See Mt. Baldy via Old Mt. Baldy Trail hike description at Dan's Hiking Pages
What a remarkable hike on a superb route to Mt. Baldy! This has been a summer of amazing hikes in the San Gabriel Mountains high country. So it was fitting to end the summer with a hike up Old Mt. Baldy Trail from the Village to the summit6,000 feet in six miles. John Robinson describes the hike as "one of the most strenuous hikes in the San Gabriels." I’ve hiked all over the San Gabriels but this legendary hike had eluded me for years. So it was time to conquer it, my third assault on the grand summit in six weeks. I learned that The Hikemasters hiking group led by my friend Ray was planning to hike Baldy via the Village and so I jumped at the chance to join them.
Ray picked me up at 5:15 and we headed to Upland to the rendezvous spot. After we were all together we headed up to Baldy Village to the Mt. Baldy Visitor Center. Several drove cars up to be parked at the ski lifts for our return shuttle. We ended up with 14 for the day, some of which had no hiking experience and others were seasoned iron men. Finally we were ready to hike.
7:10 AM - Begin hike. Our gang of 14 tromp up Bear Canyon Road the 11 minutes to the beginning of the trail. The temperature is cool. The woodsy charm of this canyon is always a delight. The trail climbs at a moderate grade which is a good warm-up for the steepness to come. Arrive at Bear Flat (5580’) at 8:00 to complete the first 1.8 miles.
After a 10-minute break we cross the flat and begin climbing the steep slope via numerous switchbacks. The sun is warm but air temperature is still pleasant as we climb through the open chaparral that was burned by the 2008 Big Horn Fire. The group now strings out as the iron men and young bucks charge up the mountain and the older guys hang back. A blanket of clouds covers the human sprawl beyond the mountains to the south. I look east toward the Three Tees where I was hiking last weekend.
9:17 - Round the ridge hip and views west open up. The trail now begins to climb the ridge, which will be the primary mode for the rest of the hike. Enjoy conversation with follow hikers. Others hikers pass by. We chat with some. The scenery gets more beautiful as we climb. I love the vanilla scent of ponderosa pine (or perhaps it’s Jeffrey pine...both species emit a similar sweet-smelling aroma).
10:28 - Reach the saddle beyond high point 7755’. This is as far as I have hiked previously. This makes a splendid destination if one wants to do a nice 7.5-mile round-trip hike. Runners are coming down the trail. I sit for a nutrition break. Lots of traffic on the trail today. Later I learned that many of those are with the Peak Baggers group from Meetup.com. They have about a dozen in their group today strung out along the trail. I conclude my snack break as Ray, Gus, and Andy, the tail end of our group, catch up with me. Meet a hiker named John who summited in 3 hours 10 minutes this morning. Mature pine and fir provide shade. Massive boulders decorate the ridgeline. The route alternates views east and west. The landscape is breathtaking. Tiny chipmunks skitter around.
11:42 - Arrive at notch in the ridge with a spectacular view west into Cattle Canyon and beyond. Dramatic topography! The others leave me as I pause to soak it in. I leave and in five more minutes I catch up with the others at a large outcropping just off the trail. More stunning views. The others leave me again and I decide to take another nutrition break and savor the amazing beauty. Soon the trail bends east and poses the steepest climb of the route to archive a ridge with the first view northeast toward Mt. Hardwood. Climbing now on what Robinson calls “hardscrabble.”
12:31 - Reach “The Narrows,” a razorback saddle at 9200’, as Robinson describes it. West Baldy, Baldy, and Harwood are now in full view (photo at top). The trail mellows out and continues along the east side of the ridge in open sun through stands of dwarf limber pine and fir. The amazing beauty of the landscape captivates me. Breeze feels good. I take a side jaunt west to an impressive rock formation jutting above the ridgeline and am rewarded with splendid scenery. I continue along the ridgeline above the trail and reach the upper hip of Big Horn Ridge. Wow! Great vantage point looking down into Coldwater Canyon, San Antonio Ridge, and Iron Mountain. I love off-trail excursions. I wander back over to the trail which now heads northeast. I catch up with our tail-end group, which now numbers four. I still feel strong so I decide to pass them and stay at a good pace to afford me time to tag West Baldy. The trail now traverses the broad southeast face of West Baldy. I look for a short-cut route but see none. I reach the Baldy/West Badly saddle at 1:56. Turn left (west) and start the final pitch.
