Mt. Baldy dominates the eastern section of the San Gabriel mountains, and it towers over the Los Angeles Basin as a major landmark. With numerous routes to the top, Mt. Baldy is one of the landmark hikes of Los Angeles. While the mountain is a popular destination for summer hikers, properly equipped winter hikers can also attempt the ascent through snow, ice, cloud, and wind.
This Christmas, I received a pair of snowshoes. I have never snowshoed in my life, although I have done some hiking in the snow. Snow hiking is tedious, exhausting, and very soggy if one is not prepared, and I hoped that the snowshoes, along with new waterproof boots and cold weather gear, would enable me to summit Mt. Baldy following a respectable set of winter storms.
I met up with Kyle at Manker Flats for an attempt on the summit via the Ski Hut Trail. The Ski Hut Trail is one of the more attractive trails up to the top, as it winds through the base of Baldy Bowl, up along the southern ridge of the Bowl, and then along the ridge leading to the summit. It’s also an extreme trek that gains 4,000′ during the 4.2 mile ascent. Prepared or not, this would be a very difficult hike, snow or not.
I found snowshoeing to be tiring work, but I did not find it to be nearly as tiring as walking in the snow without the additional support. I rarely sank more than a few inches into the fine powder at the upper elevations, and the snowshoes I received have an adjustment that will change the angle at which your foot rests on the shoe, reducing strain on the calves, Achilles tendon, and plantar fascia. Despite a little bit of labor, the snowshoes make it possible to take hikes like the one I took today.
We made our way up the access road from Manker Flats, past San Antonio Falls, and then to the junction leading off to the Ski Hut Trail. From here, it is a relentlessly steep incline to the summit. As the hike wore on, clouds began to move in from the canyon below. As the clouds grew higher and closer, they began swirling and moving with great rapidity. In one moment, it would be clear and sunny, with clouds obscuring neighboring ridges and peaks. The next moment, the clouds would descend on us, and we would be walking through the mist.
By the time we reached the Ski Hut, we had already attached our snowshoes in order to get better traction on the 3+ inches of snow on the trail. Past the Ski Hut, we made our way across the base of the bowl, through the “rock garden,” and up along the southern ridge of Baldy Bowl. This segment was steep and the snow was deep. Our going was slow, but it was at this section of the trail that the views were most spectacular.
After a couple of particularly steep stretches, we found ourselves at the beginning of the last stretch. Dark gray clouds loomed in the canyon, and my feet were pounding due to the new boots and snowshoes. The summit was only 3/4s of a mile ahead, but we both knew it was going to be a brutal 3/4s of a mile. I felt absolutely no remorse and calling it a day shy of the summit since it already felt that the best part of the hike was going to be the clouds and the ever-shifting light.
Kyle and I turned around and walked (sometimes slid) down the slippery, steep slopes and back to the ski hut, where we enjoyed a snack and watched the show which the clouds were putting on. From here, the snow had melted a fair amount, and the walking became much easier without the snowshoes.
Regardless of missing the summit, this was a fantastic hike. It whetted my appetite for more snowshoeing, and it gave me valuable practice for a trip that Kyle and I have planned to go to Sequoia National Park, where we plan to snowshoe around Giant Forest, Tokopah Valley, and maybe even a segment of the High Sierra Trail.