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Mt. Baldy Loop via Devil's Backbone and Baldy Bowl

 

Trail Stats

 

Distance - 10.6 Miles

Elevation Gain/Loss - 4000 ft.

Max Elevation Reached - 10,064 ft.

Difficulty Level - Strenuous

Trailhead - Link

 

Track

 

  

Download Google Earth KML - Link

Download GPX - Link

 

Description

   

Mt. San Antonio, or Mt. Baldy, as it is commonly referred to, is the highest peak in the San Gabriel Mountains of Southern California. Located in Los Angeles County, this mountain is one of the most popular hikes that ardent local hikers frequent. I even know of some hikers who have made it an annual family ritual to climb Mt. Baldy. 

 

There are multiple trails that lead up to the Mt. Baldy summit.

1. From Manker Flats via Baldy Notch and Devils Backbone

2. From Manker Flats via Baldy Bowl and Ski Hut

3. From Mt. Baldy Village via the Bear Flat trail

 

Option 1 can be simplified by taking the Ski lift up to the Baldy Notch and completing the rest on foot. Since they start at the same trailhead, options 1 and 2 lend themselves to forming a convenient loop trail that can be hiked in any order. Option 1 to ascend, option 2 to descend, and vice versa. This page describes the loop hike which involves ascending via Baldy Notch and the Devil's Backbone and descending via the Ski Hut and Baldy Bowl.

 

Let me start off by saying that this hike is one of the most beautiful hikes in Southern California. It is, in my opinion, unrivaled in terms of scenic beauty by any hike within San Diego Co. At the lower elevations you walk through pine forests that grow progressively thinner as altitude is gained. They eventually disappear above the tree line leaving only granite rocks in the immediate foreground and spectacular vistas in the background that stretch all the way to infinity in every direction.

   

This trail starts at the east end of Manker Flats parking lot on a paved road which has a steady and comfortable uphill grade. At about 0.5 miles from the start lies a sharp hairpin bend which provides a convenient viewpoint for the rather small yet pretty San Antonio Falls. There is even a short trail that veers off to the left from the bend and leads to the base of the falls. The additional mileage, though insignificant, is accounted for in the description of this trip and is shown approximately between the 9.5 mile and 10 mile marks in the elevation profile below. At the sharp hairpin bend, the paved road surface ends and the road continues, unpaved, all the way to the Baldy Notch at about 3.5 miles from the trailhead. On this unpaved road, at a junction about a quarter mile uphill, a trail climbs steeply to the left. This is the Ski Hut trail which also leads to the summit, but will form the return trip on this particular hike.

 

The ski lift mentioned above ends at the Baldy Notch. A small restaurant is located here and has restroom facilities. On the last stretch before the Notch one can get a clear glimpse of the Mt. Baldy summit.    

        

The real fun, if you will, begins beyond the Baldy Notch. A steep uphill trail to the left follows a second ski lift and climbs to the Devils Backbone. The steepness is evident in the sudden change of grade in the elevation profile at approximately the 3.5 mile mark. The trail in the initial parts of this stretch is made of loose granite rocks and dirt and requires careful footing. As the trail climbs towards the backbone, which is essentially a ridge top leading to Mt. Harwood and eventually to Mt. Baldy, it narrows and gradually flattens. Beautiful vistas to both the west and east open up.

 

Once on the narrow ridge top, the reason behind the rather macabre name becomes clear. While the trail itself is not terribly narrow and has no sheer vertical drops, there are spots where a lost footing could result in a fairly steep slide down slippery slopes on either side. In some places, a slide could quite easily go unchecked for a hundreds of feet and could cause serious injury if not certain death. But trust me, the vistas are worth the small risk.

  

Beyond the Devil's Backbone the trail hugs the southern face of the very colorful Mt. Harwood - the faux summit that was thus far concealing the real goal. Here, the trail flattens out briefly before becoming very steep once again as you make the final bid for the summit. This stretch is well above the tree line and therefore is truly "bald". The trail is rather faint, very slippery and extremely steep. The seemingly never-ending ascent is slow owing to the frequent loose footing and the altitude. Remember, the trail is nearing the 10,000 ft. mark here.

   

Once at the summit, you truly get the on-top-of-the-world feeling. No peak seems higher. At a distance, towards the south east, lie the prominent peaks of Mt. San Jacinto and Mt. San Gorgonio. Much closer, and to the south are the Cucamonga and Ontario peaks. The summit is a marker that is theft-proof due to its sheer size. It declares the elevation as 10,064 ft.

 

The descent on this hike is mostly within a geological feature of the south facing slope of the mountain called the Baldy Bowl. The Ski Hut trail starts downhill due south of the summit. It initially sits atop the western rim of the bowl and descends very steeply. You immediately begin appreciating how much harder it would have been to come up this way. You are filled with respect and awe for those few hikes who are now on their final bid for the summit. The pine trees start to reappear. Look to the left, towards the north-east, and spot other hikers on the upper parts of the Devil's Backbone and on the slopes of Mt. Harwood.

 

The trail turns to the east descending straight into the bowl, again very steeply. It flattens out as you reach the base of the bowl. At this point the only vistas you see are towards the south. The walls of the Bowl block of much else. As you near the Ski Hut, you cross a couple of small trickle sized streams which eventually lead up to the San Antonio Falls downstream. Beyond the Ski Hut the trail curves on to the eastern wall of the bowl through a progressively thicker forest which now starts showing desert vegetation in addition to the pine trees. 

 

At about 3 miles from the summit the Ski Hut trail joins the unpaved road that took you to the Baldy Notch at the start of the hike. From this junction, retrace your steps back to the Manker Flats parking lot crossing the San Antonio Falls to your right.

     

Elevation Profile

 

 

Trail Log

 

June 20th, 2009

    

Started from San Diego - 4:45 am

Started from Trailhead - 8:00 am

Reached the summit - 1:00 pm

Started back - 1:45 pm

Reached Trailhead - 5:00 pm

Started Driving back - 5:30 pm

Reached San Diego - 730 pm

  

Photos - Link 

Panorama - Link 

     

Notes -

 

Sesh. K and I started driving from San Diego at 4:45 ... 15 mins later than we had intended to. There was no traffic at this ungodly hour. We missed out exit on to I210 and had to do a bit of navigation to get to the bagel place for breakfast. The bagles were dry, felt stale and tasted funny. Some place on Fruit St. in La Verne. Not recommended.

 

The weather was gloomy throughout our drive from San Diego to Angeles National Forest. However, at the trailhead, we were already above the clouds and in bright sunlight! There wasn't one cloud above us. The same June Gloom looked much prettier from up above, like an endless ocean of dense cotton candy.

 

Our uphill trip was slow with several small breaks for pictures and stretching. We also took a slightly longer break at the Baldy Notch. At the summit, we at lunch, took several pictures and just lay about people watching.

  

The descent was quite quick without any significant breaks. At 4 pm we still saw people attempting to go uphill ... ostensibly all the up to the summit ... they were asking us about the wind conditions up there.

 

Once back on the unpaved road, we proceeded to the falls and took the short trail to its base. Got some good pictures there. 

  

    

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