A few weeks ago, I took on Mount Baldy and won. It was the most amazing hike that completely kicked my butt in the best way.
After reading about it and looking at pictures for so long, it was incredible to see the Devil’s Backbone and Baldy Bowl and the sign marking the summit in person.
Before I tell you a little bit about my experience on the hike, I’ll point you in the direction of some of the many blog posts I read and studied in the weeks before going (I am an obsessive overpreparer who does not want surprises of the unpleasant variety):
- Dan’s Hiking Pages: I took the Manker Flats via Baldy Bowl and Devil’s Backbone route. I had originally intended to take the Ski Hut trail, but missed it. Oh, well. It’s not the end of the world!
- SoCal Hiker: I love that he does the SoCal Six Pack six weeks in a row every year! Inspiration, man.
- California Through My Lens: Beautiful photos and my favorite write up of the hike. This one got me really pumped to see everything in person!
- Hikespeak: Lots of very detailed photos of the hike – definitely useful for the easily lost among us (me).
- Modern Hiker: More great photos and descriptions of the hike.
If you plan on doing this hike and also like preparedness, you’ll learn so much reading the posts I’ve linked above. Read and enjoy!
Hiking to Mt. Baldy’s summit
The hike got started when I pulled up and parked on Mount Baldy Road. A little after 9 a.m., it was crowded, but I had no trouble finding a spot. You’ll want a California Adventure Pass in order to park on this road, or you’ll get a ticket. You can purchase them all over the place, including at the visitor’s center, which is down the road in Baldy Village.
The trail head is marked by a sign and a closed gate on the left-hand side of the road as you’re facing the ski lifts. If you’re hiking Mt. Baldy and want to take three or so miles off your trek, take the ski lifts, but I must inform you that this is totally cheating in my book.
If you skip the chairs and take the hike: about two miles in, after you pass San Antonio Falls, there’s the unmarked Ski Hut Trail veering off to the left. It’s easy to miss. I’m telling myself this because I missed it. But that’s okay. I just did the hike as an out-and-back instead of a loop. Next time we go (in a few weeks), I’ll know where to turn.
If you also miss the trail, you’ll just wind up following a fire road up the mountain until you reach the ski lodge. This section of the hike is very moderate and do-able.
I thought the lodge would be more impressive than it actually is. Yes, there is beer and food there. But the food didn’t look like anything I’d want to eat and the lodge itself isn’t a comfortable place where you’ll feel free to kill some time. That was disappointing because I thought it would be fun to have a glass of bourbon. I was picturing restaurant. Think big cafeteria. And on their website, they say they are a full-service restaurant. All I saw was a cafeteria-style food line. Was I in the wrong place?
There are, however, bathrooms and water stations, so it’s a great spot to replenish and take a breather.
Good thing I didn’t have any booze, though. You want your faculties about you more than ever on this hike. There are spots where one stumble could spell total disaster.
The hike gets a lot tougher after the lodge, too. From here, the 4,000-foot elevation gain begins!
Baldy Bowl is the first segment after passing the lodge. There’s lots of loose gravel here, so be careful. As you hike up, you’ll see other trails – take whatever you want. They will all converge and lead you to the summit eventually. You’ll see people going in various directions. If you’re ever unsure of what you’re doing, just ask someone nearby. Hikers are generally a friendly, helpful lot.
There’s a long portion of the hike spent along a steep, narrow trail winding alongside a mountain. After that, Devil’s Backbone. I’ll let pictures do the talking. Although it’s treacherous, it does give you a break from the inclines. And aside from the summit, this part was my favorite.
And finally, the push to the summit. I’m not going to lie. This is the hardest part! Tons of switchbacks, thin air, steep incline, burning thighs, burning lungs… o-h-h-h-h-m-y-y-y-y-g-o-d-d-d-d-d. It was hard! But I just kept pushing and telling myself not to give up now when I’d already come this far.
Keep going… keep going… keep going…
Suddenly, when I least expected it, I was at the top. 10,000 feet, baby!
The summit was full of people – and a few dogs. It’s a huge, flat summit and if you want to stay a while, you’ll have no problem finding a spot to park yourself. Enjoy it!
Compared to the hike up, the way back down is a breeze. However, use care going down the summit. There’s a lot of gravel. Naturally, I slipped because why wouldn’t I?
The entire hike took me about five and a half hours at a pretty good clip with a few short breaks for snacks and water.
Notes for next time
There are some things I’d do differently on the next hike to Mt. Baldy’s summit:
- Start a little earlier. This is not a shady hike at all! You’ll need a hat, tons of water and an early start will really be in your favor.
- Again, I won’t miss the Ski Hut Trail next time. I want to do this as a loop.
- Check out that lodge again. I feel like what I’m reading about and what I saw are two different things. Must investigate.
- Hiking poles. This hike will do a number on your knees if you have issues like I do. My knees were achy for several days. At one point, both were iced and I was popping NSAIDs like Skittles. Ow. That’ll never happen again, guaranteed. I won a gift card in a fitness challenge at work, and what better way to spend it than getting in even better shape? I purchased these hiking poles this morning, and I can’t wait for them to get here! A review will be coming when I’ve had a chance to test them out.
This is my favorite hike yet, both in terms of the views and the pure challenge. Getting up to the summit made me feel like I could do anything. What a rush! I highly recommend it to anyone who wants something way tougher than the Griffith Park and Santa Monica Mountain trails!