IN LIGHT OF THE SITUATION
I’ve always wanted to see the sunset over the horizon from a mountain top, and what better way then with a late afternoon trek to the highest peak in Los Angeles county. At 10,064 feet, Mount Baldy would certainly deliver, and as adventures go, the challenge in this would be navigating off a big mountain in the dark. The decision to go ahead with it was just as random as purchasing a new torch I really didn’t need, and if I might add, the thought of chasing light high up in the mountains was far more exciting then it would be otherwise on a nearby trail. My claim to Baldy is no different then anyone else who claims to know this mountain, but when it comes down to it, it’s all relative in that we prepare and do things quite differently from one another. In no way shape or form am I stating that my knowledge is vast and superior to the next person, as with experience, it is an on going process of scrapes and bruises to the occasional pat on the back that keeps everything in motion. If you can work on devising ideas like an aerobic workout, you could stimulate almost anything into action.
YOU CAN TAKE THE HIGH ROAD
Starting at Manker Flat, at an elevation of just over 6,000 ft, you will find a fire road that will give you three options to summit. There’s the route to the Notch via the Devil’s Backbone, Register Ridge and the Mt Baldy Trail in which I took. Once you hit the fire road you will immediately feel the gain as you work at keeping a steady pace. The sound of falling water will soon accompany your thoughts as it takes you to a three tier visual. San Antonio Falls marks the half way point to the spur that is the Mt Baldy Trail. What’s in a name? Not much really. You will probably hear me refer to it more often as the Ski Hut trail, because that’s the name I’ve come to know it by. In all my years of hiking Baldy, I can count on one hand the two times I’ve actually seen a posted trail sign. Now that the San Gabriels is a National Monument, you would think they could situate a more permanent solution, such as a metal sign or something. Until then, credit the souvenir hunters for hitting home the issue.
DON’T LET THE SUN GO DOWN ON ME… JUST YET
The plan was simple. Get to the top before sunset. I started promptly at 4 pm with a two mile an hour pace in mind. I knew in order to make that happen I would have to limit my photos ops and throw a little 2heeldrivin’ into the mix. From the get go, it’s a five mile climb to the top, with an elevation gain of over 3,900 feet. All things considered, the excitement went neutral as it was time to go to work.
So long as you are properly hydrated, like in the days before a strenuous hike, you will gain more purchase from your vitals when it’s needed the most. Leading up to a climb, I will typically down a gallon of water throughout the course of a day on top of carbing up with anything pasta. It’s all about fuel in the tank when it comes to the big mountains, as you will deplete much sooner rather then later. On this particular route, the luxury of having a natural water source can change the dynamics of a lot of things. For one, weight was not a factor because of that fact, as water is typically the heaviest item in your pack. But for every opportunity given, it should always be taken, such as the case with a mountain spring. Remember San Antonio Falls? This spring is the main feed, and the higher up you go, the flow is potable. You will find it at the 8,000 foot level, just off trail near the Ski Hut. I always carry empty bottles for opportunities like this. Whether for treatment later on, or drinking right from the tap, you’re a dry mix away from getting those much needed electrolytes.
I am now a quart richer on top of the half gallon that’s in my pack. Most importantly, I’m well hydrated for the second half push to the summit. Any extra weight carried will not have much effect on my primaries, because they’re already warmed up the start of the hike.
ENTER THE BALDY BOWL
Back on the trail you will soon come to a boulder field of gigantic proportions. It is the base of what is known as the Baldy Bowl. Erosion and time can easily change the landscape of a mountain pass, by which gravity was all that was needed to bring it to its present state. Look for the obvious as you stay the course and you will soon be up and over to take on the climb to the top.
A TALE OF TWO TREES
I have only seen black bears in the Baldy area twice. Once at Manker Flat, and another time at 9,000 ft off a ridge near West Baldy. You wouldn’t think to see them above tree line, but they are everywhere. The first photo is of a pine that caught my eye just off trail. Although suspicious looking, it’s likely that a bear was responsible, as I can’t imagine anyone going to great lengths to do something like this, anymore then I can imagine a bear claw and bite into a tree in such a manner. At any rate, determination got the better of the pine, and my only hope was that the latter got fed. The second photo is of a contorted Lodgepole that has seen better days. It is actually a well known landmark up here that bares the name, “Twisted Tree,” no doubt for obvious reasons.
