The hike to the summit of Mount Baldy is considered a right of passage for Southern California hikers. Now that I’ve been to the summit, I can’t imagine living in Los Angeles and not attempting this hike.
In early September, my friend Rachel and I decided we were ready to take on the challenge. We arrived late to the trail head at 8AM, judging by the number of cars parked before us. There are two major routes to the summit of Mount Baldy. We chose to take the Ski Hut Trail to the top, cross the Devil’s Backbone to Baldy Notch, and descend along the service road from the ski lifts. In total, we would hike 11.3 miles and climb 3,900 feet in 10 hours.
For us sea level dwellers, the elevation change can be a challenge. We took our time on the first leg of the journey and made it to the Sierra Club Ski Hut without any trouble. As we continued to climb, we noticed some dark clouds looming above us. We encountered a pair of hikers on their way down the mountain who said it looked like rain and warned us of a snake on the trail ahead.
As soon as I heard the word “snake,” rain was no concern. Rachel knows about my fear of snakes and bravely took the lead. We discovered the baby rattler minding his own business alongside the trail and scaled the mountain between the switchbacks to get around him.
With the snake behind us, we kept climbing. Suddenly, we could hear heavy rain approaching us from a distance. We stood frozen as the soft roar got louder and louder. I had just enough time to put my camera in my lunchbox, which was the only waterproof container in my bag. The rain bounced off the ground and back into the air. It took me a moment to realize it was hailing! We found shelter under a tree and ate Oreos, while we waited for the cloud to pass. Despite the warning signs, we pressed on. With each crash of thunder and lightning, I said a little prayer.
The last stretch before the summit was the most difficult part of the journey. From my experience hiking Mount Whitney, altitude sickness makes me act three shots of tequila drunk. (I’m a really cheap date.) As we climbed closer to 10,000 feet, I started to drop the F-bomb and stumble over my own feet. Not so ladylike.
At last, we arrived on the summit of Mount Baldy, 10,068 feet above sea level. We saluted the dark thunder cloud that followed us up the mountain as it floated off into the distance. Blue skies and wispy white clouds surrounded us on all sides. (This is the momentous scene in the movie where the camera circles us 360 degrees.)
We sat down on our handkerchiefs for the most satisfying picnic of my life. Rachel made kale salad with red quinoa. I provided fruits, veggies and more Oreos, of course.
From the summit, we took the Devil’s Backbone trail. Luckily, the weather gods spared us from being struck by lightning as we crossed the exposed ridge of the mountain. The landscape was mostly barren with elephant graveyards of mangled, dead trees.
We arrived at the top of a lift that was out of operation and followed the ski run down to the Mount Baldy Lodge where we were welcomed by live Bluegrass music. We had unknowingly stumbled upon the 2nd Annual Bighorn Musical Festival. The girl on stage was just introducing her next song about a troubled relationship that had gone on for far too long.
I laughed quietly to myself. Two years ago, I left one of those behind. Even the most difficult life experiences are invaluable lessons, as long as you are open and willing to learn from them. From that point forward, I decided to create my own experiences and write about them here. Somewhere along the way, I discovered my passion for exploring the wilderness, and I fell in love with nature. Nice to meet you, Mount Baldy. I think you’re really pretty.
After the song was over, we headed toward the main ski lift and fought the urge to ride down. Instead, we began the long hike along the service road back to the trail head. That’s when we discovered a new side effect of altitude change. It was like we had stolen a sip of Willy Wonka’s fizzy lifting drink to make it up the mountain, and the only way to get back down was to burp. Either that, or the tequila shots were wearing off.
Walking downhill for several miles was surprisingly exhausting. We stopped to power nap on the side of the road. Feeling reenergized, we began the home stretch.
When we made it back to the trail head, my car looked pretty lonely. Either we were the last to finish or we hiked the furthest. On the ride home, Rachel and I fantasized about what we would eat for dinner. I enjoyed pizza and beer while submerged in a bubble bath. I didn’t stop eating for the next four days, and the soreness in my muscles was a bittersweet reminder of our accomplishment.
Now that the pain is gone, I’m dreaming of the next summit adventure… Onward and upward!
Mount Baldy Loop
- Trailhead: Located across the street from Manker Flats Campground
- Trailhead Parking: You must purchase an adventure pass to park at the trailhead. Click here for locations.
- Road Trip: 1.5 hours from Los Angeles
- Trail Length: 11.3 miles round-trip; approx. 10 hours
- Fitness Level: Advanced
- Source: Go to Hikespeak.com for turn-by-turn trail directions.
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