Thursday, July 29, 2010

Hike 77: Chapman Trail and Icehouse Canyon Trail

Hiked Thursday, July 29. Short loop, about 7.7 miles.

I initially planned to hike Ontario Peak today. However, because my wife said she was going to try to get the zippers on my "regular" backpack today, I took an older one, instead. Unfortunately for me, I forgot to transfer the sunblock, and I didn't discover that until I was at the trailhead.

Yes, I could have just driven five minutes back into Mt. Baldy Village and bought some. But because I'm a man, I hate backtracking. Instead, I just figured on taking a shorter hike, so I wouldn't burn myself too bad. And that made this the perfect time to explore the Chapman trail.

Out of the Icehouse Canyon trailhead, you head about one mile up, same as usual. Just before you reach the 1 mile stake (stakes are pounded into the ground on both the Chapman and Icehouse Canyon trails at one mile intervals), there's a sign at the junction, indicating a sharp and steep left turn to the Chapman Trail. This trail is much less traveled than the main Icehouse Canyon trail, simply because it's a longer way to get to the same place (the two trails meet up again after 2 miles on the Icehouse Canyon Trail, or after 3.7 miles on the Chapman Trail).

The main advantage of taking a longer distance to get to the same place is that the vertical climb rate is obviously much less. For that reason, I felt that I was moving a lot faster along the Chapman trail than I did when I took the Icehouse Canyon trail. I didn't actually check my watch to confirm this, however. It just seemed easier.

The secondary advantage is that the views are much more open. As opposed to staying down near the river, the Chapman trail rides high. It also heads surprisingly far to the north (not literally surprising, because you can see it on the map, but I still found myself surprised by how wide the canyon was up here). Parts of it are open to southern exposure, but a lot of the earlier sections are west-facing and shaded.

On the Chapman Trail, the only marked destination before the Icehouse Canyon junction is Cedar Glen. Oddly enough, I didn't see any cedar at Cedar Glen--just pines and fir. Then again, I wasn't really LOOKING for cedar--I was just surprised that the little grove right near the sign was entirely non-cedar.

Although it's mostly up, there's at least one fairly long (maybe 80 foot?) altitude loss along the way to the Icehouse Canyon trail. Also, there are a few places where the trail is crossed by down trees, and you're walking with one foot on the tree and one foot on the ground. It's also narrower than the Icehouse Canyon trail. On the other hand, it was much less crowded, and that was nice. I think I saw 7 other people during my 3.7 miles on the Chapman Trail; I saw that many people within ten minutes of heading down the Icehouse Canyon Trail.

Because of the shortness of my hike, I didn't stop to eat, and I came down with a lot more food and liquids than I intended. I did offer both liquid or foods to the first few hikers I ran into on the way down Icehouse Canyon. I enjoyed chatting with them, but they declined my offer. I learned that both groups were just drinking water from the spring that's about 3/4 mile below the saddle, and just before the junction. The water comes right out from under the trail, so I suppose it's got to be relatively clean. But I've always been a coward when it comes to untreated water, so I've never drunk from this spring.

I was back in my car by about 2:20pm. I think I started around 10:30am, so I figure less than four hours on the trail. Tonight, I find my left arm a little itchy and warm, so I know I got slightly burned. Not nearly as bad as it would have been if I tried the whole hike, though.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Hike 76: Cucamonga Peak

Hiked on Weds., July 21. Down to just one or two hikes a week. It's funny how some weeks will just disappear. This week, the only hike I managed was yesterday. And because I've got someplace I need to be on Friday, it looks like either this will be my only hike, or I'll only manage something short on Friday morning.

The first 3.5 miles of this hike are the same as for the trips to Timber Mountain and Telegraph Peak, and will also be the same when I head up to Ontario Peak (probably next week). You stop in Mt. Baldy Village to get the wilderness permit, park in the Icehouse Canyon trailhead, and head east to Icehouse Saddle.

For Timber and Telegraph, you go from the saddle to the northwest. To go to Cucamonga, you go southeast. To go to Ontario, you'll go southwest.

