Monday, January 02, 2006

On Top of Mt. Baldy, All Covered With Snow

In which M2 and The Bunnee spend a summer's weekend in a rustic cabin, summit their first mountain and ache for days afterward.

Rustic Resort
The top of Mt. Baldy stands more than 10,000 feet above the San Gabriel Valley; the highest point in the Angeles National Forest. A Just 45 minutes away from central Los Angeles along highway 210, Mt. Baldy provides the closest alpine skiing and snowboarding to the city and is Southern California’s oldest ski resort. In spring, summer and autumn, the Mt. Baldy area provides outstanding desert alpine hiking, mountain biking, backpacking and climbing.

It was the weekend of July 4, 2005 that The Bunnee and I took the winding road up through San Antonio Canyon to a little cabin we had rented at the rustic Mt. Baldy Lodge in the village.

We’d been up this way before, me for wintertime snowboarding and both of us together for day hikes. Our goal this time was to hike to the top of Mt. Baldy. Neither of us had ever summited a mountain before and it was something we’d always wanted to do.

Getting Warmer
As a warm up, we decided to hike Ice House Canyon, making a loop through Cedar Glen, one of the most picturesque places on the mountain. The canyon trail follows a lively, year-round stream that was positively roaring with snowmelt that day.

Alongside the stream sit several log cabins, each appearing to have been hand made from local timber around the turn of the century or a little later. Although most appear to be wired for rudimentary electricity, their only access is by the footpath. To me they seem ideal.

Two things to look for while hiking Ice House are folded metamorphic rocks, which have the swirling texture of mahogany, and, in mid-summer, colonies of thousands of mating ladybugs clinging to the mossy stones in the shade near springs, creeks and streams.

We hiked along the main trail until we came to the Cedar Glen cutoff, where we hooked a left and headed up the steep switchbacks that climb up the stony side of Telegraph Peak. After a few minutes we met another couple on their way down the trail who said they had found a dog’s slipper that they were sure belonged to a dog they had seen with some campers up at Cedar Glen, and asked if we’d mind returning it. Of course we said yes and we went on our way.

With the sun now fully on us it began to get hot, and we soon found ourselves trudging along under its cruel stare. Finally, however, we reached the part of the trail that traverses along the mountainside and the going got a little easier. We found the Glen, a broad shady patch of green and sure enough, there was a group of people camping together with two happy-looking dogs running here and there looking for trouble to get into.

“Who lost his shoe?” I asked, speaking to the dogs as we came near them. “Who lost his shoe?”

The campers laughed and were delighted we’d found their dog’s slipper. Actually, they acted as if we’d brought back their lost sack of gold coins, their missing family Bible and Edvard Munch’s “The Scream.” But it’s nice to be appreciated.

In all, we hiked about nine miles that day, about 3 miles farther than we had intended, and got back to the lodge achingly tired.

Up, Up and Away
Next morning we were still achy but steeled ourselves for the Big Push with a hearty breakfast of omelets, bacon and toast from the lodge restaurant. Then we packed some snacks and water and took the runabout up to Manker Flats and the San Antonio Falls trailhead. The San Antonio Falls road winds three miles up from the Flats to what’s called The Notch -- where the Ski Lodge is located at the top of the ski lift -- with an elevation gain of some 1000 feet. It took us a while to get our legs back, but we eventually warmed up. By the time we got to the The Notch, we were loose and ready for the next push up through Baldy Bowl.

At first the going was steep and difficult -- we had actually missed the trail and had headed up one of the ski runs by accident -- but finally we reached the trail again and things flattened out, if only a little. From here we could see Baldy summit standing stark against and unbelievably (for the L.A. area) clear blue sky. Except for a few patches of resilient snow, the summit looked at barren as the mountains of the moon. Bald indeed.

The Devil Made Me Do It
The Devil’s Backbone is a sharp ridge trail with often precipitous drops on both sides. It climbs over and around a hump in front of Baldy Summit.

Tip: Never tease your wife about her fear of heights.

I was hopping along the Devil’s Backbone, practically jogging in places, but The Bunnee was hanging back, stepping carefully, and avoiding looking down. I couldn’t resist ribbing her a little about it (for I am, at heart, a jackass). Then we came on a part of the trail that clung to a steep cliff on the right side with a straight drop of several hundred feet on the other. The trail is about four feet wide, just wide enough for two slender people to pass one another if going in opposite directions. For reasons I still can’t figure out I got to the middle of this section -- which is maybe 50 yards long -- and froze in my tracks, utterly terrified. I called out to The Bunnee, who had rushed on ahead of me, and she came back, took me by the arm and guided my forward to a wider section, where I sat shaking for some time before regaining my composure. I’ve never felt anything like it, and hope never to again.

It's Good at the Top
We pressed on, stopping near patches of snow, scooping it up into our hats to keep our heads cool. Finally we made it to the base of the summit and started slowly up the rocky switchbacks to the top. The going was steep and the air thin and we stopped often to catch our breaths. The summit of Baldy is one great slab of granite with spectacular views of the L.A. Basin, the San Gabriel Valley, the San Jacintos, Big Bear, and the Mojave.


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