21 April 2015

West Baldy and Mount San Antonio

Angeles National Forest

Bernard went up Baldy (formally known as Mount San Antonio) last year on his birthday and has been wanting to go again. I was up it once, but that was more than 10 years ago before I had a digital camera to easily document when. Maybe 2003. The weather looks uncertain, but so it goes. Everything is thick with clouds, but we break through them just before parking. There are more clouds above, but they are far above the tallest mountain in the San Gabriels. Once packed and ready, we squeeze past a sturdy gate with maps and start up the road toward San Antonio Falls. There is a good view of them along the approach, but the clouds move with us as we take the little trail to the base so that we cannot see them up close. The clouds open up again as we leave.

gate at the start on road
Start hiking up the gated road to get to the top.

San Antonio Falls
San Antonio Falls tumbles down a steep canyon from Baldy Bowl above.

After the falls, we head up the road some more. Eventually there is a well established yet easy to miss trail heading up the mountain from the road. It is marked only with the stub of a sign post. After a switchback, there is an empty trail register. From there, it is a long, steady climb up to the bowl and the Sierra Club ski hut. There are some high rumbles of cloud to cloud activity and it has the three small groups coming down a little worried. They think a storm is about to start but we think the weather is mildly clearing if anything.

path in the light rocks
A distinct path that can be easy to miss.

Baldy Bowl
Looking up to the bowl. The Sierra Club ski hut is the rectangle in an odd green at the right edge.

down the canyon from the hut
Looking the other way from the Sierra Club ski hut.

The fortuitous appearance of a local Sierra Club member and hut host means we get to check out the inside the hut as well. It turns out it is Pavel, who featured quite a lot in Bernard's evening on the previous birthday hike up Baldy. It is not long before there are shots poured for everyone in shouting distance, which includes two guys who just go with it. Happy birthday, bottoms up, and have another splash before the bottle is put away. We like the weather report we get here, too, which holds that the occasionally rumbling clouds are far too high to worry about.

Pavel and Bernard
You would not believe how happy it made Bernard to come across Pavel again.

Climbing out of the bowl is an uncertain business. Not because it is steep, although it is, but because the trails braid a bit. Still, the general idea of the travel is to get up to the ridge on the west and follow it upward. Reaching the ridge, the trees seem to be dropping something once in a while, but as the trees thin and the whatever becomes more common, I have to admit it might actually be snowing. The flakes are generally melting before getting to us and difficult to notice when they land, they have so little water in them, but they are snow flakes. It does not feel as cold as that to me. Usually even if I am warm, there is some thin layer of skin that emphatically does not agree.

bald head through the trees
Catching Baldy through the trees.

looking down the ridge
Looking down the trail along the ridge.

looking along a cliff
White spots coming up a shoot of rock at us.

I did not go to West Baldy before, so I want to include it this time. We climb and contour our way toward it as we near the ridge between it and the main attraction. Trails start and vanish under our feet, but little trail is needed to find the high point on a sparsely planted mountain. First we drop through a gentle saddle and it is the coldest spot on the trip. Unconsciously, I slow down in the cold, then notice it and practically shout at myself that that is entirely the opposite of what must be done. Push harder and get warmer. On the peak, the puffy jacket comes out. Snow is sticking to my pack a little.

peak past a gentle saddle
West Baldy up ahead.

clouds surrounding an arrowhead of land
The southerly view and the way we have come from.

distant mountain across the very large valley of the San Gabriel River
Far across the San Gabriel River's east fork rises a mountain once known as North Baldy, now Baden-Powell.

As if nature has perfect timing, things are getting clearer when we turn to start up Mount San Antonio. Baldy is really just a short walk with little elevation change from West Baldy. The bottom of the saddle between again feels frightfully cold, even compared to the peak. The top is so wide that a little walk is needed for the best view in any direction. Numerous wind breaks have been built about it by campers.

pine covered peak split off a bit
Pine Mountain and Dawson Peak, off to the north and a little east.

West Baldy and the San Gabriels marching westward
Back the way we came to West Baldy and most of the rest of the San Gabriel Mountains.

cloud field
The mountain below the bowl is still covered in cloud. The trees near the top are quite distinct.

We head back down to the east along the Devil's Backbone, but first past Mount Harwood. It is another I might add to the loop on some third trip up Baldy. The trail down to the saddle between the peaks is braided as well. They all join in the saddle to follow a flat line around the wide peak of Harwood. It would be an uneventful stretch except for a small herd of mountain goats. They are skittish here and take off running down the mountain.

Mount Harwood
It would not be much more work to add low Mount Harwood to the loop.

Baldy bowl
Another look at the bowl below Baldy.

mountain goats in skedaddle
Two adult and two immature mountain goats heading down the hill with only a little haste.

The Devil's Backbone may refer to more, but for the purposes of the trail it is only a very short section where there are sharp drop offs on both sides. People tell how harrowing it is to cross, even without snow or ice, but I do not remember thinking much of it with maybe 20 MPH winds blowing across it the first time. This time there is no wind to compound things. Some of the approach can also be worrisome for some. Along the way, there are concrete bases and sawed off posts from when the trail included elaborate safety features.

cliffs decorate the east side of the ridge
Looking down the backbone from a perch on rocks up above the trail. The east side drops off in cliffs and long slopes.

sunlit peaks rising in the distance above shadowy clouds
Looking out over the edge of the ridge, we can see the peaks of San Jacinto and San Gorgonio rising above the clouds.

Devil's Backbone
Coming to the fabled Devil's backbone crossing.

It starts to snow again after we cross and are coming to another empty trail register. We arrive by one of the ski lifts of the resort and make a way down the ski run it delivers to when there is snow. I recall walking below the ski lift before, a route I did not care for. The ski run seems alright to me today. We get less snow as we drop into warmer air until it is gone again.

scraped slope of a ski run
It is snowing again as we follow the ski run down. This time it is shooting down the shoot instead of up.

We get to the resort and look around a little. On a weekend, we might be able to catch the lower ski lift back down to near the car. We did that before, the only time I have been on a ski lift. This time we wind a long route down the road to the car. A trail down is visible as the road goes under the lift, but we are uncertain about it until well past. It looks like it is not too bad a route down.

It is certainly not the day I would have chosen to be on the mountain, but turned out to be quite an exceptional day to do so. Well, until apparently leaving my hiking poles at the trailhead. I rather liked my beaten up, abused, rabbit bitten Komperdells.

©2015 Valerie Norton
Posted 30 April 2015

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