As my fellow blogger extraordinaire “hikingangelesforest.com” can attest to, the experience of hiking in the Angeles and San Bernardino National Forests is amazing. To escape the rat-race of LA and Orange County, retreat into the hills that surround this area. As an avid day hiker in southern California, I find myself venturing out farther to hike. Often, I’ll try out a new trail solo and bring my wife back to explore with me.
Today, I would make the short 100 mile drive to Mt. San Antonio or “Mt. Baldy” as it’s more commonly known. It is quite possibly the most popular day hiking destination in SoCal. The shortest of the “Three Sisters” – Mt Gorgornio, Mt San Jacinto and Mt San Antonio, it still peaks out at approx. 10,069 ft. and offers challenging trails for the serious day hiker. In what may become a tradition for Saturday hikes, a stop at Chik-Fil-A for one of their chicken biscuits provided me with some carbs and protein to tackle this hill. At least that’s what I’m telling myself.
Be forewarned, your biggest challenge on Mt. Baldy may be finding a parking spot on Saturday morning. It was a beautiful day with the OC’ers and Los Angelenos were out in force. After “trolling” for a spot, I found one within 50 ft. of the trailhead and Manker Flats campground. The trail starts out as a paved road with a locked gate for cars. After a half mile the road makes a hairpin curve and you can see the waterfall . Shortly after, it changes over to a dirt road. If you are going to take Baldy Bowl or “Ski Hut” trail, it sneaks up on the left after another .3 miles. The trail is easy to miss and its steep ascent is an indicator of things to come.
It was a warm 75 degrees. I know, that’s almost the perfect temp for many things – but with hiking, the cooler the better. The views of the San Antonio Canyon are great, even with the haze. You continue to hear and catch occasional glimpses of the falls as you gain elevation at an average rate of 900-1,000 ft. per mile. The mostly single track trail is well-traveled, so there is little chance of getting off the trail. Saturday is probably the busiest day, and I estimated over 300 people. I don’t like crowds, but my goal was bagging this peak. With this many people, most forget that the uphill hiker has the right of way. The two boy scout troops I came across knew this well and were polite.
The Ski Hut comes up after a couple of miles and has a porta-potty nearby. It is rented out to hikers and offers a good respite from the dusty trail. A stream flows nearby and the alpine scenery is enjoyable. This is a good place to take a break.
The trail passes through a wooded area and begins a tough ascent over loose dirt and scree. After a few minutes, my calves remind me that I don’t do this enough. Up ahead, a cloud of dust appears as a group of boy scouts make their way down. Now I see why many people are wearing bandannas over their faces; the dust is stifling when large groups pass by. Passing 8,500 ft. it flattens out for a bit and the views to the west open up. The chipmunks are abundant here. Leaving your backpack on the ground is an open invitation for the little scoundrels to steal your food.
Coming out of the trees, the terrain opens up and the path less obvious. Taking a side route, the trail was steep with scree and sand. The going was slow but the view was getting better. After 30 minutes of winding up the canyon, I stumbled on some wreckage. I knew it was some kind of aircraft wreckage, but didn’t know it was one of two Marine Corps F6F Hellcats that crashed here during a snowstorm in 1949.
Like any summit worth reaching, the last leg is the toughest. The trees really thin out and the peak looks like the surface of Mars. The wind is usually stiff up here, there are several piles of rocks forming windbreaks. People huddle behind them like GI’s in a foxhole. A beat up looking plaque is my record of making the trek.
The panoramic view is one of the best. Angeles Forest to the west, desert to the east and Gorgonio and San Jacinto to the southeast. The clouds and mist hug the nearby peaks creating a mystical surrounding.
The path down the Devil’s Backbone is a nice way to come down from the top. The first 1/4 mile is steep with talus and switchbacks galore, and is fun to watch people in front of you.
The trail gets narrow in places and falls off steeply on both sides. This is not one to hike when there is snow or ice!
The trail makes its way down past the ski lifts to Baldy Notch where the lift runs on weekends. I looked around for the dirt road that I would take and intersect the original trailhead. It’s tucked behind an equipment hut and is a nice, if not long walk down. The road crosses under the ski lift where I watch the last of the riders. As the sun sinks below the horizon, the shadows envelop the hills. Turning my headlamp on, I listen to the sound of crickets, enjoying the peacefulness as an awesome hike comes to an end.
Memorial Day weekend 2012 got off to a rough start for those in Yosemite. A spring storm was in the forecast with snow above 5,000 ft. and temps dropping below freezing in the valley at night. The original plan for us was to hike Yosemite Falls on Friday and leave Saturday. My friends (the smart ones) decided to pack it up and head south after lunch. I had other plans and wanted to get another hike in. The thought of hiking in the snow alone was exciting. Having arrived in the valley a few days prior, I got my first glances of Yosemite Falls. Fed entirely by snowmelt, the dual falls were around their peak flow.
In the valley, temps were in the low 50s, perfect for hiking. I packed enough food, snacks for an overnighter and hit the trail. Today, I would give my new SPOT GPS messenger a try and do this one solo. This is a well-traveled trail and I expected to run across a lot of people.
The trail starts out fairly mild and changes to a moderate climb with about 60 short, steep switchbacks from the valley base of 4,000 ft. Not much of a view at this level as the tree cover was about 90%. My pace on the trail is slow and steady. It usually helps to have my hiking partner (and love of my life) setting the pace for me. Today, I would take more breaks and focused on making it to the top. Passing 5,000 ft. the air quickly got colder and the wind picked up. Within 30 minutes, the occasional flurry drifted through the trees. Views of the valley below and Sentinel became more frequent.
