Saturday, June 1, 2013

Mount Baldy Day Hike

Each summer, a group of friends and I embark on a back packing trip in the Sierras.  One trip just doesn't seem to be enough though, and I find myself always wishing that I could get access to a high-altitude hike somewhere more accessible than a 7 hour drive from my Southern Californian home town.

Fortunately, I was pleased to discover that a challenging, lofty elevation loop was just at my finger tips, within a hour's drive from home.

Mount San Antonio, commonly called Mount Baldy, is the highest beak in the San Gabriel Mountains and also the highest point in Los Angeles County, 10,068ft at summit.

We left early Saturday morning and parked along Mount Baldy Road just past Manker Flats Campground, and started hiking around 0830.*  We started by hiking toward San Antonio Falls.  It's been a dry year, so the falls weren't gushing, but we still stopped to take the site in for a brief moment.

Shortly after we passed the falls, we took a left turn up a narrow, unmarked trail leading to the Sierra Club Ski Hut.  The trail is VERY easy to bypass, so be sure that you are on the lookout for it to your left.

We stopped for a brief rest at the ski hut and then continued on across the Baldy Bowl, which had impressive views of the forest below...but didn't linger long, as we had switchbacks winding north, beckoning us to the summit.

There were plenty of hiking groups on the trail, but when we reached the summit we were greeted by a small crowd of hikers milling around, snapping photos, and having lunch.  The conditions were perfect:
sunny but with a cold wind, which balanced out the heat quite nicely.  However, there is no cover at the summit, so if you come later in the summer the heat could be intense and make one no linger long at the top.

We stopped for lunch here, enjoying our aerial view, and of course taking the required photo near the summit sign.  From the summit, you get an excellent lay of the land below and great perspective on how far up you have come in just a few hours.  On one side a desert landscape and the other depicts the Baldy Bowl of tree-spotted mountainsides. 

Next we descended eastward down Devil's Backbone, which seemed aptly named: it snakes down in a shale-ridden path, with a slightly disconcerning absence of traction at parts: just don't be in a hurry and take your time going
down.  It is steep going down at first, but then levels out to a more gradual decent.

You will eventually find yourself at a ski lodge with a ski lift.  The lodge is open for lunch/drinks, but we bypassed this and continued down to our car.  There is the option of paying to take the ski lift down part of the way if you wish, something like $12 (one way).  Based on what other hikers we passed during the day imparted, this final leg of the loop from the lodge to the parking lot can be a bit confusing.  So, we asked the ski-lift operator for clarification on how to get back to our I'd recommend that to other hikers as well.

As a quick aside, coming late May or early June is probably the best for this loop, or perhaps late September or early October, mainly to
avoid intense summer heat.  Also, the flora and terrain is very diverse.  There were several cactus/desert-like plants on the trail, right next to an array of pines.  Also, there was a great diversity of types of stones as you ascend: limestone and varieties of golden and even blue-hued granite.

We ended tired and a bit sore, but in that pleasant way which reminds you that you've worked hard to see things at heights that can only be fully appreciated by the physical effort of reaching them by foot.  11.3 miles, 3,900 ft of elevation gain, and about 7 hours of was a day very well spent.

*Side Note: In trying to recall the steps my hiking companion and I took to successfully being & complete this loop, I found a helpful post online which details it well, but I will restate the main points below (just giving credit where credit is due).

Also helpful: gives some aaerial perspective on the loop - 

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