Saturday February 20th, 2016, Luis and I set off for out second winter mountaineering trip this season. The El Niño storms have since been underwhelming but the media and scientists continue to insist they're still coming. Los Angeles caught some rain on Wedneday night and Thursday morning, so we were optimistic that would have brought new snow to the local mountains.
Our destination was Mt. Baden-Powell. It's considered the 4th or 5th highest peak in the San Gabriel Mountain range, standing at 9,407' (2,867m) tall. However, it's the second highest peak in the range with more than 1000' prominence.
Below is a photo of Mt. Baden Powell I shot from the side of the 2 freeway at the pull-off called "inspiration point vista." It's worth the quick stop, the view of the north face of Mt Baldy from here is incredible.
We arrived at the trailhead just after 8am. There were maybe 3 or 4 other cars. It was extremely warm and sunny for both the season, elevation, and time of day, this has us apprehensive. We were really intending on a day of snow travel. The other hiker's in the parking lot were wearing tennis shoes and shorts and heading up. I stripped most of my layers off. and even left half of them in my truck. I also left the snowshoes in the trunk.
We hit the trail about 8:30am. It's only 4miles to the summit, but holds around 3,000' elevation gain, making it a pretty relentless uphill hike.
Right next to the trail sign is a warning posted about hazardous conditions. "STEEP ICY SLOPES" which is what WE were looking for, however, not sure about the other fellows we saw that morning. There have already been 3 reported deaths this year at Mt. Baldy do to slippery conditions on the steep trails, and countless helicopter rescue missions around the San Gabriel Mountains. Proper snow and ice gear is a must, i.e.: Ice Axe, Crampons, and a helmet. W also had a gps and satellite locator beacon with us. Better safe than sorry, nobody wants to be a news headline.
As we hike in it was so warm, we thought we might not need these crampons and might have driven quite a distance for a short hike, however within 10 minutes of hiking in, the people in shorts and shoes were coming down. They must not have made it very far. They warned us that it's slippery and sketchy. I thought to myself "GOOD!" I guess they didn't notice we had 40Liter backpacks with tools strapped to the outside. This was a good sign for us, sorry for them, but glad they turned back and didn't push the limit.
Sure enough, we needed to put on the crampons, not long at all. The trail is so steep, it's pretty much switch backs all the way up. So when the snow comes in, it fills in the switchbacks and basically makes the whole mountain face a ramp. In the photo above you can see Luis on a very typical path. If one were to slip, it's a steep long fall. Ice axe and crampons were mandatory.
The weather was great, nice and sunny, clear skies! The high altitude provided good crunchy snow just perfect for the traction we needed. Upwards and onwards. We found a single set of recent tracks that we followed for a little bit, and you could sort of make out what the switchbacks looked like.
Eventually we ran into the guy making the tracks. He had only a moderate confidence in his direction, he was meandering. Me and Luis laughed, we sort of predicted the tracks would do that. He was a nice guy, looked pretty exhausted and said he was going to turn back soon. We passed him up, checked out navigation, and continued up.
As this point we were well off any trail, but getting close. Luis and I had both hiked this in the Summer months and expected a couple landmarks before the summit. Largely an ancient tree (with a sign telling of it's historic value) and then a sharp ridge line, those would be our giveaways.
Above is Luis standing at ridge line, looks very much like the Devil's Backbone on Mt. Baldy, the part of the trail that keeps consuming hikers. From this vantage, one just heads right up to the top of that treeline, that's the peak, so close!
You can see the exposure is pretty steep on the ridge.
We made it! I think it was between noon and 12:30pm when we got to the top, took us over 4 hours. A slow day, less than a mile an hour, but the conditions are no joke. We had to move to carefully and responsibly, and not to mention the heel cups in my mountaineering boots were just chopping up my feet. I have not had the best of luck with these boots, and I stopped a couple times to add some moleskin, but it was way too late. I bypassed blistered completely and went right to shredding.
Here is a view from the summit, it was gorgeous. The monument in the previous photo is a tribute to Robert Baden-Powell, he was the founder of the World Scouting Movement, i.e. the Boy Scouts! The USGS officially recognized and dedicated the mountain to him in 1931. It was originally known as East Twin or North Baldy.
We sat down on a dry log and ate our lunch. Seeing as Easter is coming I scored some Cadbury Creme Eggs for a treat. Mountaineering and Cadbury Eggs, two of my favorite things. Luis brought his typical PB&J.
We had the summit all to ourselves. The guy we saw on the way up had turned back shy of the top. We saw a couple people on the ridge behind us, but nobody up top. We had to shoot our summit photo as a selfie, got too nervous to try and prop my camera on any of the steep snow, ha!
After the photo, signed in the registry and headed down at 1pm
Above is a better perspective of the knife-like ridge you have to cross to get to the summit. We walked more along the edge with the snow, going to much easier to arrest a fall in snow tha on that dirt and rocks! Exciting time for sure.
We descended the mountain in 2 hours, half the time it took to get up. We got back to the car at 3pm. Not bad. My feet were so tore I pretty much cut all the switch backs and descended the steep snow. It was less painful for me to have my toes jamming in the front of my boots. for Luis, his shins were feeling it, so when we dropped lower, he used some of the switchbacks to avoid the pain. We passed by our buddy who was ahead of us and turned back. This dude was practically hobbling. He was going to be fine, but I see why he turned back so close to the summit, he looked really miserable!
Made the long drive back to Los Angeles and was afraid to look at my heels. Lost a perfect circle of so many layers of skin. Ahhhhh.... good times! I think it's time for a different boot!
Safe and sound, I slept the whole next day. Only left my house once to head over to the pharmacy. Got some large band-aids and a resupply of moleskin!