Friday, October 8, 2010

Hike 91: Mt. Baldy via Baldy Bowl Trail

Hiked Friday, October 8. Officially, it's 4.6 miles each way, or 9.2 miles round trip, with a net altitude gain of 3,904 feet. I made the hike just about ten miles roundtrip and over 4,000 feet of altitude gain by walking about 2/3 of the way to San Antonio Falls before remembering that I didn't hang my Adventure Pass on my rear view mirror before I left the first time, so I had to walk back down and do that.

This trailhead is the paved but gated road that heads west, off of Mt. Baldy Road and towards San Antonio Falls. From the 210 Freeway, I exit on Base Line, head briefly west, then turn right, up Padua Road. At the light, you turn right and continue on through Mt. Baldy Village. There's a sign that points left, as though you could just drive up to San Antonio Falls. But you can't, unless you live there or have a key for the gate. There's a porta-potty just outside the gate.

The road is paved on up to the overlook for San Antonio Falls. According to the USFS, it's .6 miles and 240 feet from the parking area.

After passing the overlook, the road makes a hairpin right turn, and the pavement ends. The dirt road hugs the side of the mountain. After about 1/4 mile, the road curves to the left, still hugging the side of the mountain. Just 100 yards or so after the left turn, the Baldy Bowl Trail peels off on your left. Although the trail is well-defined, it is unsigned and easy to miss if you're not looking for it.

After a few switchbacks, the Baldy Bowl Trail makes its way south, towards (surprise) the Baldy Bowl. It gives you a nice overview of the waterfall.

Looking up the canyon, you also see a green "house" that is the "ski hut." Although it looks very close, it's supposed to be 1.9 miles and 1,810 feet from the waterfall. I guess that puts it just 1 3/4 miles from when you first see it. But when you're walking, it sure seems farther.

In fact, this whole hike is pretty tough because, as noted previously, you're gaining nearly 1,000 vertical feet per horizontal mile. Yes, some parts are steeper than others. Also, there are several spots where you need to (well, *I* needed to) use my hands to left myself up a few short sections. It's not quite a walk-up.

In addition, there are several steep areas where there is no clear single trail. Most of the time, the two (or more) trails merge after a short distance. Other sections are worse. I know the hikers in front of me went "off trail" on the section just after the ski hut, because they were in front of me, then they were behind me. Somewhat later, I unintentionally went off trail. My only advice is that you need to be watching carefully for trail shifts. As noted, there are some sections where you'll need to use your hands. But those sections are short, so if you're finding yourself bushwacking or climbing more than a few feet, you're off the trail. Turn around before you get too far off track and look for a more reasonable route.

There are a few signs along the way to reassure you that you are still on the right track. There are also a lot of ducks (rock piles), but often they will be indicating two mutually exclusive routes. Just try to stay on the most heavily traveled route, and generally take the shallower route.

Generally, the trail crossing the bowl stays low until it reaches a "Baldy Bowl Trail" sign, at which point it climbs steeply. After the steep climb, the trail then works its way outside of the bowl, on the south side of the ridge. Shortly after passing another "Baldy Bowl Trail" sign, it again begins a steep climb towards Mt. Baldy.

The Baldy Bowl Trail sort of sneaks up on the summit of Mt. San Antonio/Mt. Baldy. Unlike the Devil's Backbone Trail, where you see several false summits before reaching the top, the Baldy Bowl Trail doesn't really present any obvious summit until you're actually there.

There are impressive views along the way. On the way up, you can look to the south and see the ridge that the Mt. Baldy Trail takes on its way up towards Baldy. You can also look to the north and see the Devil's Backbone trail coming from the other side.

I was kind of surprised to see a dusting of snow on the peaks to my east. This snow must have fallen on Wednesday and was still there on Friday evening. No snow on Baldy, however. Too flat, too windy, too much sun exposure.

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