Driving in, when we saw the large amount of white on Babo's North Face, we had an inkling that we may not be making it to the peak this year. This trip, though, was not just about the peak, it was about sleeping on the Lion's Ledge. There is a small campsite at the base of the giant overhanging East Face with a spring nearby that trickles out from the wall. It is not an easy one to get to, requiring a scramble with a full pack after the route leaves the saddle, but once reached, it is an unforgettable setting.
The hike in from Thomas Canyon was a little sad, because there was a fair amount of trash and several encampments from smuggling activity. Dave, the trip leader, had been coming here for years and it was the first trash he'd remembered seeing in Thomas Canyon. He hadn't camped at the Lion's Ledge for years and was giddy with excitement about it. We stopped at the small fall before the route crosses the stream to head up to the saddle for lunch. It was nice to be able to take our time, unlike last year when we climbed the peak and back in a very full day. The way up to the saddle had been obscured somewhat by a recent fire. There were a number of very interesting rainbow cactus that had started new growth on top of their burnt stumps.
After the saddle, it was a scramble through giant blocks of rock to get to the Lion's Ledge. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bcjqTBNlOBg
There was just enough room at the campsite for us four. The spring nearby is collected in buckets at the base and Dave had brought up a new bucket in case one of them needed replacing. But they both looked good, so he ended up taking just taking the bucket for a hike. The two Daves went hiking around the Lion's Ledge and saw two golden eagles while I stayed in camp with Jonathan and enjoyed the fantastic view. We had dinner and enjoyable conversation by the fire in the evening.
The next morning, we enjoyed an incredible sunrise: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X7bW9kS879Y
Then we packed up, and went back to the saddle. We stashed some things, repacked and took the steep, brushy route toward the base of the first scramble. As we got to the spot where the rocky gully could be seen, we got into the shade, the ice and snow appeared and the temperature dropped. I looked at the icy traverse ahead and told the others that they were welcome to do what they'd like, but I was done for the day. They all came to the same decision shortly after- it just wasn't going to happen today. I wasn't too sad about it, since I had reached the summit last year, but I felt bad for the one in our party that hadn't before.
We bushwhacked around the area for a little bit and found a spot where snowmelt was cascading off the face and the trees were covered in icicles. We returned to the saddle and repacked again, had some lunch, and started down the hillside. One of our group took an alarming fall and he rolled down the hill twice and stopped just short of a nasty-looking agave to the stomach. Thankfully, his backpack had cushioned much of the blow. Once we got back to the canopy of Thomas Canyon, where the trash was, we used our extra time (since we hadn't gone to the summit) to collect it and pack it out. I kept everyone amused by using my best Spanish Announcer voice to read off the names on the packages. The bucket Dave had been carrying all trip finally came in handy to carry some of the trash. On our drive out to Highway 286, we saw a string of 5 or 6 drug runners, walking in broad daylight up a ridge, and as soon as we had spotted them, they disappeared from sight. Creepy. We collected a number of backpacks and water bottles from the sides of the dirt road, until our containers were full. The strange part of it all is that we didn't see any border patrol until we hit paved Hwy. 286, and then they were pretty much the only other vehicles on the road all the way to 3 Points.
Babo is an incredible mountain and The Lion's Ledge definitely makes my Top 3 list of places I've ever slept. I feel lucky to have a place so special so close by.