The other difference is that it's a lot drier now than when I went to Timber or Telegraph. All the snow is long gone, although there are still several places were you need to cross seeping water on the way to Icehouse Saddle. Most hikers turn around at Icehouse Saddle, and that's not a bad hike. It's pretty steep (from 4900 feet to 7,500 feet over those 3.5 miles), and if you only had three hours for the day, sure, why not? Also, despite the altitude, it's actually hotter at the Icehouse Canyon trailhead than it was in upper Claremont.

The thing about Icehouse Saddle is, between the mountains that rise on either side of the saddle and the trees, there's not much of a view from the saddle. But it is usually windy, which makes it comfortable in the summer. Nonetheless, taking any of the trails rising away from the saddle is quickly rewarding. In the case of the trail to Cucamonga, this trail gives you a clear look north in short order. I-15 and a lot of desert are there to be seen.

After a very brief gain in altitude, you spend a lot of the next mile or so giving away altitude. That means the gross altitude gain between Icehouse Saddle and Cucamonga Peak is a lot more than the 1,200 or 1,300 net difference. Most of this trail is also pretty narrow, and often along crumbly dirt or rock piles. It feels pretty solid, but I'm sure it's migrating downward in the long run.

As the trail winds around what I assume to be Bighorn Peak, you need to really crane your neck to look up towards Cucamonga, to your east. On the other hand, you also get a nice, "backside" view of Ontario Peak and the spines of adjoining hills. It's quite impressive.

It's also a long haul, which means that, for many, it will feel like more than 2.4 miles. But if you take it slow and avoid giving yourself a pounding headache, the trail is actually relatively easy. Only the last 1/10th of a mile or so (from when you hit the worn-out sign pointing you to Cucamonga Peak) is steep.

The view from the top is pretty grand. As from many tall peaks in the San Gabriels, you can see Mt San Jacinto and Mt. San Gorgonio off to the east. Baldy is, of course, visible to your west. Northwest is Telegraph Peak, with the shorter Timber in front of it. To the north and northeast is the Mojave Desert, with I-15 easily visible. Southwest is Ontario Peak. South is Ontario or Upland, but clear skies that way are somewhat rare. On the day I went, it was mainly the marine layer that cut visibility down. If there were a Santa Ana wind, the view would have been clearer, but the tempertures would have been much higher.

I think it was about 7 hours of total out of car time on this trip, from 10:30am til 5:30pm. Obviously, some would walk much faster, while some might be slower. On the return, I was tired enough that I was too lazy to take the detour to Cedar Grove. That's about a 1.7 mile detour that would run north of the regular Icehouse Canyon trail I've taken several times, now. The splits from the Icehouse Canyon trail just .6 miles down from Icehouse Saddle, then runs higher and to the north, before dropping back down to rejoin the Icehouse Canyon trail shortly before the trailhead. I still don't know what it looks like, and I'm not sure when I'll feel like taking the detour.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Hike 75: Mt. Pinos and Mt. Abel

With the heat on the way and clear skies in the forecast, I decided to make a return trip to Mt. Pinos. This time, it would be primarily for hiking, although I did toss my small, portable telescope in the trunk, just in case I decided to "do some astronomy" before heading back.

As noted last time, this trailhead is at the end of Mt. Pinos Road: I-5 north, exit at Frazier Park, follow the "main" road west for 21 miles, and you're there(My odometer said it was 20.5 miles from the Pilot gas station/truck stop 'til the end of the road)

Unlike last time, the parking lot was mostly empty when I arrived. Still, there were a few RVs that were going to stay another day, with telescopes waiting for nightfall.

The start of this trail (and, in fact, the whole part to Mt. Pinos) is on a dirt road. The sign (indicating 2 miles to Mount Pinos) is way at the south end of the lot, and you only see the sign if you're heading out of the parking lot. Within about 150 yards of the start of this trail was a locked gate that would keep any motorized vehicles from continuing. People, bikes, and horses could easily pass around the gate, however.