2:03 - West Baldy (9988’)...third time in six weeks. The Peak Bagger group is gathered on the summit and seems to be having fun. I meet Tim, who is a fan of Dan's Hiking Pages. Chat with some. They leave heading south down the slope. I leave at 2:25 and head for Baldy. I spot the Foursome as “ants” just past the saddle. Ray’s bright salmon shirt and Gus’s bright yellow shirt have made it easy to spot them a quarter mile away. I reach the saddle at 2:28 and begin the final climb to Baldy. I have found that this path that travels along the ridge is more enjoyable than the main trial south of the ridge. This route provides expansive views and pleasant breezes.
2:40 - Mt. Baldy (10,064)...the grand crown of the San Gabriels! The Foursome arrived minutes before. An American flag is flying in honor of 9/11. About 15 people linger on the summit. The rest of our group have already left. People pose for pictures. I have a bite to eat. I soak in the accomplishment of having climbed the “hard way” to Mt. Badly, yet my thoughts turn to planning a hike to reach this summit via the north approach along the “other backbone.” I stroll over to the northern edge to survey the route. Ray signals to me that it is time to leave.
Depart summit at 3:06. I now have my sights set on Harwood...might as well make it a triple crown day since I’m still feeling plenty strong. I try to stretch my lead on the Foursome but it’s difficult to make good time descending this steep, rocky slope. I’m always in awe of the picturesque scenery of this majestic mountain. Reach the Baldy/Harwood saddle at 3:29 and begin to scale the west slope of Hardwood. The climb seems easy even after a long day of steep ascent.
3:44 - Mt. Harwood (9552’) - Wow, I’m always impressed with this peak. The sweeping panorama and lunar-like landscape have such a different feel from Badly. I stop only briefly to snap some pics, having been here just a few weeks ago. I spot Ray and company far below on the trail and give a wave. I proceed east along the crest and in six minutes reach the eastern edge which drops off precipitously 1,000 feet and provides a great view down on the Devils Backbone. No sign of my comrades. I turn south and pick a route down through the manzanita and conifers. I sense some déjà vu I did this route three years ago. I remember to take a tangent southwest to avoid a precipitously steep descent. Reach Devils Backbone Trail at 3:58. My pace is fast now as I try to catch up with the others. Still taking pictures and studying the landscape. I’ve been contemplating a route up Manker Canyon.
Reach the end of Devils Backbone Trail at 4:31. A few minutes later I arrive at the upper chair lift (8600’) and I decide to descend via the Turkey Shoot ski run, figuring this short-cut would catch me up with the others. I forgot how long this route is, dropping 800 feet. Maybe it’s because my legs are feeling the effect of a lot of hiking today.
4:57 - Baldy Notch (7800’). Finally, I’m done hiking. Over at the lodge I find the others. They arrived just minutes earlier. I learned from Ray that they also descended the Turkey Shoot, so that’s why I couldn’t catch them. I pay my $10 and enjoy a peaceful, relaxing ride down the chairlift to the waiting cars.
Epilog - What an incredibly amazing day of hiking! The extraordinary scenery along this route is next to none in the San Gabriels. The trail is indeed steep, but I never found the “unbelievably steep” sections that Robinson describes. The weather was absolutely perfect. The marine layer over the L.A. basin helped created a sense of remoteness. I enjoyed the company of hiking partners and conversations with other hikes. I relished seeing my beloved San Gabriels high country from vantage points I’ve never experienced. Coming into the hike I had the mindset that I would gruel out this ordeal and chalk it up as a one-time experience. But when I finished I thought, I’d like to do this again next week! And as I surveyed the north route over Pine and Dawson, and looked down on old Iron Mt., I had a heightened eagerness to tackle them.
I suppose that part of the reason I avoided Old Mt. Baldy Trail for so long was that I had the impression from the trail descriptions that it was only for the elite super athletes. What I found is that it’s a route that normal folks can enjoy too. One does need to be in good physical condition, be able to carry plenty of water, and have some mental fortitude. I think the key is just putting one foot in front of the other a few thousand times and pressing on to the summit. And having companions with which to share the experience is good too.
See the photo album for this hike - Featuring 88 photos with captions
See related pages at Dan's Hiking Pages:
- Introducing Mt. Baldy
- Mt. Baldy via Old Mt. Baldy Trail hike description
- Bear Canyon Trail hike description