Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Mount Baldy (San Antonio)

On July 4, 2011, I hiked to the top of Mount Baldy, also known as Mount San Antonio, the tallest mountain in the San Gabriel Mountains (10,064 feet), for the 16th time. The picture of Baldy, below, was taken from Cucamonga Peak.
I have climbed it more than any other mountain for a number of reasons. 

First, it is a great training mountain. I have hiked it in preparation for Mount Rainier, Mount Shasta, Mount Whitney (multiple times), other Sierra backpacking trips and Long’s Peak in Colorado. I talked to someone three years ago that was training for climbs in the Himalayas. From the trailhead to the summit, Baldy is virtually a continuous uphill climb, with very little in the way of switchbacks. It provides a fantastic workout on the legs. From Manker Flats past the Sierra Club ski hut to the summit it has 930 feet of gain per mile (3,904 feet in 4.2 miles). By contrast, Mount Baden-Powell is 702 feet of gain per mile (2,806 feet of gain in 4 miles), Mount San Bernardino is 638 feet of gain per mile (5,100 feet in 8 miles), Mount San Gorgonio via Vivian Creek is 630 feet of gain per mile (5,419 feet in 8.6 miles), and Mount San Jacinto is 579 feet of gain per mile (4,200 feet in 7.25 miles) via Fuller Ridge. 

Second, it can be done in half a day. Several days ago, I left my home in Redlands at 4:45 a.m., started hiking at 5:50 a.m. and was back home before noon. Mount Baden-Powell which is also a great training hike is a much further drive because its access is from the back-side of the San Gabriel Mountains. The other local mountains, listed above, are about double the distance and take a full day.

Third, the view from the top is incredible. There are beautiful views of Mount Baden-Powell and the Sheep Mountain Wilderness in between,
views into the Los Angeles Basin when it is not socked in by clouds (most of the time when I’m on top there is a cloud layer over the LA Basin), views into the high desert and views of the eastern San Gabriel Mountains and the San Bernardino Mountains.
The view rivals that of Mount San Jacinto and Mount San Bernardino.

Fourth, no permit is required to hike it and there are no quotas. All of the other hikes mentioned require a permit and have quotas, other than Mount Baden-Powell. This is a positive if you get a good early start. If you start too late, the trail can be as crowded as Disney Land. On my recent trip, I encountered about eight other people on my way up (some going up and some down), but probably 40 or 50 going up while I was on my way down. When I arrived at the bottom, there were probably 75 cars or more. I would have encountered many more people if I'd taken San Antonio Canyon on the way down.

Fifth, it has some beautiful scenery along the way and can be varied. San Antonio Falls is always a beautiful view, near the Sierra Club hut there are usually beautiful wildflowers and green grasses
and a nice stream with plenty of flow, and the craggy ridges above the Baldy Bowl are spectacular.
On the way back down, to provide variety, you can scramble through the steep scree of the Baldy Bowl back to the Sierra Club hut (below, the scree of the Bowl with Mt. Harwood in the background)
or go along the impressively narrow and steep Devil’s Backbone Trail (Andrew, Sam and I below)
and then enjoy a nice cold soda at the ski lodge and ride down the ski lift.

As of July 4, 2011, I can add a sixth reason. I saw a herd of six bighorn sheep while I was on the summit. They were just off the ridge toward West Baldy. I walked over and got within about 30 yards of one ewe 
and saw a larger group down below me. 

On June 29, 2013, I saw another bighorn ram, about 1/4 miles below the Sierra Club hut.

On the same trip I saw a deer very near the summit. I've had a close view of a deer at least one other time, but not when my camera was available.
What a thrill. Knowing that you can encounter these beautiful animals is another reason to do this hike. 

From the trailhead at Manker Flats, you pass a couple of porta-potteys, go through a locked gate and hike west up a recently paved road .6 mile to a view of San Antonio Falls. The falls are probably 100 yards or more distant and I’ve never tried to hike over to them. I noticed a fence this last trip and it may not be possible to hike to the falls. There the road turns into a dirt road and takes a sharp bend to the right and heads east. In about .3 mile the dirt road takes a more gradual bend to the left heading north and you take a very faint and difficult to see trail to the left off the dirt road (the trail, which you can't really see in the picture below, goes left off the road and just to the right of the rocks in the left center of the picture).
It is opposite a lone pine tree on the right. On September 11, 2005, with Jeff Brice, we missed this turn-off and ended up hiking the road all the way up to the ski lodge and taking the Devil’s Backbone route up to Mount Baldy. The route up San Antonio Canyon is much better.