I'm not sure if it's ever unlocked any more, since on the few trip reports I have read, no one has reported it being open for several years.

Within another 150 yards or so of the gate, the road splits. I took the branch that headed left, as it was going uphill and appeared to be the more heavily traveled. There were signs at this junction, but none indicating the way to Mount Pinos. Both were just more of the cross-country ski route type I saw last time, with no indication of a destination. Nonetheless, my choice proved correct.

After maybe 1/2 mile in relatively thick forest, the trail/dirt road opened up into a more open, meadow-like environment. Hills were to the right, trees were to the left, and the trail continued straight ahead. There were a few spurs that branched off of this trail, but none were signed and none appeared to be pointing towards Mt. Pinos.

Finally, at the point where I thought to myself, "This must be about two miles by now," I saw a microwave transmission tower to the right. The main road continued past that hill, at which point a pair of tire tracks veered off towards the tower. Solar panels were just below the tower, as was a small structure.

I took this detour, and found a surveyor's landmark embedded in the ground near this tower, as well as a ring of rocks. I think this may be the official summit, since the monument said, "Mt. Pinos."

But this wasn't what the pictures of the summit I had seen looked like, so I went back to the main trail. About 1/4 of a mile later, the main trail flattened out into what is or used to be a parking lot. Room for about ten cars was here. Signs indicating this was the wildlife viewing area were around the parking lot. To the east were a pair of benches, looking out over the Los Padres National Forest. An interpretive sign was also here.

The views from here (and from the microwave tower) were expansive. To the north, I saw white, which might have been snow on top of the southern Sierra, or clouds. I couldn't tell. To the far east and south, I saw a lot of barren dirt, no doubt parts of the forest that burned two seasons ago, when it seemed like the whole of Ventura County was going to burn.

The summit of Mt. Pinos is 8,831 feet above sea level. The altitude of the ski hut parking lot is given as 8,340, for a net gain of about 500 feet. Although the sign says it's two miles from the lot, other sources give the distance as 3 miles roundtrip. That may be just to the radio tower, so once you add the distance from there to the wildlife viewing area, it probably would be pretty close to two miles each way. Either way, it's a pretty gentle climb, and at least part of it is shaded. Also, the altitude means that, while it was in the 100 degree range back in the San Gabriel Valley, it probably stayed in the 80s where I was.

From the wildlife viewing area, the dirt road ends, and the Vincent Tumamait trail begins. A sign indicated it was 2 miles to trail 22W02, 4 miles to trail 22W21, and 4.5 miles to Cerro Noreste, also known as Mt. Abel. Another sign indicates you're heading into the Chumash Wilderness (a larger sign is a bit down the trail).

The trail from the wildlife viewing area begins decending relatively slowly. Just a few hundred yards from the top, there's a spur that runs to an old table, which, I suppose, would be perfect for mounting a spotting scope to look for California Condors (This is the area where they were first reintroduced into the wild, although, alas, I didn't see any this day).

After the table, the trail begins a series of long switchbacks. I was expecting this, although it did occur to me as I switchbacked down the trail that if I was purely in it for the hike (and not for the astronomy in the Mt Pinos parking lot after dark), doing this trail in the opposite direction would make a lot more sense. Further on down the trail, in the midst of a VERY long descent, I thought of this, again.

On this steeper patch, the Indian paintbrush that I had seen in patches during most of this hike was blooming like crazy. I probably took thirty shots of just this half-mile section of trail where the flowers were blooming the strongest.

At about the time when I was thinking, "Surely I must have walked two miles by now," I reached the first signed junction, in a relatively flat, meadowy area. After a very brief climb, another steep descent followed. At the bottom of a saddle, a faint trail headed off to the left. A few pieces of wood that were probably the pole holding up a sign or two were on the ground. A large, shattered, and decomposing tree trunk laid on the ground, pretty much where I figure the sign used to be. The sign itself was nowhere to be found. Still, based on the trail signage, this should be about 4 miles from the Mt. Pinos wildlife viewing area, and about 6 miles from the start of my hike.

