Safety Concerns When Planning a Winter Hike in Southern California Mountains

mountaineeering girl baldy bowl

This blog post is very specific to the SoCal region and those curious to climb the Baldy Bowl in Angeles National Forest, amongst other things. The Public Affairs officer for USFS Region 5, covering the 18 California National Forests, has reached out to ask me to remind you guys of some general safety messages and things you should know before you go.

The San Gabriel Mountains (Angeles National Forest) and San Bernardino Mountains (San Bernardino National Forest) are home to many accessible trails, but also some rugged mountain terrains. In the wintertime particularly, SoCal gets hit with a good amount of snow which makes these mountains a different level of playing field compared to Spring, Summer, and Fall.

“In the mountains of San Gabriel, overlooking the lowland vines and fruit groves, Mother Nature is most ruggedly, thornily savage. Not even in the Sierra have I ever made the acquaintance of mountains more rigidly inaccessible. The slopes are exceptionally steep and insecure to the foot of the explorer, however great his strength or skill may be…”

John Muir, 1877
sunrise alpenglow baldy bowl
Sunrise Alpenglow on Baldy Bowl

The SoCal mountains are not for everyone in the winter months… so here are some things to consider before planning your snowy hike.

  • Many trails and routes to peaks are exposed to steep terrain, making them very dangerous during icy conditions.
  • Proper gear is essential, but so is training and experience with that gear. Even with the best planning, experience and gear, trips can go wrong.
    • Example: Robert (RJ) Secor, a very experienced mountaineer, had issues in the Baldy Bowl: http://www.traditionalmountaineering.org/Report_SierraClub_RJSecor.htm
      • Accidents can happen to anyone at any level but proper gear certainly helps mitigate risks
      • Also note: I’ve heard many stories of people getting injured from glissading so although is may seem like the fun shortcut to get off the mountain faster, please reconsider. I personally have not and will not glissade for safety reasons.
    • It’s not unusual for rangers to find people with no experience at trailheads unpacking mountaineering gear for the first time.
  • Snow and ice can persist throughout the spring and summer, especially on north-facing slopes and shaded areas. This holds true for all mountain areas outside of the LA/OC/IE mountains.
  • Visitors need to really think through the risks involved and how that affects others if the worst happens. It’s not just family and friends, but the search and rescue teams, which are largely staffed by volunteers.
climbers on baldy bowl
Tiny climbers heading up Baldy Bowl

It’s important to note that the percentage of hikers who have the gear and access to true training/expertise is very limited. Opportunities for experience can be expensive and is a time commitment. It takes 10 weeks and six trips to graduate from the Angeles Chapter Sierra Club’s Wilderness Travel Course, for example, and they only do limited snow travel and overnight snow training, but not for trails/routes that necessitate crampons and ice axes. Not even their four-week Advanced Mountaineering Training program dives into this subject. That extra training can cost hundreds of dollars a weekend in the Eastern Sierra.

Please share this message with anyone that needs to hear it 😊

Shop Essential Gear List to CLIMB Baldy Bowl

If you are not prepared for a winter climb but want to get out to Angeles National Forest just to hike in the snow, please be prepared still and check out this guide to help you pack and plan your trip👇

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