www.MountainHiker.org

Hiking Stats as of 11/14/2018
Total Trips:
Total Distance:
Total Elevation Gain:
 325
 3,891.68 miles
 1,060,050 feet
I'd been looking forward to the annual work conference that I attend each year for months, as this years conference was in Palm Springs. Actually, I couldn't care less that it was in Palm Springs, I wouldn't have cared if it were in Rancho Cucamonga instead - what I was excited about was having the opportunity to hike for the first time southern California and to get a City of Los Angeles library card.

In the days leading up to the trip I was still uncertain as to my itinerary. The conference started Wednesday morning and ended Friday morning. Clearly I could hike something after the conference ended on Friday (since it was in Palm Springs I ultimately selected San Jacinto Peak as written in the next trip report). But what to do for a pre-conference hike? The drive down would take 6 1/2 hours, so one option was to drive down Monday, stay in a motel somewhere in SoCal, and then have Tuesday free to hike. The other option was to get up extremely early on Tuesday, drive down and have about 3/4 of a day free for hiking. On top of this, I needed to go to the Los Angeles Library to get a coveted library card. Perhaps the best well-kept secret of the library system is that they have thousands of free audiobooks that can be checked out and downloaded right to your phone. I love listening to audiobooks on my morning walks with my dogs and while I am hiking. I have something like 8 library cards which cover most of Northern California, but all of them put together can't compare to the selection offered by the LA Library. For some reason the LA library didn't open until 10 AM on Tuesday, which basically set my itinerary for Tuesday. No need to spend the night down in LA if I can't even go hiking until after 10 AM. That would work fine, with a trip to the highest mountain in LA County, Mt. Baldy, being the post-library destination.

I set the alarm for 4:30 AM, and was on the road a bit before 5 AM. The trip down I-5 was fast, and I was down in Santa Clarita by 9:00. I needed gas, so I stopped and filled up, and then decided to try to get an "Adventure Pass" which I had read was required to park at the Mt. Baldy trailhead. I located a Big 5 Sporting goods store, but they didn't open until 10 AM so that was a wasted attempt. As an aside, while I have no problem with the concept of Adventure Passes or Sno-Park permits, the State should install payment kiosks with permitting options at these locations. The idea that you have to drive all over the place to secure a permit is extremely frustrating. Anyway, I got back on the freeway and was rolling on towards LA when the famous LA traffic backed up about 10 miles from downtown. It took about a half hour to complete the last 10 miles before I exited in downtown LA. It only took a few minutes to get to the Library, a quite attractive building set against the US Bank Tower, which at over 1,000 feet is the the tallest building east of the Mississippi.

After securing my prized library card I made the 75 minute drive up to the parking area for Mt. Baldy, which at over 10,000 feet is the tallest mountain in the San Gabriel Mountains and whose snow capped peak is seen in many postcards of the Los Angeles skyline. This winter was not typical, however, and I could see no snow on the drive up to the trailhead. I had figured as much, leaving the snowshoes at home and bringing only microspikes with me for the trip. Because of the lack of snow, the ski lifts were closed, meaning I would have to start at the Manker trailhead at around 6,200 feet. I had noted that the ranger station was closed, meaning I had no way to get the required parking permit. In frustration I decided to forgo the Adventure Pass (I got away with it) and just do the hike. The first few miles of the hike are on a nicely graded trail, I'd say it is a fire road but it is a bit narrow for that. I would have rather had a bit steeper of a trail, as the incline was so shallow that many switchbacks were installed to allow for a slow ascent up to the Ski resort on the top of the ridge. After an hour the views opened up towards the Baldy ridgeline and a few minutes before 1 PM I was up to the closed Ski Resort. I poked around the resort, enjoying the views from the deck showing my route up and towards Mt. Baldy, which was not visible behind the ridgeline.

After a few minutes exploring around the resort, I set off on the Devil's Backbone trail. I was quite excited to be on this classic southern California trail, known for its narrow path which skirts along the top of the very narrow ridgeline. As I worked my way up, I could see the pitiful conditions of the snow at the resort - hard to believe it is February! In about a half hour I was up at 8,300 feet, and yet another useless ski lift. From here, the splendor of the real start of the fun part Devils Backbone trail was in full view. Things got even better as I went along, with an even more narrow crossing after that first one. After making those traverses, the trail picks up some elevation as it makes its way towards Mt. Harwood, although the trail itself stays a few hundred feet below the summit as it traverses the side of Mt. Harwood. My plan was to visit Mt. Baldy and then on the return pay a visit up to Mt. Harwood. Harwood is listed on the HPS peak list (Hundred Peaks Section, the Sierra Club list for Southern California). I've been working on several peak lists in northern California, but these would be my first HPS peaks.

So I avoided the urge to go up Mt. Harwood at this point, and continued on towards Mt. Baldy, which was fully visible at this point. From the saddle between Harwood and Baldy the trail becomes quite steep as one makes the final ascent up Baldy. This was the most tiring part of the day, and it took about 25 minutes to get up. When I emerged on top a few minutes before 3 PM I was greeted by an empty, flat summit. I was quite happy to have the summit all to myself, and I took some time to enjoy the views from one of the most famous peaks in California. I made my way over to the summit marker, and then captured the views of the surrounding mountains, the hazy LA basin, and way off towards San Gorgonio and San Jacinto mountains far to the east. I took a summit shot of myself and then took note of another peak in the opposite direction of Mt. Harwood that looked like an easy hike. I had no idea if this peak was named or on any HPS list, but it looked very close with little elevation gain. If it hadn't been for the summit signs I may have thought it was actually higher than Baldy, as it was tough to tell from my vantagepoint. It turned out to be much easier than I thought, and 9 minutes later I was on the summit of what turned out to be West Baldy - not on the HPS list but the second highest named peak in LA County. The summit views were obviously similar to those only a half mile away on Mt. Baldy, so I took a summit photo of myself and got started on my trip back up and over Mt. Baldy. Once back on top of Baldy, I still had the summit to myself, and I ate my lunch and took a picture of my fantasy baseball 2012 championship trophy from the aptly named "Mt. Baldy Fantasy Baseball League" that I am in. Nothing like summit photo to do a little trash talking to the league mates.

It was nearly 3:30 when I started back towards Mt. Harwood, and found the hike up to the top to be quite easy, even finding a slight use trail to aid in the routefinding. The actual summit was about a quarter mile along the ridge, but was a very easy hike over relatively flat ground. Along the way I saw an odd structure which turned out to be a Plate Boundary Observation Station. Once again the summit views were not new. I took a shot looking back toward Mt. Baldy and started down where I would find the trail a few hundred feet below. Along the way it was impossible not to notice the distinct lines and patterns on the rocks. I should have paid better attention in my Geology classes because I really would like to know what causes such tings. Anyway, once back on the trail, I simply retraced my steps back on the Devils Backbone, once again enjoying the fun traverse. After that, it was a simple hike down to the car, passing all of the same points I had seen on the way up. The sun was setting over LA as I made my way down, and I was back at the car by 6:30. I drove to Palm Spring, arriving at the hotel by 8PM, and got settled in for the next few days of my conference. I could hardly wait for Friday at noon, when I would pay a visit to San Jacinto!

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