature Conservancy.

I was here during the 1999-2000 New Years rollover. I spent a day driving around the mountains and the town of Fort Davis. I played tourist, including spending time at the old Army Garrison in town. I also explored the Davis Mountains camping area not far from town, but saw that it gets nowhere near the peak. I quickly discovered that the peak is off-limits to casual hiking. Astronomy fans (like me) can also visit the nearby McDonald Observatory.

After returning to Arizona, I did my homework and learned of the Nature Conservancy angle, so I got into contact with them, paid my dues, and saw they had an open weekend this upcoming August. I purchased a plane ticket and looked forward to this opportunity to explore and hike Mount Livermore.

I flew into El Paso a few days early and planned to hike Sierra Blanca in New Mexico. A hurricane had barrelled into south Texas a few days earlier and its remnants were still active in the mountains of New Mexico. I stayed the night in Ruidoso. Early the following morning, the fog and storms were so thick that I immediately cancelled my plans for Sierra Blanca, and instead drove south and enjoyed a leisurely sight-seeing drive through Carlsbad, the Guadalupe Mountains, and Fort Davis.

I arrived at the U-up-U-down Ranch about 3 in the afternoon. Many people were there, numbering about 60. The Nature Conservancy had a few people there and they were leading walking tours of the grounds, plus short walks for birders. Birding seems to be a popular pastime in Texas and some of these people take it very seriously. I went on one short walk and just hung in the back. That evening, I slept in the open under a large tree. Conditions were pleasant and I slept soundly.

Early the next morning, I met up with the others interested in the Livermore hike at the main ranch complex. Our group numbered about 20, and we piled into two or three big SUVs, each driven by a guide, as we lumbered slowly up the rough tracks into Madera Canyon toward Livermore Peak. The drive covered about 7 miles and gained 1,500 feet. It was steep with some rough sections and stream crossings, and the drivers did well. We parked at an opening on Bridge Gap located east of the peak.

The hike covered about 1.5 miles one way to the top, with a gain of 1,000 feet. The initial leg was along a steep track, easy to follow. The guides were locals and knew a lot about the region, and they gave talks on just about everything under the sun. We moved slowly and had to stop often to listen to the talks and let the slow-pokes catch up. We were in no hurry so this wasn't a problem. Normally I'm one of the slow-pokes but today, I was a sprinter compared to some of the others. Another guy with a long beard was also in the lead. He was cool and we'd often sit up a few yards ahead while the group convened and the guides pointed at things.

In 90 minutes, we reached the end of the road, where it curls around the north side of Livermore's summit, its bare rock forming a small palisade of cliffs on all sides. From the end of the road, the final vertical hundred feet involves a hike up loose talus to get to the solid rock, then a short scramble to the top. While the scramble was blessed with solid rock and holds all the way up, it was exposed and a few people decided to stay back.

About a dozen of us had convened on top. The summit is an elongated platform of bare rock, with small repeater boxes. There was a small depression filled with thousands of old arrowheads and shards. I don't know the story of how they all got there.

I had fun picking out peaks all around me. The Guadalupes were visible to the north, and the Eagles off to the west. The day was slightly humid and hazy, so far-off peaks were obscured. We stayed on top for 15 minutes before working our way down to firmer ground. Hiking down, we followed an old trail instead of the road, which was much more interesting and lead us right back to the cars. Our total time: three hours.

Once all heads were accounted for, we got back in the vehicles for the slow drive out. I didn't stick around much afterwards, as I had to be in El Paso that evening for my flight home, and needed a place to clean up. I got moving, found a truck stop near El Paso to shower, and flew home that night. The next day classes started at ASU and I needed to be ready to go.

The trip went well and with no logistical issues. I wish to thank the Nature Conservancy as well as the guides for the hike. They all did a top-rate job and I had a great time. The Davis Mountains are very beautiful and I have been back since a couple times, once to bring my wife and do some sight-seeing at the observatory and around the lonely highways.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:1000 ft / 304 m
    Round-Trip Distance:3 mi / 4.8 km
    Trailhead:7378 ft / 2248 m
    Route Conditions:
Road Hike, Exposed Scramble

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