Distance: 15.5 Miles
Elevation Gained: 3,700′
– Elevation gain stretched out over long distances makes lots of easy stretches
– Great desert, mountain, and city views
– Lovely forest
– Since I didn’t bring hiking poles, my knees are killing me
– One section features a 500′ descent and re-ascent, which just isn’t funny
Mt. Baden-Powell is a 9,400′ peak in the eastern San Gabriel Mountains. The peak is named after Lord Baden-Powell, who founded the Boy Scouts. The peak is a rite of passage for Boy Scouts as both a day hike and as the termination of the 53-mile Silver Moccasin Trail, which starts at Chantry Flat and traverses most of the San Gabriel Mountains, often concurrently with the Pacific Crest Trail.
The peak gains additional notoriety by being the second tallest peak in the San Gabriels after Mt. San Antonio (Baldy). In fact, I kind of look at Baden-Powell as Baldy’s little brother. They have a number of similarities – bald on top, highest peaks on huge massifs, identical forest structure, etc., and they both stare at each other across a deep canyon in the Big Sheep Wilderness region of Angeles National Forest.
There are a number of different ways to reach the summit. The most popular, straight-forward, and tedious with switchbacks is the Vincent Gap ascent, which climbs 3,500 or so feet over 8+ miles. Another approach, which is longer, but gentler, starts at Dawson Saddle and climbs about 3,000 or so feet (I’m totally guesstimating this so look it up if you want actual figures), over 10+ miles.
Kyle, the writer of the excellent “Hiking Angeles Forest” blog, turned me on to a third option that is both longer and taller. Starting at Islip Saddle, about 8 hiking miles from the summit, you follow the PCT over numerous ridges, some flat stretches, and one discouraging dip and rise, until you reach the summit. It totals about 15.5 miles, although don’t trust the trail signs since they all say something different, and it gains about 3,700, with 1,000′ of that coming from the inconvenient dip and rise.
Along the way, you will be treated to the classic forest pattern in what may be some of the healthiest and loveliest sections of forest in Angeles N.F. The usual suspects are all found here – Jeffrey, ponderosa, and sugar pine, plus white fir and a handful of incense cedars. The mountains here are a lot dryer than the Sierras, but the differences aren’t very extreme, which is one of the brilliant things about the San Gabriels and San Bernadinos; you can get a real mountain experience without leaving the L.A. region.
I hit the trail at 6:00 am on the dot, and proceeded to climb a brief set of switchbacks. Over the next several miles, the trail is remarkably flat, especially considering how extreme the slopes in the San Gabriels can be. The trail achieves this by contouring as much as possible, and, since the elevation is stretched out over a long distance than, say Baldy’s 4,000′ over 6 miles, I actually made really good time for mountain hiking.
The sunrise was a good one, and I enjoyed fine, ever-expanding views of the Mojave Desert that includes Palmcaster, Pearblossom, and Edwards Air Force base. The air was extremely clear to the north, and I could see halfway to Vegas, as well as the southern end of the Sierras. To the south, the view was less clear, but, early in the morning at least, the surrounding peaks – Gorgonio, Baldy, Jacinto, Santiago, Palomar, and Mt. Wilson were are easily discernible.
The only real drawback was that I forgot to bring hiking poles. This trip was a spur of the moment venture. I had originally planned to do this in September, prior to a planned trip to Yosemite, so that I could get re-acclimated to high altitudes. However, I had the time, the will, and my baby’s encouragement, and so I tackled it spontaneously.
Everything went well, but I am further committed to the importance of hiking poles. They may not add much on the uphills, but those are not the problem. Without hiking poles to break downward momentum, downhill stretches are murder on my knees. I’m walking like a grandfather after 16 miles, whereas, about one month ago, I hiked 17 miles at San Gorgonio without a bit of soreness due to the judicious use of hiking poles. If you like long-distance hiking, please get yourself a pair of hiking poles. Your knees will thank you.
All-in-all, this was a great hike, and I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to try something other than the more popular peaks and hikes in L.A. The scenery is great, the forest is lovely, and the summit is a respectable achievement.
July: 92.7 Miles
Year-to-Date: 847 Miles