From here, it's the only significant, extended climb of this hike, steeply up towards Mt. Abel Road. At the top of this steep climb, you first pass a sign that welcomes folks heading the other way into the Chumahs Wilderness Area, then you hit a paved road. On the other side of the road is a sign indicating Campo Alto Camp is 1/2 mile to your right. Since that was uphill, I headed that way.

The road traces a long, looping path. After about 1/4 mile of walking, you realize you're about 200 yards above where you were when you reached the road. A decomposing ski hut is here, as is a decommissioned pit toilet and what looks like an old well. A bit past this, the road splits into a one-way loop in the campground. At this point, the heat and exertion of the hike started to hit me, so I sat down in the shade. I drank some and ate some. Then, to my surprise, my cell phone beeped, indicating a waiting voice message.

Since I REALLY needed a break, I checked my voice mail, made a few phone calls, and chatted for about 45 minutes. Purist would frown on this. But I probably did need the break, because when I hike alone I rarely stop. Besides, while talking to my wife, she mentioned that I sounded terrible, and I did notice my speech was a little slurred. Cooling down in the shade for an extended period was definitely a wise idea.

Not only was I cooling down, but the weather was starting to cool down, too. It was now approaching 4pm. Time to head back.

Approaching the point where the trail headed off from the road, I could just make out the microwave tower on the top of Mt. Pinos. Yeah, it did look to be about 4.5 miles away. :D

Down the steep path to the first junction, then a whole lot of climbing. It was largely shaded down there, so that was good.

I walked extremely slowly, took LOTS of pictures, and fiddled with my phone some on the way back, but I still made it to the parking lot by around 7:30pm. I could easily have done it 30 or 40 minutes quicker, but because I was planning to do some astronomy, there was no reason to hurry. I would need to wait until dark, anyway.

More cool drinks were in the cooler, so I drank some more. Then I plopped into the backseat of the car and rested. I doubt I slept, but I still felt a lot more refreshed after my rest than I had before.

Although I wasn't walking the whole time, I was gone from my car for about 9 hours (from a little after 10am - until a bit before 7:30pm). During that time, I did not see any other hikers on this trail until I was returning up the last switchbacks before the wildlife viewing area (a mom, a dad, and a young daughter). Two cars drove by me when I was up near Mt. Abel.

Meanwhile, in the parking lot of Mt. Pinos, there were three vehicles belonging to astronomers (Two couples in two RVs, and one guy in an SUV) and three that belonged to either hikers or mountain bikers (the last two mountain bikers came in, with their lights on their bikes on, well after sunset, but before things got really dark). Quite a contrast from what this places looks like on weekends.

Among the astronomers, I'm pretty sure I recognized the home-made Dobsonian telescope one of the couples had set up from a previous trip to Mt. Pinos. I let them know I'd be leaving relatively early and that I'd let them know when, in case they were going to do any astrophography. They weren't.

In the early summer, it doesn't really get dark up on Mt. Pinos until almost 9:30pm. With my little wide-field reflector, there are only a few things for me to look at. The one thing I really wanted to see, I forgot to bring a chart to help me fine. So I mostly just practiced finding some familiar targets (Ring Nebula, Dumbbell Nebula, M13, M22, M4, Swan Nebula, Lagoon Nebula, Trifid Nebula) and scanned the Milky Way around Sagittarious. Packed things up (it's quick when it's just the portable telescope), and drove off the parking lot around 10:30pm. Got home around midnight. Quite a long day.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Mt Pinos

Not really a hike, although it was supposed to be. I intended to hike it last Saturday, but took off the wrong way. The full story is on my sidewalk astronomy blog, here.

Despite the failure, I thought I would note the wonderful field of iris, blooming not 100 yards from the top parking lot. I'll have to do this hike right, and probably will, sometime later this summer.

