Type of trail: Loop.
Composition: sand, decomposed granite, scree.
Distance as hiked: 11.2 miles
Approximate elevation: Trailhead-6,000ft., Top of summit- 10,094 ft.
Temps: 58-70 deg
Located just north of the town of Upland is Mt. Baldy, one of several 10,000 ft. plus peaks in southern California. Part of the Angeles Forest and San Gabriel Mountains, the views all around this area are nothing short of phenomenal. I actually took a day off work to hike up here with my favorite hiking partner (my wife). Fall and early winter are good times to hike in the San Gabriel and San Bernardino Mountains, especially before there is significant snow. Milder temps, no thunderstorms and gentle cool breezes are the norm. Of course, the weather can turn sour anytime up here, some come prepared.
We started at the Baldy Bowl Trailhead near Manker Flats Campground and quickly discovered that hiking in the middle of the week up here is so much better than the weekends. This trail is probably one of the most popular in the San Gabriel chain. The trail starts out as a paved road with a decent incline and makes a sharp right where you have a view of San Antonio Falls. This time of the year the water volume is near its’ lowest, but still streaming down. The road changes to a dirt/gravel fire road and proceeds up Manker Canyon. The trail sneaks up on your left with a small trail marker. About 50 ft. up the path is a metal box with a trail journal – nice.
The trail wastes no time ascending the 4,000 ft. you will need to gain to reach the summit. It is a well established and maintained trail that is mostly single track. The flora is an interesting mix of chaparral and pines at the lower levels. Huffing our way up 2,200 ft with a few rest breaks, we noticed the Ski Hut.
There is also a privy nearby in case you prefer to not do what the bears do. We had the area all to ourselves and had lunch on a picnic table complete with stools made of cut logs. We returned to the trail, crossed the spring that supplies most of the flow for the falls and transitioned into an area with plenty of talus from a major slide. This area is directly under Baldy Bowl and marked with cairns left by previous hikers.
After some minor bouldering, the terrain changes again with switchbacks in a sub-alpine setting. The trail begins to get steep between 8,400 and 9,000 ft is a mix of talus and sand. It is a calf and quad burning extravaganza. Hiking poles make the climb much easier as you dig them in and push your way up.
Chipmunks and ground squirrels were busy gathering food for winter as the woodpeckers were chattering overhead. We broke out into the open as our heading turned north. The craggy outcroppings at the top of Baldy Bowl loomed ahead. I ventured off the path and was rewarded with an awe-inspiring view to the south.
As we neared the summit, the trees thinned out and the sky seemed even more blue. The top of the mountain seems like the moon, barren and rocky. The panoramic views are stunning. San Gorgonio and San Jacinto to the east/ southeast, the Mojave Desert to the north and Angeles Forest to the west. There are circular rock walls built to protect against the common stiff winds up here. We ran into the only other hiker, a 74-year-old Korean immigrant who was very friendly and quite chatty. Seeking solitude we decided to head down Devil’s Backbone, a ridge on the eastern side of the peak. The angled switchbacks within a large talus field are a bit precarious and require focus. We quickly descended 700 ft. and followed the single track which at times would drop off on both sides. For two miles, the trail is an interesting and challenging trek with views of the high desert to the left and Manker Canyon to the right.
Nearing Mt. Baldy Notch, there is a small ski lift that runs during the winter. Today, it was idle and reminded me of a carnival ride. Making our way down a wide service path, we broke out at the ski resort. The access and fire road is between the ski school and rental building. It is a 2.7 mile road carved out of the mountain. The sun was fading quickly and we picked up the pace to make it back to the car by dark. We broke out the headlamps just in case darkness snuck up on us. We passed the Baldy Bowl trailhead and completed the loop. Reaching the blacktop, the crickets began their serenade. Man, that was a great 11.2 mile hike.
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.