Mt. Baldy is the tallest peak in the San Gabriel mountain range, it tops just over 10,000' and has several trails to hike. It's also used for skiing, and chairlifts are available for mountain biking in the summer. One feature of the mountain is called the Baldy Bowl and is considered the most direct route to the summit of Mount Baldy (10,064'). The distance estimates range from 8.5 to 9 miles round trip with approximately 3900 feet of elevation gain. This climb is considered very strenuous.
A couple years ago I bought an ice axe and some crampons, winter mountaineering was on my mind. Then the drought of California happened and snow was just part of Southern California history. With El Nino storms in effect this year, winter is back! Mt. Waterman ski resort is opening their chair lifts for the first time in 5 years, and the Mt. Baldy bowl is finally ripe for winter ascents.
January 10, 2016 I finally got my first crack at ascending the Baldy Bowl in winter, and it was every bit of amazing. We had beautiful weather and a great group assembled.
We meet at 6am for coffee, then carpooled over to the trail head. You walk up a short fire road that already revealed stunning views of L.A.'s local mountains.
We started the hike in on the Bowl Trail about 7:30am. It was cold!
It's been so long since I've seen snow this close to Los Angeles, it was weird and wild to see these yucca plants frozen in snow.
The first half of the hike takes you to the Sierra Club Ski Hut, it's 2 miles up, but requires some serious uphill trekking. My lungs were battling the cold but my body was really overheating from activity. Stripping layers and using rest steps, this seemed to truly be one of the hardest parts of the hike for me. There were great sweeping views on the trail to the Ski Hut.
Strong caution on the trail leading up to the Ski Hut is urged soon after new snowfall. Several of the steep chutes that the trail crosses are subject to avalanche. During the winter always carry crampons, an ice axe and helmet.
We took a brief snack break at the hut, readjusted packs and geared up with helmets and crampons. There was an palatable air of enthusiasm surrounding the ski hut. Everyone was thrilled for these climate conditions and anxious to get into the bowl.
Here's my friend Taco standing at the base of the Bowl, with its dramatic ridgeline that ascends as much as 1600 feet over the Ski Hut.
We started heading up, it's milder at the bottom but gets steeper and steeper. Here's my buddy Luis, who was also my classmate and alumni of the 2013 Sierra Club Wilderness Travel Course.
We were really pacing ourselves, but it was nice, wasn't in a huge rush and gave us the opportunity to make incessant jokes all the way from the hut to the summit.
Got to the top of the bowl and it was a marvelous site, it felt so unusual to see Southern California like this.
There was a great sense of accomplishment at this stage, but this was a false summit!
Onwards and upwards.
The high altitude at this point started making us goofy, but we rounded the last corner and hit the summit, it was around 4.5 hours from the trail head to the top.
Here is a photo of the summit marker, this huge metal plate. There were very few people on the summit, maybe just our group and around 3 other people. In the Summer I once saw near 80 people up there, must have been a meet-up!
We had our lunch at the top, but the conditions aren't pleasant. The summit is completely exposed. Sustained winds will increase the chill factor. Even experienced Mountaineers limit their time on the summit during the winter season.
After lunch, I removed my crampons and put on my snow pants and hard shell jacket. The descent wouldn't be strenuous so over heating wasn't a concern. We took one more group summit photo, always. I'm doing the air guitar on my ice axe.
The weather was rolling in and we headed down into a white out.
The way down is fun because the large runout at the bottom means you can glissade down the whole bowl in less than 5 minutes if snow conditions are right. It wasn't perfect glissades, but we did several and it was a blast. Fast and fun!
We got back to the ski hut in no time fast, took off several layers of the clothing system, and hiked the last two miles to the car in a very thick marine layer.
We got back to the car at 3pm, making it about 8 hours on the mountain. It was a total blast, an excellent first introduction to the well-regarded Baldy Bowl, and I'm looking forward to doing it again.