Monday, July 21, 2008

Hiking Mt. Baldy (Via Devil's Backbone Trail)


Mt. Baldy (Officially Mount San Antonio), at 10,064 feet is the tallest summit in the San Gabriel Mountains. Mt Baldy, is one of the most photographed iconic pictures in Southern California and is unrivaled by any other peak in the San Gabriel Mountains. On July 12, 2008 Ashley and I attempted to hike Mt Baldy, via the Devil's Backbone Trail in the Angeles National Forrest. A hike to the summit of Mt. Baldy in Southern California is a must do hike for any avid hiker as it is the tallest point in Los Angeles County.

Directions to Trailhead: To get to the Trailhead to hike to the summit of Mt. Baldy, take the 210 freeway to Upland and exit Mountain Avenue heading North into the Angeles National Forest. Follow Mountain Avenue to the intersection with Shinn Road and make a left turn. Continue onto Mt. Baldy Road, by making a right onto Mt. Baldy Road and follow until Manker Flats. Park at Manker flats if you want to take the longer way to the Baldy Notch from the Manker Flats trail, or keep going to the Mt. Baldy Ski lifts which operates their ski lifts for hikers on summer weekends for a much shorter option to the summit of Mt. Baldy. To park at Manker Flats you will need a Forest Adventure Pass, since this hike is in the Angeles National Forest. You can get one at the Mt. Baldy Visitor Center on your way up the mountain. There is no cost for parking at the Mt. Baldy Ski Lift area if you are going to take the ski lift up to the Baldy Notch, as the costs are rolled into your lift ticket. For specific times the Mt. Baldy Ski Lift is operating, click Here.

Description of Hike: The length of the hike to the summit of Mt. Baldy, using the trail from Manker Flats to the Baldy Notch and the Devil's Backbone Trail from the Baldy Notch to the summit of Mt. Baldy, is 11.25 miles roundtrip with an elevation gain of 4,300 feet. If you take the Mt. Baldy Ski Lifts up to the Baldy Notch, the hike is 6.4 miles round trip with an elevation gain of 2,300 ft. It is up to you to decide how long you want the hike to take, but as described in this write-up both hikes are out and back. The longer hike will take about 8 hours and the shorter hike will take about 4 hours. Either way there is a lot of elevation gain in a short period of time. There are also several areas along the Devil's Backbone Trail with sheer some drop-offs of a 1,000 to 2,000 feet (the devils backbone area picture below), those with a fear of heights should be very careful when hiking of this section of the trail. Make sure to take your time while traversing these sections of the Devil's Backbone Trail and only experienced mountaineers/hikers with crampons and ice picks should attempt this hike if there is snow or ice present. This section of the trail is treacherous when snow and/or ice are present. The hike to the Summit of Mt. Baldy via the Devil's Backbone Trail goes through some of the most rugged terrain in the Angeles National Forest. The best seasons to do this hike are late spring after the snow melts, Summer, and early fall before Southern California winter storms arrive.

Further Thoughts: We started our hike to Mt. Baldy from Manker Flats and decided not to take the Mt. Baldy Ski Lift. On the way up the hiking trail we saw San Antonio Falls, which was very neat. Ashley and I were amazed to see plenty of water cascading over San Antonio Falls even in July. This first part of the trail is the ski resorts maintenance road going up to the Mt. Baldy Ski Area, so watch out for maintenance trucks as we saw one while we were going up this trail from Manker Flats.

When we reached the Mt. Baldy Ski area located at the Baldy Notch, we stopped and enjoyed lunch inside their lodge. It was very nice to be able to sit down and enjoy lunch at the midway point. The views from the ski lodge area were amazing. For those that don't want to do any hiking, the views are worth it to come up the ski lift to have lunch at the Baldy Ski area during a weekend in the summer. The Mt. Baldy Ski Lifts offer fun dinner/ski lift ticket deals during the summer. From this section at the Baldy Notch we could see the valley looking towards Los Angeles. There were also great views of the high desert as well. We could see Victorville, the Cajon Pass, and much more. It was beautiful. The Ski Resort/Baldy Notch is at an elevation of about 7,800 ft. When leaving the ski resort the trail makes a left and heads steeply up the mountain. We made the mistake of going up the steep part of the trail when we left the ski area. There are two options, one steep and one is less steep, but longer because it utilizes switchbacks. We would definitely recommend going on the less steep option.


We made it to the Devil's Backbone at which there are sheer drop offs of a 1,000 feet on each side of the trail. However, after crossing most of the Devil's Backbone, we began to take notice of approaching thunderstorms. After, some observation we both came to the decision not to go any farther since the desert thunderstorms were developing rapidly and they looked like they were heading our way. We chose to put safety first, as we did not want to be at the summit of Mt. Baldy when a thunderstorm hit. Note, if you are doing this hike in the summer make sure to check the weather to see if thunderstorms are forecasted for the mountains in Southern California. If they are, make sure to begin your hike to the summit of Mt. Baldy early enough to be done before thunderstorms build in the afternoon.

Our decision to turn back was the correct decision because not long after we were on the way down the mountain we started to hear thunder and by the time we got back to our car at Manker Flats it was thundering and lightening on top of Mt. Baldy and beginning to rain at the trailhead. Overall, the hike to Mt. Baldy was great and the views were amazing even though we did not make it to the top. We will have to come back and get to the top sometime in the future.

If you are looking to do a loop hike to the summit of Mt. Baldy, that can be done by combining this hike described in this post with the Ski Hut Trail which can be found in Ashley and I's other post on Mt. Baldy. 

Rating: Manker Flats: Elevation Gain 4,300 ft. (Strenuous), Distance: 11.25 Miles Roundtrip (Moderate - Strenuous).
Taking the Ski Lift: Elevation Gain 2,300 ft. (Moderate - Strenuous), Distance: 6.4 Miles Roundtrip (Moderate).

Time to Complete Hike: 5 - 6.5 hours from Manker Flats.

FOR MORE TRAIL WRITE-UPS ON MT. BALDY

Devil's Backbone Trail (This Post)

Ski Hut Trail

View Mt. Baldy in a larger map

3 comments:

  1. I hiked to the top on August 23th 2009. The view was amazing. We tried to make a loop. We came up from the bottom of the ski lift to the notch then across Devil's backbone. Then tried to come down through by the ski hut and down to San Antonio Falls but, missed the turn off just past the summit and ended up on the longer trail to Mt. Baldy Village. It's easy to miss the turn out. Advice to anyone going, Bring more water then you think you need and a jacket.

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  2. Dave,

    Thank you for the feedback, everyone I have talked to has said similar things in that the Ski Hut Trail is easy to miss. Enjoy those trails!

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  3. If you aren't well acquainted with the trails going up Mt. Baldy, descend via the Notch - the route shown on the map above. The advantage of descending via the Notch is that the trail is a lot more obvious from the top than the other two routes. To become better acquainted with the other routes, ascend Baldy either via the Ski Hut or via Bear Canyon and then descend via the Notch. It is a lot harder to get lost going up because 1) the goal is more obvious and 2) if you get off the trail, at least you know you should be going up which gives you fewer choices than going down. The other thing is ask. There are plenty of people up there on weekends. I know a guy named Dan that has been up Baldy literally hundreds of times. So probably you'll find someone who knows the trails really well. By the way, the turnoff from the road to go up via the Ski Hut trail is not so obvious either. If you pass it, it is a lot easier to see walking down the road than up. Again, ask if you are not sure.

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Ashley and I encourage and welcome our readers to submit comments about their experiences on the trails we have posted on our blog or about their own hiking experiences in general.