TO SCREE OR NOT TO SCREE
Sometimes the road less traveled is necessary, and as the crow flies, although tougher, it beats switchbacks. It was now 5 pm and with less then two miles to go, it was time to really put it in gear.
This was my approach to the second ridge high above the bowl where it was just a matter of getting back on trail, once I find it.
Bearing down on the first ridge where the Ski Hut trail bisects it. The route I took up to this point was off trail to the left of the ridge and up a scree slope on the SW bookend of the bowl.
I can remember my first experience with false summits. The feeling of excitement I got, only to be disappointed in the fact that it was much higher up. It is a true game of peaks and valleys where perspective is often times cruel. With the third and final ridge behind me, it was now a mere trudge to the top.
ARE WE THERE YET?
Other then the peak, nothing else was more pleasing then a achieving a goal. As planned, I covered five mountain miles in the two hours that I aimed for. Had I known that I could’ve had this much success, I would’ve started an hour later or leave the camera at home. At any rate, I found myself on the summit with an hour or so till sunset. I was more impressed then anything about the fact that I only took about twenty shots. A far cry from the two hundred that I typically take.
There’s something magical about being up here in the moment. All alone, everything’s personal and uninterrupted. It’s like tucking in a child. In this case a sun, that followed you everywhere you went today, bringing you warmth and joy that only smiles could reflect. It was definitely a feel good moment, one to cherish.
It’s odd to have familiarity with something and yet still come away humbled. For me, everytime is like the first time up here, but tonight would be special. Maybe it’s because of the impending sunset, or the unmatched solitude… or maybe it’s just the love of a son who deeply misses his mother.
Buried under a pile of rocks from a wind break in what looked like a summit register, was a memorial. It was simple and direct in its purpose, but you could feel the gratitude that only love can give.
You can never repay your parents for all that they’ve done for you. It’s all about extending their love in the way you would conduct yourself with family, friends and others.
A DAY WITHOUT LIGHT
Looking more like a mountain in the background of this photo, is actually the shadow of Mount Baldy cast by the setting sun. The countdown has finally begun with all the excitement intact.
IT’S ALL DOWN HILL FROM HERE
Bearing down on what looks like a valley on fire is the only light source I had other then my torch. I was hoping for a clear evening sky, but instead, all I got was an overcast of clouds. No moon or stars to light the way this time, just whatever my torch could emit twenty feet ahead of me. There was your typical high wind over a mountain pass, but not enough to send the clouds away.
It’s funny how the mind thinks when given an opportunity. I don’t scare easy, but I couldn’t get zombies out of my mind. Maybe it was due to the fact that I last listened to Pantera’s “Cemetery Gates,” that sparked the whole thing.
“Believe the word, I will unlock my door and pass the cemetery gates.”
Having said all that, who would think anyone would be relieved to find themselves on the “Devil’s Backbone.” What’s in a name right? I would soon rather change the name to “Friendship Trail” right about now. In this case, what you can’t see won’t hurt you, as oppose to what you can see can intimidate you. At night, movement is clearly measured in the steps you take. If only we can do that better during our day.
At long last, the Notch, where the structures are haunted… Well for tonight anyway. From this point on, I had three more miles to Manker Flats via the fire road. On that gradual descent, with my imagination still running rampant, a deer jumped right out in front of me crossing the road and up the slope. Talk about a heart stopper. To add to the eeriness, I never knew how varied and colorful the eyes of animals were as they came in contact with light. There were blue, green, red and even yellow ones. All eyes were definitely on me and who knows what lurked behind them. I eventually made it back safely at 10 pm, and not counting the hour spent on top, I did the total loop of 11 mountain miles in 5 hours. Clearly my fastest Baldy time on this route. For me, it’s never about the time, but the time well spent. It just so happened that I had a date with a sunset and the forthcoming night prevented further photo ops, that’s all. Oh yeah, and the zombies contributed as well.