I'd currently debating a trip up to near Mono Lake. Got some friends camping up there now. If there aren't any new posts in the next three days, it's likely I went up there and will have some pictures from the eastern Sierra by the end of the week.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Surviving Mt. San Jacinto

OK, nothing quite so dramatic. However, I did manage to conquer this peak on the same day (Weds, July 7) and time the earth was shaking. I didn't feel anything, but I was walking. People who were sitting reported a pretty strong swaying.

On Wednesday, July 7, I hiked from the Marion Mountain Trailhead to the top of Mount San Jacinto. The trailhead sign indicates it's 5.25 miles each way. Despite the relatively short distance, it took me all day. Well, not ALL day, but a really long day. I left the car at 10:30am and did not get back until almost 8:30pm. That's almost ten hours of really slow walking, lots of picture taking, and about 20 minutes of recuperation at the summit. It was nearly six hours up and over three hours back. Whew!

Let's start at the beginning: I took I-10 east. I exited in Banning. The 8th Street exit is also CA-243. After a few miles and a couple of turns, the highway heads steeply into the San Bernardino National Forest. I'm not sure what the speed limit is, but I was comfortable going 45mph, and didn't get passed by anyone, nor catch up to anyone.

Because the San Bernardino NF website was down the previous weekend, I wasn't able to confirm where I could pick up a wilderness permit. The only places I knew for sure were way down near Idylwild. The CA state park HQ for Mt. San Jacinto is at the north end of town, on your right as you enter town. I filled out a form and chatted with a ranger, who confirmed the directions to the Marion Mountain Trailhead. To get there, I headed back north on CA-243 just about five miles from the park HQ. There, I turned right at the sign that indicated the direction to four different campgrounds (on the other side of the street was a small development, and just beyond that, the Allendale USFS fire station).

After about .25 mile, a sign indicated I needed to take a left to the Marion Mt. camp-ground. After following signs indicating several more turns, I came to an area with a small clearing and parking lot on the left side of the road, and a sign for the Marion Mt. Trailhead on the right side of the road. I hung my adventure pass on my rearview mirror and headed out.

The rough topographic map I picked up at the park HQ places the Marion Mt Trailhead at about 6,300 ft. (I didn't check this until several days after I got back home--I had assumed I was starting out close to 7,000 feet). I did know that Mt. San Jacinto was somewhat over 10,000 feet tall (10,834, according to the sign at the top). So I figured I had about a 3,500 foot gain to surmount. Turns out it was actually a 4,534 net gain. Dang. No wonder it took me so long! :D

The one thing I did do right was I brought more liquids to drink than I had in my past few hikes. I carried two 1-quart bottles of Powerade from home. I intended to toss a few .5 liter bottles of water, but I forgot to get those from the case in the garage before I left. Instead, I bought a one-liter bottle of water from a small convenience store between Idylwild and the trailhead. That's just over 3/4 a gallon of drinkables in my pack. Turned out I drank it all, too.

This, despite the fact that it wasn't all that hot, and the trail is at least partially shaded nearly the whole way. It's quite different from going up Baldy, where most of the hike was open to direct sunlight. Here, you have some oak at lower elevations, and conifers the rest of the way up. In most areas, the conifers (I read they're sugar pines at lower altitudes, and limber pine higher up) are in thick, healthy stands. At lower altitudes, however, they're either doing some serious thinning or dealing with some fire and disease issues, because there were many downed trees and a few places where logs were stacked and waiting to be carried out.

It was also a lot wetter up here. There were only a few small patches of snow remaining on the ground, but small rivulets of water crossed the trail at several points. It was definitely very Sierra-like in that respect.

Wildflowers were blooming all over. Some were familiar, like the one I think is a Humboldt lily. Indian Pink and Indian paintbrush were also common, as were several that were either new to me or unknown to me. The one I keep thinking is a wild sweetpea was also common.

The Marion Mountain trail does a LOT of climbing. One of the few areas where you're not climbing is when the trail runs just above and to the south of the Marion Mt campground. Turns out that if you were to start your hike from the campground, you could knock off about 2/5 of a mile. Oh, well.

