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.

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