The flurries turned to small ice pellets and I broke out the jacket. For some reason, I doubted the distance on the trail marker. It seems like when you have to pick your way around rocks it adds another 10-20% to the length of a hike. Another thing I noticed was how unprepared people are on the trail. Many of them were in shorts, t-shirts with sandals or walking shoes. Most didn’t carry enough water or were prepared for the snow that was now coming down at a steady pace. I’m at the other end of the spectrum. A daypack with almost a gallon of water, food, cold/wet weather gear, 1st aid kit, survival kit – I know overkill, but always prepared – never a Boy Scout. Oh well, one day it will come in handy. Actually, the heavier day pack is part preparation for the upcoming long distance hike.
The light snow continued as I broke out of the woods near the falls. A deer near a fallen log, ignored me until I got within 20 ft. or so and magically disappeared. It was quiet up here and noticed two other hikers making their way up to Yosemite Point. The creek that supplied the falls was steadily flowing; crossing the bridge it would suddenly end into the abyss that makes Yosemite Falls. I decided to continue another 8/10 mile to Yosemite Point. The trail was very wet and hard to make out at times as it crossed the massive granite slabs. Eventually, I would enter a section of a small forest and the snow was quietly drifting down through the pines. A Stellar Jay was playing hide and seek with me as I made my way through the trees. They seem to be comfortable around people, probably because of the food. A spider web was dusted in snow as the peacefulness enveloped me. Solo hiking in this area is simply cool. Temps up here dropped about 16-18 degrees and it was a nice 34 degrees.
Coming out of the woods, the sky opened up and the clouds were partially covering the valley. 3,000 ft. below, the complex of Yosemite Village seemed to sprawl over the lush green valley floor as the Merced River wound its way west. I got up to the railing which was on the precipice hoping for a view of the falls, but was not able to from this angle. Venturing out, I took advantage of my camera remote and snapped a few silly shots.
After hanging out for a while, I bundled up and started my way down. The snow was starting to come down at a steady pace and changed into large, fluffy flakes. By the time I reached the bridge at Yosemite Creek, it had a good dusting. The trail was harder due to the wet, slippery granite chunks. My 5-10 shoes clung to the wet rock like glue – these things are amazing. They definitely are not waterproof, but are great for scrambling over wet rocks and scree. My hiking poles were priceless too, helping me to “spider” down the trail. Earlier, once the snow started, many hikers turned around and now the trail was empty.
Descending, the snow would continue. Reaching 4,500 ft it changed over to a light rain. I was glad, not wanting to try and make it out of the park on snowy roads. Wanting to get home and see my wife, I started home – a 7-8 hr. drive ahead of me. I know, after hiking 11 miles, making a long drive is no fun. Nothing a Red Bull or two couldn’t fix. Making my way to San Diego County, I would cut left at Bakersfield and head east through the desert to avoid the LA traffic. As dusk fell on Hwy 58, I found myself passing through a strong group of storm cells and the rain came down in torrents. I can’t remember the last time seeing it rain this hard in California, but the Lord took care of me as I scooted through and went by Mojave. The rest of the trip was uneventful and the energy drink did its job.
If you were to ask me which season is best in Yosemite, I would have to say all of them. Each is different, all of them displaying the grandeur of a beautiful landscape. If you do go to see the waterfalls in the spring, I would recommend between May 15-30, when they are at the full Monty.
If you visit Yosemite enough, you learn where to go to escape the crowds. There is certainly plenty to see and do in the valley for all ages. For a change, head to the Tioga Road. In the early spring, especially the afternoon, there are so many places with few people. For sightseeing and some walkabouts, Olmsted Point, Tenaya Lake and the Tuolumne Meadow combo makes for a good itinerary. Our crew would take a break from hiking today and take in some of the sites.
Located about 1 hr 15 min. north of the valley on Hwy 120, these sites offer cooler temps, spectacular views and a decent chance to view wildlife. Our first stop at Olmsted Point was right around noon. Most people hang out in the parking area where views of Half Dome and Clouds Rest make great post cards. Few head down the path to the point where you can climb the granite slab and get the full monty. At approximately 8,200 ft. the breeze is often stiff here, but one can take refuge behind some massive boulders and have a snack . The marmots were present today and more than willing to steal your food if you ventured away. They are always eating and they are some of the fattest creatures in Yosemite. After scampering over the rocks, we looked to the east and saw our next destination – Tenaya Lake.
Another 5-10 minutes and we stopped on the west side of Tenaya Lake and started walking along the shoreline. The water level is fairly high due to recent snowmelt and is crystal clear. Picnic tables, located right next to the water and the slabs make for great sunbathing spots. At 50 deg on this late May day, it was a bit cool for that. I’m not sure how fishing is on Tenaya, and I didn’t see any trout today. Once again, the photo opportunities are many. A couple of us mentioned how great a cabin would be on these shores. I appreciated the pristine tree-lined banks and could have taken a nap right then. The water can have a calming effect on you.
The last stop was probably my favorite. Tuolumne Meadows is an almost magical place. As you leave your car and start walking down the rutted dirt road, the gophers pop up all around you. They are curious and will often sneak glances from behind the boulders. The streams and creeks that feed the Tuolumne River are abundant and criss -cross the meadow before joining their bigger brother. As you cross the lively river, you can follow its slowly winding bank as it makes it way west. Only 4-5 months ago, this was a mostly frozen body of water and seemed asleep.
We would make our way up to Soda Springs where gas bubbles were being released in small pools near the junction of the Pacific Crest Trail. A collection of cabins, some belonging to the Sierra Club were not yet open for the season. We sat around on chairs made of stumps and just took it all in. So peaceful, all you could hear was the breeze through the pines and the stellar jays as they skirted around us. The herd of deer seemed to casually graze as we watched and made our way back down the trail. Yeah, Tuolumne Meadows is definitely one of my favorite places to chill.