At about 1.3 miles from the trailhead, there's a sign indicating you are entering Mt. San Jacinto State Park (the trail started in the San Bernardino National Forest--A wilderness permit from either the state park or national forest authorities will let you legally pass hike through both areas, but if you plan to camp, you need a state camping permit to camp in the park). The sign informs you of the need for a wilderness permit, and the possibility of being turned around or fined or both if you continue without a permit. No dogs are allowed in the state wilderness, either.

At 2.5 miles from the trailhead, the Deer Springs trail comes in from your right. If you were on a through-hike along the PCT, this would be a spot where you could walk right into "civilization," as an 8.5 mile detour along the Deer Springs trail would bring you to CA-243 just 1/2 north of Idylwild). Instead, I continued straight ahead, which meant now I was on the PCT.

However, very much unlike my last few PCT segments, this one had NO indication that I was on it. Either through neglect or vandalism, every single little shield that would demarcate the Pacific Crest Trail was missing. Very odd.

About fifty yards past the Deer Springs/PCT junction with the Marion Mt. Trail, the Seven Pines trail spun off off the left. Less than 1/2 mile later, the PCT/Fuller Ridge Trail pealed off to the left, as well. I continued going straight, continuing on the Deer Springs trail, towards San Jacinto Peak. Sadly, distance remaining to Mt. San Jacinto as indicated on the trail signs was shrinking very, very slowly. Indeed, it was around here that I realized that I was only making about one mile per hour.

One mile after the Fuller Ridge/Deer Springs split, I arrived at Little Round Valley. A small creek cut through a pretty meadow of green. A couple of unsigned trails cut off from the main trail in this area. I assume they went to likely campsites. One trail headed to a pit toilet. Another had a signed indicating a seasonal ranger station was off to the left. Sadly, the next sign I saw told me this was Little Round Valley, elev. 9,700 feet, and that the remaining distance to San Jacinto was 1.6 miles!

This part of the trail was relatively level, but I was soon climbing, once again.

After another 1/2 hour, I could see blue sky above the ridgeline I was heading for, indicating I was appraoching a saddle. Once there, a cluster of signs pointed me the remaining .3 miles to the summit, as well as distances to a number of other destinations, including 4.8 miles to the tram station (that comes out of Palm Springs, on the other side of the mountain from where I began). I gave some thought last week to taking the tram up and hiking Mt. San Jacinto from that end. But that would have been as a "short" (actually, just about as long, but much flatter) way to get to the top, as a detour on the way to a night of dark-sky observing east of Indio. By this week, my cheaper side convinced me of the merits of hiking from Marion Mt. trail and saving the $23+ tram fee for gasoline.

The last .3 miles is about 2/3 off-trail, with simple boulder hopping up numerous, equally easy routes to the top.

At the top, there's a number of USGS surveyor marks. Also, someone rigged a small American flag.

I relaxed up there for a while, drank some, then decided I had better start down. Not far from the top, I tweaked my left knee a bit. I took it easy on the left knee for a while, which meant trying to walk down hill without letting that knee bear much of a load. Yes, it slowed me down some. But I still thought I could get down in about 2 1/2 hours. Instead, it took just over 3 hours. Since I got to the top just around 5pm, that meant the previously-mentioned return time of about 8:15pm at the trailhead.

One nice side effect of the late return is you get some magical light as the sun's rays get longer. It's a wonderfully warm tint of alpenglow, the same as you get the in the Sierra Nevada. I took advantage of that for some nifty flower shots as I neared the end of my journey.

I hadn't really timed it on the way in, but I did notice it took me just about 45 minutes to get from the trailhead back to Banning. I drove a little slower going home in the dark than I had in the late morning light of my arrival, but that means it's still 30-40 minutes from there.

Ate dinner in Banning at a burger place, then hopped back on the I-10. Home is about 90 minutes west of Banning. Construction delays meant I didn't get home until nearly 11pm, about 13 hours after I pulled out of my driveway that morning.

