When most people think of Southern Calfornia, they think of movie stars, palm trees, beaches littered with bikini-clad babes sporting fake tans and of course, surfing.
While all of those things are totally rad, with the exception of certain movie stars, Telegraph Hiking Club sees SoCal a bit differently. We think of the towering fourteeners of Inyo National Forest, Ansel Adams Wilderness and Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Parks. We think of Joshua Tree National Park’s strange flora in the Mojave Desert, lit by a billion stars and a campfire. We think of the rainbow of wildflowers that carpets Death Valley in the springtime.
And we think of the San Gabriel Mountains, a place we will return again and again—due its proximity to Los Angeles and our SoCal members, its extraordinary beauty, and the challenging hikes with which it taunts us while looming as a backdrop to all that glitters in the Entertainment Capital.
Mount Baldy casts a long shadow over Pasadena and LA, standing tall at 10,064’. Also known as Mount San Antonio, it is one of the “Three Saints” of the San Gabriel Mountains’ most notable giants, which also includes San Gorgonio and San Jacinto.
We began our hike at the parking area just beyond Manker Flats Campground on Falls Road in Angeles National Forest (the trailhead coordinates are: 34.266172, -117.62684 (34° 15′ 58.21″N 117° 37′ 36.62″W).
I had not slept the previous night one wink, as I had driven all night Friday after work from San Francisco so I could catch up with THC for our early Saturday morning date with Baldy. Cracking open an IPA at the beginning of the hike helped only slightly, but once we saw San Antonio Falls about a half of a mile from the trailhead, I began to feel energized.
However, the uphill slog was straight the fuck up. A little ways beyond the falls, you keep left and follow an unmarked trail that leads to the Sierra Club Ski Hut. Finally, our tireless hike leader, Joey, let us all take a break. The break was well deserved, and we took some photos, ate a snack, and shared a beer with some random hikers who had also paused at the hut.
From here, the summit was another couple of miles straight up. But the switchbacks were worth it, as the views only got better as we ascended.
Atop Mount Baldy, prayer flags welcome the many hikers who come here to celebrate the grandeur of nature, their personal triumph of summiting and one another’s company. We reveled in the moment a long while, elated to be so high.
Reluctantly, we worked our way down slippery skree toward Devil’s Backbone Trail. Thankfully, Joey had leant me a trekking pole. I used to think they were douchey but there are places I’ve hiked where it would have been really sketchy without at least one stick to slow my roll. Coming down this steep slope killed my shins.
The Devil’s Backbone is an incredible experience. Cliffs on both sides of the narrow pass plummet into the valley below, and panoramic views surround you. This part of the Mount Baldy Loop seems to go on forever, both in terms of how breathtaking it is, and how exhausted your body feels as you carefully descend toward Baldy Notch (7.8 miles from the trailhead, but it feels like more).
Finally, after another ridiculously steep dirt and skree road, we made it to the Top of the Notch, a lodge that was like an oasis for us hikers. They serve beer by the pitcher, offer a full menu, and you can buy ski lift tickets to ride the rest of the way back down the mountain, cutting 3.5 miles off the descent. Some call it cheating, I call it fucking rad. You can even request blankets for riding down the ski lift, which closed at 6 pm, and in October, that meant we’d be riding down in the dark.
So we took in the memorable sunset from the deck surrounding the lodge, ate burgers, drank beer and headed over to the ski lift. By then I was so tired, I wandered into where the lifts circle around to switch direction, and I was nearly hit with a chair—but luckily the attendant hollered at me to move it, and then all my “friends” had a good laugh.
And we laughed all the way down the mountain.
Words: Niki Kangas / Video: Joey Miller & Mike Rafter / Photos: Niki Kangas, Joey Miller, & Mike Rafter