This Sunday I finished hike number 26/52 for the 52 Hike Challenge in 2015, and have now completed 298 of my goal of 1000 miles for this year. After a year of enduring one of California’s roughest droughts, the rain and cool weather we’ve had through May has come as much of a surprise. May is the month that usually kicks off the SoCal hiking season, with high peaks becoming clear of ice and snow. Due to the drought, many of the trails under 10,000 ft have been bone dry since February. Needless to say, I was really excited when a cold storm blew through this week and dropped a nice coating of snow and rain over our mountains that were in desperate need of such precipitation.
After a fresh snow in the San Gabriels, I always try to make my way up for a hike before the warm weather returns to melt everything away. My two favorites are Cucamonga Peak and Mt. Baldy. Julia and I decided to climb Mt. Baldy, as we had recently done an overnight trip to Cucamonga Peak. One of my favorite parts of hiking Mt. Baldy is the number of trail options that make for a loop. ‘Out and back’ trails are fine, but I’ve always preferred to see new ground from start to finish. On Sunday, Julia and I ascended via Ski Hut Trail and made our way down the mountain via Devil’s Backbone. This hike was 10 miles and gained over 4000 feet of elevation.
We arrived to the Manker Flats parking lot just after 8 am, and were excited to see how many hikers were congregating near the trailhead. We started out at a brisk pace, and made it to the iconic green Ski Hut after one hour of hiking. The snow at this point was only an inch or two deep, but it still made for some incredibly beautiful views. We left the ski hut after a short break, and made our way towards the basin of Baldy Bowl.
The shaded switchbacks leading up from the bottom of Baldy Bowl were covered in a few inches of slush that made for slow going. This is one of my favorite sections of the trail, as it’s the first moment where you can really feel the physical challenge of hiking at elevation. After reaching the saddle, we pushed up the south facing use-trail towards the summit.
The final half mile before reaching the summit of Mt Baldy is probably my favorite stretch of trail leading to a peak in the San Gabriels. The landscape goes from a sparse dusty slope, to a scenic alpine forest, before ascending above the treeline to a moonlike surface at 10,064 ft.
There were about 20 people at the summit of Mt. Baldy enjoying the picture perfect views when Julia and I took our final steps to stand at 10,064 ft. The surrounding skies were breathtaking, full of cirrus, stratus, and cumulus clouds as far as the eye could see.
The visibility really started to change as we descended from the top of Mt. Baldy and made our way towards Devil’s Backbone. The clouds we were looking down on, not more than 20 minutes before, were now quickly moving to engulf the trail. I love hiking this section of trail, looking down on Baldy Bowl and the path from which we came.
The view from Devil’s Backbone was superb, with walls of white dancing around the mountain, and views of Cucamonga Peak bobbing in and out from the distance. We continued on to the Baldy Notch and proceeded to fly down the fire road back to Manker Flats to finish off an incredible Sunday hike.