Climb Mount Baldy in the Winter via Mountaineers Route

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-difficult
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 and gets a lot of snow in the winter. It’s only an hour outside of LA/ OC with several routes up to the summit. I’ve hiked it many times in the Spring, Summer, and Fall, but have always been curious to climb the Baldy Bowl Trail in the snow (aka the mountaineer’s route). Baldy Bowl is very steep and can be very dangerous in the winter, but as I finally got to learn mountaineering the months before, I finally had the opportunity for a late winter climb (more like early Spring conditions given SoCal’s weather) and it was perfect.

In case you don’t make it all the way through this article, the main thing you should know before you go is do NOT attempt Baldy Bowl in the snow without the proper climbing gear: an ice axe, crampons, mountaineering boots, and a helmet at a minimum. There are many accidents and deaths every season due to climbers going out without the proper gear or knowledge of how to use crampons and ice axes.

followtiffsjourney mt baldy winter mountaineering on baldy bowl chute

This was my third mountaineering climb attempt and my second successful summit. Two weeks after Matterhorn Peak, I attempted Mt. Whitney via the mountaineer’s route unsuccessfully. Within two weeks later, I climbed Mt. Baldy on a whim, about 1.5 weeks after the last storm hit LA. I’ve been told it’s not good to go the day after the storm.

Please read this memo from the USFS Region 5 before heading out. In the 2022-2023 season, there have already been 2 deaths in the area (1 from Baldy) and more accidents. Be safe! 🙂

Is Mount Baldy Hike Hard?

Yes, it can be very challenging depending on your fitness level and experience. There is snow on the Mt. Baldy trail in the Winter which makes it a completely different experience than your usual hike up to LA’s 10k ft summit in the Summer and Fall.

Baldy Bowl Chutes + Gear You Need

How long is the Baldy Bowl Trail?

There are multiple chutes/ routes that go up Baldy Bowl – all are steep! The bowl is about 1,300 ft of elevation gain depending on where exactly you start and finish, and it is always more gradual in elevation at the bottom which can be deceiving to those with less experience thinking they can climb up in just microspikes.

What gear do I need to bring to climb Baldy Bowl safely?

Microspikes and hiking poles will not cut it if you want to climb Baldy Bowl – you need an ice axe, crampons, and mountaineering boots at a minimum, and knowing how to use them is just as important. *See below for full gear list*

The more technical and difficult chutes that require two ice tools (ice tools are different from ice axes) are near the left side of the bowl (alpine ice climbing) and the easier grades for general mountaineering requiring one ice axe are along the middle-right side of the bowl.

Microspikes vs. Crampons

Microspikes

  • Microspikes are great traction devices for hiking on relatively flat and icy terrain.
  • Microspikes do not have any “teeth” on the edge, all the little spikes are only on the bottom of the shoe so you have to be walking on flat terrain for the microspikes to be effective. You cannot walk with the edge of your boot because the traction is not there
  • Worn with hiking boots, even trail runners if conditions allow

crampons

  • Crampons are necessary when climbing steeper terrain in the mountains on snow and ice (like Baldy Bowl)
  • The “teeth” are only along the edges of the shoe and not in the bottom middle – opposite of microspikes. So if you walk on flat ground AND if you walk on the edge of your boot, your spikes will sink into the snow and provide traction. This allows you to walk up steeper terrain.
  • Worn with mountaineering boots – the soles are stiffer and do not flex. If you wear crampons with hiking boots that are more flexible, your crampons can potentially slide off if you have the strap-on crampons, but I’d recommend at least semi-automatic crampons for steeper terrain.

Late Winter Baldy Bowl Trail Report

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 were 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, and harness, and grabbing our ice axe (gear list attached at the end). 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)!

My First Experience on Baldy Bowl: Chute + Conditions

The snow conditions on Baldy 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 little that we wouldn’t even be able to climb the mountaineer’s 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 (live neve conditions) and the unexpected clouds provided coverage from the sun to prevent the remaining snow from melting during our climb. Although patchy in 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. I don’t know which chute on the bowl it was, but it was middle-right. The beginning part was easy and we didn’t need to put our crampons on until 0.15 miles up around 7:34 am.

baldy bowl morning/ late winter

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 to a rope for a sense of security. I’ve recently learned from my latest Whitney climb 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 but I was ok overall. 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/ Ski Hut 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.

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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.

Gear List I Used to Climb Baldy Bowl:

baldy bowl gear list followtiffsjourney

Thanks for reading!

Questions? Comments? Suggestions? Let me know in the comment section below and don’t forget to practice Leave No Trace 🙂

10 thoughts on “Climb Mount Baldy in the Winter via Mountaineers Route”

  1. George Schwoegler

    You rock Tiff, I have done many of the same hikes but you climbing is just off the hook.
    I love seeing your photos and am so jealous of your ability to do so much in such a short time.
    I also am terrified of heights so seeing you do the MR of Whitney is just awesome.
    Much respect and admiration!
    GS

    1. Thank you so much, George! It’s been fulfilling to face my fears slowly and I hope you get to experience it for yourself some day soon 🙂

  2. Great photos!!! However, Baldy is not a safe hike in those conditions……..we never recommend this hike in the winter months as visibility can change quickly and become deadly.

    1. No less safe than any true mountain/alpine environment, but you need to be skilled and prepared, which it appears she was. That’s what mountaineering is all about!

    2. Just to be clear, mountaineering is not hiking. This person did not simply put on some hiking boots, throw on a day pack with the water and snacks, and “hike” up Mt Baldy. I routinely see misleading posts on mountaineering blogs about the dangers of hiking in the winter. Winter mountaineering can be performed safely with the proper gear and training.

      1. Hi Jared, you are absolutely correct – mountaineering is a climb; I did not mean to imply climbing Baldy Bowl as a hike. It is not a normal winter hike; although there are winter hiking trails to the summit of Mt. Baldy, just not the bowl. Mountaineering can definitely be safer with proper conditions, gear, training, and experience.

  3. I hikes Baldy yesterday via Skihut and down via Devils backbone. Was a great day to go up there weather was great and not to windy at the top. I give it a try during some snow season.

    1. It’s a great training hike this time of year! Make sure you’re prepared if you plan to head out in the snow, it’s a whole different experience and people do die out on Baldy in the winter.

  4. Pingback: Safety Concerns When Planning a Winter Hike in Southern California Mountains | Follow Tiff's Journey

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