I'll post some pictures later tonight.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

San Bernardino and Los Padres National Forests Website Issues

Up until today, I wasn't sure if my problems with accessing the websites for the Los Padres and San Bernardino National Forests over the past weekend was due to issues on my computer or theirs. Turns out it's on their end.

Angeles and Cleveland National Forests didn't seem to be affected.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Hike 73: Little Santa Anita Canyon to Decker Springs

According to the sign at the start of this hike, it's 3.1 miles each way, with a net gain of 1900 feet. I don't know if it was the heat (only mid-70s) or the humidity or what, but I felt surprisingly tired after this hike.

I got a late start because I didn't know I had the free time to take it until nearly noon. Also, I first intended to go to Sturdevant Falls or someplace around Chantry Flat.
However, it turns out that a lot of people got July 5th off, because the lot there was filled and cars were parked 1/2 mile down from the lot. That still wouldn't have made the hike all that long, but it obviously did mean the trail would have been packed. To avoid the super dense crowd, I drove back down Santa Anita Ave, turned west on to Grandview, and continued a little less than a mile, to Mountain Trail Avenue. Mountain Trail goes up to the base of the mountain, then turns left, where the street becomes Mira Monte Ave. If you come from this way, Mt. Wilson Trail Road is just after the little park, on your right. That's where I left my car.
I needed to get back home by around 4pm, so I was debating how short of a hike I would keep it. The rapid onset of tiredness made me settle on Decker Spring. It's a spot where what I presume to be a seasonal spring crosses the trail, just 4/10ths of a mile short of Orchard Camp. Most day hikers turn around at either First Water or Orchard Camp. For me, First Water was too short of a hike, but I didn't want to go all the way to Orchard Camp because I was hoping to conserve energy for a much longer hike on Tuesday (I was thinking of trying Mt. San Jacinto, but the way I'm feeling now, I may put that one off to Wednesday).

Despite it being July, we've actually had a pretty mild summer so far. So, although many plants are drying up, a surprising number of wildflowers are still holding on. In the lower reaches, cliff aster (white) is still very thick. That's what the butterfly above is snacking on.

Higher up, some striking red flowers are in bloom. When I came to one particularly striking specimen, a hummingbird was feeding. I snapped about a half-dozen pictures, and was surprised he put up with me. Might have been able to take more pictures, but I had to keep swating at bugs and bees!

Not sure what the pale purple flower (two shots up) is, but if I have time, I'll look it up. The purple and yellow flower three shots up looks an awful lot like California aster to me.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Hike 72: Mt. Baldy and West Baldy from Manker Flats

Hiked Thursday, July 1. Sort of like my last hike, this one evolved over the course of the day. I did want to hike Mt. Baldy, but this time, I decided to try from Manker Flats.

My attempt on Monday failed because of a late start, a lack of water, but also because it's just a very tough trail. Although ostensibly less than 13 miles roundtrip, the altitude gain is imposing: 10,064 feet at the summit of Mt. San Antonio (Baldy), while starting from just 4,320 at the ranger station. That's almost 6,000 feet over just over 6 miles, or nearly 1,000 feet per mile.

By contrast, my attempt today started at 6,160, or nearly 1,800 feet less altitude gain.

From the 210 Freeway, I exited again at Baseline, headed west just a few hundred feet before turning north on Padua. From there, it's about three miles to Mt. Baldy Road. A right turn there takes you up San Antonio Canyon. Rather than stopping at the ranger station, I continued another 2 1/2 miles or so, parking near the gated road for San Antonio Falls. About 1/2 mile on pavement beyond the gate takes you to San Antonio Falls, which I hadn't seen for several months.

The pavement makes a hairpin turn to the right just at the falls overlook. The pavement also ends.

Shortly after this hairpin turn, there was a trail on my map that climbed steeply to the north-northwest, reaching the summit of Baldy just 4.2 miles after the split.

That's the hike I planned. Unfortunately for me, I didn't bring a map, because I figured the trail would be clearly marked. Silly me.

