Sunday, March 21, 2010

Hike 37: Mt. Baldy Trail to Sheep Mountain Wilderness

Hiked on Friday, Mar 19. Between the NCAA Tournament and various other commitments I've had this weekend, I knew I wouldn't be able to get any hiking in this weekend. That's why I squeezed a short one in on Friday: Mt. Baldy Trail to Sheep Mountain Wilderness. Actually, I wasn't sure when I started this hike how far I would go. My plan was to hike until I hit snow or ice, then turn around. I was sure I could make it at least to Bear Flat (1.6 miles), though, so that was the minimum. How much further beyond that would (I thought) depend on the snow line.

My map had this trail starting near the visitor center, so I parked there. It's possible that on weekends this lot is limited to two hours parking. Also, when I got back, I noticed a sign saying the gate would be locked at 3:30pm. Yikes! Good thing I didn't go too much further.

I started by walking around the permimeter of the little learning area they have surrounding the parking lot. On the south side, I found a sign pointing the way. That led me to Bear Canyon Road. A sign on the other side of this road pointed me west.

Bear Canyon Road is paved, but very narrow and apparently has no public parking on it. Only residents drive up. A number of cabins/homes had "For Sale" signs on them, so if you want to become one of these residents, the opportunity is there. :D

Shortly after the pavement ends, the trail crosses a creek (Bear Creek, I presume). There's a mileage sign on the other side, indicating 1.6 miles to Bear Flat, or 6.0 miles to Mt. Baldy.

A bit later, I crossed the creek again. Less than 1/4 mile from the start, the trail split. The left branch headed back down to the creek. The right branch headed up a bunch of switchbacks. Since I wanted to go up, that's the way I went. I didn't notice if the lower branch ever rejoins the upper branch. In theory they might, since you cross another creek (probably the same creek) when you get there.

A short bit up these switch backs, there was a downed tree across the trail. It was a relatively small tree, and I had no difficulty ducking under it. However, on my return trip, there were a couple of young men and their dog at this point. One was using a large axe to cut the tree and clear the trail. They said they walked this trail so often they got tired of ducking under the tree. They planned to clear the trail to Bear Flat that day (Friday), and continue up the trail in succeeding days.

I thanked them for their service.

Bear Flat turns out to be a not very flat place. It's nothing like Stoddard Flats, where the reason for the "Flats" part of the name was obvious. Here, if not for a sign indicating this was Bear Flat, I wouldn't have been sure if I was there.

Nonetheless, it is a relatively cleared area. Part of that is because this whole area burned in the early 2000's as part of the Williams Fire. On the way up, some large burned logs and smaller burned but standing snags (probably scrub oak and manzanita) were evident.

I never did get to see Mt. Baldy. Apparently, this approach doesn't let you see the summit until you're nearly there. Instead, I ran into a sign that said, "Sheep Mountain Wilderness." Technically, you need a permit to enter the wilderness area, even for a day hike. So I looked around the area for a few moments, then turned back around. The views from here was nice--about a 270 degree panorama from west-northwest to east-northeast. To the east, you've got the face of the Three Ts (Thunder, Telegraph and Timber). To the northeast, you can look up Manker Canyon and on to Baldy Notch. To the south is Sunset Peak, now rather distant. You can also see Glendora Ridge Road and the firebreaks and fire roads that head off from the road towards Sunset Peak.

I'm not sure if the sign for the wilderness area is exactly at where the trail first crosses into the wilderness area. However, it felt at least as far from from Bear Flat to the wilderness boundary sign as it was from the trailhead to Bear Flat. That would make it somewhere between 6.4 and 7.0 miles roundtrip. It felt closer to the latter than the former.

Next time I head up there, I'll aim for an earlier start and get a wilderness permit ahead of time. Still, I figure it will be at least another month before it's safe for me to go to the summit of Baldy.


  1. Do you know where to get the wilderness permits and how much they cost? Sounds like it was a cool hike...

  2. Wilderness Permits are free. That's true of most USFS or NPS Wilderness Areas, although some have a quota, especially for overnight camping. I'm sure there's no quota on day-use for this wilderness area.

    You can either wait until you're actually on your way and stop at the Mt. Baldy Visitor Center, or you can call them a day or two ahead of time and have them issue one, which will be taped or pinned outside the VC on the morning of your hike. I had the number written down somewhere, but I don't see the Post-It at the moment. I'm sure you can google them.

    Although in real life, the chances of actually being asked to show your permit are pretty small, I think getting the permit is a good idea. It's the only way the Forest Service can keep track of how many people are using the area. Also, it gives them a chance to talk to you and you a chance to talk to them about your proposed route. You can also get updated on trail conditions. And if something unfortunate happens, you've got a much better chance of being found quickly if you've got a wilderness permit and you hiked where you said you were going to hike.

  3. Cool, thanks for the info...