The trail goes at about a 45 degree angle off the dirt road, then cuts back the other direction at the same angle until you reach the trees and pass a trailhead register. From there the trail follows the north (right) side of San Antonio Canyon, rarely switchbacking, 1.6 miles to a green Sierra Club ski hut. On the way up, you get occasional views of the green ski hut,
San Antonio Creek below and the crags at the top of the Baldy Bowl,
particularly as the sun hits it early in the morning. Just below the ski hut you pass through a beautiful grassy area with wildflowers at the right time of year
and some water covering portions of the trail. Near the hut the trail crosses San Antonio Creek and heads into the bottom of the Baldy Bowl. This is a good place to get water, but because it is such a short hike, I always carry sufficient water so that I don’t need to replenish there. On June 21, 2008, Judy and I were coming down from the top when we encountered a group helping a hiker that had passed out and fallen off the trail below the creek crossing. We assisted the hiker and the helicopter that came in to lift him out to a local hospital. We accompanied the injured hiker's companions to the trailhead below.
From the creek, the trail crosses over to the south side of the Baldy Bowl, in places very rocky. Then the trail starts up through the trees to reach the ridge above the bowl. The picture below, is taken from further down the trail, but shows the south side of Baldy Bowl which the trail climbs up through.
In places it is quite sandy and it can be very warm if you get a late start. You have nice views across the loose scree of the basin and can see Mount Harwood on the opposite side. To the east you get a good view of Cucamonga Peak and Bighorn Peak which is just in front of it.
From there, the trail continues upward, in places quite sandy and steep.
It goes to the backside of the crags above Baldy Bowl.
The climb from the south side of Baldy Bowl to the top of the crags is the most difficult part of the hike. To the left you see the summit of West Baldy, a small saddle,
and the top of Baldy straight ahead. On my first hike on July 31, 1993, I left the trail about this point and hiked to the top of West Baldy and met Mark Richey and Kirk Thompson at the top of Baldy.
From there to the top is sandy, but not as loose and steep as what you have been doing. As you near the summit, you pass one last lone tree and spot the several low rock circle shelters at the summit which are there to give resting hikers some protection from the wind which is often quite brisk at the top.
Mark Richey, Kirk Thompson and I on the summit in 1993 (preparation for my Mt. Rainier climb a week later).
Sam and Andrew on the summit on July 6, 1996 (preparation for our Mt. Whitney hike).
Rachael on the summit on July 8, 1997 (preparation for our Mt. Shasta climb).
Judy and I on the summit on June 21, 2008 (in preparation for a Sierra backpacking trip and a Long's Peak hike)
Rachael and the summit sign.
There are three good options to go back down. One is to go back down they way you came up. I have done that 7 times. It is as no-nonsense on the way down as it is on the way up and can be tough on the knees. I find that ski poles are very helpful and take some of the pressure off the knees.

A second option is to continue on toward the Devil’s Backbone Trail,
going down the very loose sand and dirt on the north side of Baldy, and then slide down the loose scree through the Baldy Bowl to the Sierra Club hut and then follow the trail back out San Antonio Canyon. I did that with Steve Mapes and Anthony Jury in July 2007 and it was quite steep. We hit a couple of tricky areas where we had to do some scrambling. I would like to do this again in the future, but enter into the Bowl higher up. It appears steeper, but I think provides easier and more reliable scree all the way down. Some gaiters would also be nice if you do this route as your shoes fill up quickly with rocks and sand.

The third option, which I’ve done 5 times, is follow the Devil’s Backbone Trail 3.2 miles down to the ski lodge and then take the ski lift down to the bottom. The trail from the top of Baldy down to the saddle with Mount Harwood is .6 mile and a descent of 700 feet. This is not fun hiking as the ground is sandy and quite loose and there are many little trails zig-zagging in the same general direction. It can be tough on the knees and easy to fall. Below, looking back up toward the summit.
Below, looking at Cucamonga Peak (to the left) and Ontario Peak (right center) from the saddle.
Below, looking at Baldy from a ways below the saddle.
On my first trip, from the saddle, I climbed to the top of 9,552 foot Mt. Harwood and connected with the trail further down. The trail goes along the south side of Mount Harwood and is very nice and relatively level after the steep hiking you’ve been doing all morning. Below, the trail along the south side of Mount Harwood as viewed from the side of Baldy.
In another .6 mile, you reach the area known as the Devil’s Backbone. It can be difficult for those with a fear of heights. Below, the north side of the Devil's Backbone as viewed from Mount Harwood.
In particular, there is one section of sandy trail with a steep drop on the south side (below, a picture of Mark Richey and Kirk Thompson in this area)
and several other areas where there are only about six feet width of trail
with steep drops on both the south and north sides,
producing some wonderful views on the north into Lytle Creek.
In about .7 mile the trail widens and you see a tower with ski chairs. From there to the ski lodge is 1.3 miles and my least favorite part of the hike. The ground is harder, quite steep in places, and I feel my knees more on this section than any other part of the hike. You lose any sense of being in the wilderness as you pass fences, ski lift towers, and other evidence of a skiing operations. However, you are soon rewarded with a bathroom at the ski lodge, if needed, and a nice cold soda. A one way trip down the ski lift costs $10.00 and saves 1,300 feet of elevation wear and tear on your knees. From the bottom of the ski lift, go to the left into a small drainage area to avoid the parking lot and eventually hook up with the main road. The car is parked about a quarter mile below the bottom of the ski lift.


  1. Lots of great memories in this post!

  2. This is one of my favorite hikes I've ever done. I remember telling myself I wasn't going to stop unless you did. I think I remember you telling me you were having the same thought. So we ended up not stopping until the top!! Remember the biscuits and gravy we stopped and ate on the way home? Mmmmmm....

  3. Cool pictures, I have done Mt. Baldy once when I was about 12. I will have to do it again with my scouts soon.