Instead, I walked right past it. After traveling 1/2 mile past San Antonio Falls, I knew I had missed it. But because I'm stubburn, I didn't want to turn around. Instead, I figured I'd continue on to Baldy Saddle. From there, I thought perhaps I might go to Thunder Mountain, which I looked down upon on an earlier hike to Telegraph Peak.

It's 3.6 miles total from the gate at the bottom of the road that heads to San Antonio Falls. It's also a gain of 1700 feet. Nonetheless, I was feeling very strong when I got here, and didn't really feel that just going to Thunder Mountain would be enough for me today. Instead, I opted for taking a slightly longer route to Mt. Baldy than I had originally planned.

According to a sign labeled "Desert View" (reached by continuing north, past the ski huts and snack stand), it was just 3.2 miles from here to the Baldy summit. A geological survey marker at Desert View gave the altitude at 7,802 feet, or about 1200 feet below the summit. In this context, I figured it was only about another Echo Mountain hike, which seemed doable.

Incidentally, this route's total distance (from Manker Flats to Baldy summit) is listed on my map as 6.8 miles each way. That's basically a Mt. Wilson hike. I think the altitude change is slightly less, but the starting altitude is obviously way higher.

As another "incidentally," on weekends and holidays, the ski lift runs from near Manker Flats to Baldy Saddle, so someone who didn't want to walk as far and had about $20 to spare (I think $5 less if you buy it on-line, in advance) could make this hike pretty short. But where's the fun in that? :D

The beginning part of the trail from Baldy Saddle to Mt. Baldy is a dirt road. I generally followed the more distinct path the entire way. However, if someone wanted to, they could simply head in the general direction of Mt. Baldy and choose their own path. Most other paths would be steeper, however.

Well, same as last time, I needed to walk very slowly to keep from giving myself a pounding headache. But, still, this hike was definitely less strenuous than Monday's. Plus, I actually made it to the top of Baldy.
This approach provides some pretty spectacular views. The Devil's Backbone trail hugs the mountains, and, in parts, the mountain is only about three feet wide at the top.

The last bit up Baldy is also somewhat intimidating, when you see that narrow trail zig-zagging its way up.

The cropped shot, which includes people for perspective, reinforces that idea.

Nonetheless, I took it slow and easy and succeeded in making it to the top. The top is, as you already know, bald. Mostly broken rocks or sand. Not a lot of vegetation at the actual summit, although some gnarled trees are growing to below and to the southwest.
West Baldy can be reached by a trail that runs the ridgeline between the two peaks. You give up a few hundred feet of altitude along the way, then need to gain most of it back to attain West Baldy.

I almost didn't go to West Baldy, because I was starting to get tired. But I'm glad I went. Right near the summit, I got to see a small herd of mountain sheep, grazing. They didn't see me for a few minutes, and I fired away about five shots. When they *did* see me, they all galloped off to the east. That sort of forced me to retreat. Because, although I did want to peek over the west edge of West Baldy, to see where I had walked on Monday, I didn't want to keep disturbing the sheep. I figured they're already barely holding on as it is, and they should be able to get as fat as possible and not be forced to stop eating and start running away from a curious hiker.

The picture above is a shot that puts the sheep in perspective. At the top of this post were closer shots that let you see the sheep more clearly.

Once it was time to go back, I tried to find that steeper, shorter trail that I had originally planned to take up. I couldn't find the top of the trail, although, a bit later, looking down into the huge "Baldy Bowl," I did see a well-defined trail down there. Also, when I got back to near the waterfall (much later!), I managed to spot where the trail diverged from the road. It's semi-obvious, except the color of the trail is the same as the road, and there was no sign. There were a few small stacks (ducks) of rocks to mark the junction, but it was easy enough to miss if you didn't know pretty well how far past the waterfall the junction should be (about 1/5 of a mile, by the way!).

When I finally got back to San Antonio Falls, I had this view, of a whole bunch of yucca stalks, bright and stark against the face of Mt. Baldy.