HIKE TO: Mount Baldy (aka Mount San Antonio) TRAILHEAD: Ski Hut Trail/ Manker Flats Campground MILES: 7.73 miles TIME: 5:44 hrs DATE I WENT: 3/23/21 DIFFICULTY: moderate ELEVATION: 10,064 ft ELEVATION GAIN: 3,898 ft PERMIT: no PARKING PERMIT: yes LOCATION: Angeles National Forest
Winter in Los Angeles exists… in the mountains. Mount Baldy is the tallest peak in the LA region sitting at 10,064 ft. It’s only an hour outside of LA/ OC with several routes up. I’ve hiked it many times but have always been curious to climb the Baldy Bowl via the mountaineers route. As I finally got to learn mountaineering these last few months, I finally had the opportunity.
This was my third mountaineering climb attempt and my second successful summit. Two weeks after Matterhorn Peak, I attempted Mt. Whitney via the mountaineers route unsuccessfully. Within two weeks later, I climbed Mt. Baldy on a whim, about 1.5 week after the last storm hit LA.
We started at the ski hut trail by Manker Flat at 5:30 am. We needed an early start because the snow was melting quickly in SoCal so we wanted to be on the bowl by sunrise – with the warm temps in LA, we wanted to be sure the sun doesn’t melt the snow too much while we’re on it and the forecast showed sunny yet freezing temps with ridiculously strong winds of 30-45 mph all day at all elevations. The first 1.5 miles on the forest road was clear of snow.
The sun rose around 6:30 am, just before we arrived at the ski hut at 6:45 am. The wind had already picked up so we enjoyed the sunrise for a quick minute before gearing up for the climb. When I say gear up, I mean putting on our helmets, crampons, harness, and grabbing our ice axe. A harness isn’t always necessary for mountaineering, but I personally always have it on in case I get scared of heights/ falling and want to be attached to a rope. We didn’t see anyone else out here this early and were the only ones on the Baldy Bowl – I have no idea which chute we went up as we simply picked the one that looked like it had the most snow (if you can tell which chute I was on, please let me know in the comments below)!
Baldy Bowl Chute + Conditions
The snow conditions on the bowl were a lot better than I expected them to be. With the warm temps in SoCal, the lack of storms rolling through, and the very dry winter that has left the Baldy Bowl with just patches of snow… I actually expected there to be little-to-no snow so that we wouldn’t even be able to climb the mountaineers route. Happy to report, I was wrong. There was an avalanche on the bowl a week before, just after the last storm, but the snow was very perfectly firm for us to climb and the unexpected clouds provided coverage from the sun to prevent the remaining snow from melting during our climb. Although patchy at spots, the chute was in perfect condition to climb. It was actually easier than Matterhorn Peak, given the firmness of the snow. The chute we climbed was about 1,138 ft of elevation gain in 0.4 miles. The beginning part was easy and we didn’t need to put our crampons on until 0.15 mile up around 7:34 am.
Climbing Experience & the Fear of Heights
The climb was a lot easier than I expected and I was not on the rope going up but my friend did bring it in case my fear of heights got to me and I need a little extra support. I always have my harness on in case I need to attach onto a rope for a sense of security. I’ve recently learned from my latest Whitney climb (blog coming soon) that I move a ton faster when I’m on a rope as it eliminates the fear of falling completely to my death so albeit it may be unnecessary, it seems necessary for me at this stage in my climbing progression. There was just one section that I felt very uneasy about and Chris climbed behind me for peace of mind. I’ve also learned that I’m less scared when I’m in a gully-like surrounding, meaning I’m in a tight, enclosed space with walls near me so I cannot see the views in my peripheral vision. Chris even left me for a super short section, just a few feet up but within my view still, to scope out the best route and I did seemingly ok. I tried very hard to not get into my head and it may sound silly, but that was a proud little moment for me.
We made it to the top of the chute (9,441 ft) at 8:36 am – 3 hours, 3 miles, and 3,220 ft of elevation gain from the trailhead. To my dismay, we weren’t close to the summit of Mount Baldy yet – well, we were only half a mile away but it was farther than I thought we would be. The trail soon connects with the normal Baldy Bowl hiking trail and we reached the summit at 9:10 am. With the unexpected cloud coverage, it was a complete whiteout at the summit with 45 mph winds, about 20 degrees temps with a wind chill of 2 degrees. It was so cold that my hair was frosting! Needless to say, we took a quick photo and started heading down asap.
We headed down via the Baldy Bowl hiking trail instead of the chute because the conditions freaked me out a bit too much to be on uncomfortable terrain. It was a complete whiteout as we started to hike down, I could see Chris in front of me and that was about it. Although I’ve hiked up here countless times in all four seasons, things look very different when all you see is white and we got a little turned around when starting our descent. I was nervous. I was trying not to freak out. I’ve been on this mountain numerous times yet I felt lost not knowing which direction was down. The air was painfully frigid and I was afraid conditions were going to get worst. Meanwhile, Chris seemed calm as a cucumber. Luckily, Chris and I were both tracking our routes and were able to find our way onto the trail shortly. It goes to show you must always be prepared for all weather conditions.
The hike down was 4 miles total to the car with 3,898 ft of elevation gain, and about 3.2 miles and 3,456 ft of elevation gain of that were on the Baldy Bowl Trail, then the last mile on the forest road. It snowed most of the way down (which felt like hiking through a snowglobe) until just before the forest road where we got blue skies and super warm weather – quite opposite of just minutes before.
All in all, we were down to the ski hut by 10:05 am to take off our climbing gear, forest road by 11 am, and back to our cars by 11:16 am.