I did my Mt. Baldy winter hike last Friday. Although it has not been the wettest winter even with help of El Niño that most highly anticipated, the top of the mountains certainly was covered with snow a few times whenever we had rain storms. And I figured it was a perfect day to pay Mt. Baldy a visit before the latest snow completely disappears. It has been over six months since last time I did it but it turned out to be my first and last Mt. Baldy winter hike via Bear Canyon this year because today is officially the first day of Spring.
HOW TO GET TO BEAR CANYON
If you’re new to hiking, just getting into strenuous hiking, or having wanted to hike Mt. Baldy, you should know there are three(3) main entries (trailheads) where people start hiking:
- Manker Flat
- Icehouse Canyon
- Bear Canyon
Bear Canyon trail is the least crowded because of its less known trailhead and its condition – steepest hill climb, meaning it offers the shortest distance to the summit and resulting in a strenuous hike for some. However, it is the reason why many find it more gratifying to reach the summit via Bear Canyon – physical conditioning, and also spectacular scenery. Also, because West Baldy is literally on the way, one may summit it first before reaching Baldy (or the other way around).
Bear Canyon Trailhead is located at the end of Bear Canyon Drive, which is a short dead end street off of Mt. Baldy Rd. in the village. You need to walk a quarter mile up through this secluded residential area from Mt. Baldy Village Church, which is situated across Mt. Badly Rd. from Mt. Baldy Lodge.
You’re most likely to take I-210E or I-210W, depending on which direction you’re coming from), but to get on Padua Ave. once you exit at Base Line Rd. and then soon get on Mt. Baldy Rd.
From there to the village, it’s just a straight forward drive on this slightly windy Mt. Badly Rd for just over 8 miles. Once you are near the church, park along the road for free, or in the parking lot of the ranger station, which is about 100 feet farther up the road.
Note: The name of Mt. San Antonio (Mt. Baldy is more widely known to the locals) was named by a local rancher after Saint Anthony of Padua. And naturally the street name Padua Ave. was also adopted from there.
WHEN TO HIKE MT. BALDY VIA BEAR CANYON
All year-round. But, make sure to know your limits.
As of writing this post Mt. Baldy Winter Hike, we have lost 4 hikers in Mt. Baldy this past winter. Three of them died off of the Devil’s Backbone ridge, which can be a harrowing experience if one is not familiar with it or has acrophobia. Of course, the Devil’s Backbone is not part of Bear Canyon trail (unless you decide to go down that way once you reach the summit, which I’ve done numerous times), however, cation is the name of the game when any part of the trail becomes icy.
It is the main cause that hikers who are ill-prepared fall from the ridge and die. It is utmost important to bring proper winter gear, such as microspikes, macrospikes, crampons, snowshoes and/or an ice axe. Even then, if you ever feel not safe, turn around.
Note: If you’re not interested in hiking Mt. Badly via Bear Canyon in winter, read this post.
ITEMS YOU MUST BRING
- Plenty of water (3L or more)
- Water proof/resistent hiking shoes/boots
- Trekking poles
- Adventure Pass or National Park Pass if you are to park at the ranger station
Note: You do not need permit to hike Mt. Baldy as a day hike
MY MT. BALDY WINTER HIKE
7:09 am. That is the time when I started walking from my car which was parked on the side of Mt. Baldy Rd.
In order to give you a little bit of context, this is what made this Mt. Baldy Winter Hike rather strenuous compared to other hikes that I did via Bear Canyon in the past.
I carried my Canon full frame camera body, two lenses, Manfrotto tripod and small accessories, along with food and 3L of water. The weight was about 14 lb., before adding an extra pair of water proof winter jacket and pants, toque, a pair of ski gloves (besides a pair of thin gloves that I wore while hiking, and I am so glad I brought them) and food and 3L of water (water alone 6.6 lb.). So, my guess is that I was carrying close to 25 lb. of weight over my shoulders.
And if you look at the stats at the end of this post, you will see it, but the elevation gain (and loss) was 5,683 feet. And add fields of snow to trudge though. I was not conditioned well enough. But I made it to the top.
Due to my error, I was not able to record the track starting from the trailhead for this Mt. Baldy Winter Hike, so it appears that I started from a point about a half mile in when you look at the track available on Gaia GPS.
The trailhead is located at a quarter mile from the church, which is where this Mt. Baldy Winter Hike track ended.
You can not only view the track on Gaia GPS but also download the GPX file from the site. If you have never hiked Mt. Baldy via this trail, I highly recommend that you check it out. The track will be very helpful for you. Particularly when you hike the snow covered areas where you could get easily disoriented and lost.
Because the sun was already up and it was just a matter of the sun rising over the mountain line, it was bright enough to see the surroundings. The photo above was taken after Bear Flat.
Once you’re on the switchbacks, you can see the cities at the mouth of the valley, such as Pomona, Chino and Ontario under a thick blanket of smog. Also, this is when Santiago Peak of Ortega Mountain starts peeking out.
Icehouse Canyon Parking lot is quite clearly seen from this part of the switchbacks, and I noticed the parking lot was quite empty because it was Friday. Usually it would’ve been packed by now on weekends.
Once you reach the rock with many names, you know that you’ve hiked half way to Mt. Baldy summit. This is a good place to take a break and get recharged up. I ran into a hiker with a dog coming down earlier who said this was his turnaround point. I thought it would be an easy 6 mile roundtrip hike if you are not into too much of strenuous hiking.
This rock is called Halfway Rock, Angel Rock, Split Rock or Twin Devil, depending on who you talk to. If you know other names, leave a comment below.
Note: Mt. Baldy is dog friendly as part of San Gabriel mountains that were upgraded to a national monument by President Obama in October 2014. Your dogs will love it. Just make sure to bring a lot of water if you plan to hike with your dogs to the summit in the summer. After the tree line, it gets pretty hot if/when there’s no breeze.
While going up, one cannot ignore the spectacular view of the west part of the San Gabriel mountain range. From Iron Mountain to Rattlesnake Peak to Mt. Wilson in the far distance, the view truly makes one see things in different perspective.
And then soon one will notice that Mt. San Gorgonio is peeking through Icehouse Canyon Saddle.
Now I was high enough to see Ortega Mountain and its Santiago Peak over Ontario Peak and Turtle’s Beak ridge line. It is quite a humbling experience when you know how far Ortega Mountain actually is. You’re so small and yet you’re high enough to see what is surrounding you in a grandeur scheme of things. Especially when you are not just air dropped to get to the higher elevation but hiking and climbing up in hours if not days. That gratifying joy can’t be topped by anything else.
Which reminds me of Havasupai Falls trip that I did almost 3 years ago. That’s for another post, but getting up the 1,000 feet incline of switchbacks with your heavy backpack in the heat to get out of the valley at the end of the trip can be something similar to what I am trying to describe here.
A few large patches of snow along the way eventually turned into large fields of snow, and soon some parts of the slope were completely covered with snow.
I was able to follow the indented footprints running across the fields of snow that were probably made in the past few days (because the latest closure of Icehouse Canyon trail was just a week ago due to another death), but even then, it was not a walk in the park.
In spite of the fact that microspikes were not needed, it demanded a high level of concentration in terms of finding right footing because it was more like traversing across a slope covered with snow because the trail was no longer visible. It was quite easy for my foot to slip off.
I turned around to see how high I got. When I saw two favorite mountains of mine having risen above the 3 Ts/Etiwanda/Cucamonga/Ontario/Turtle’s Beak ridge line, I felt this overwhelming appreciation overflowing inside of me. This only can be truly shared by those who seek high mountains.
As an insignificant spec of the universe, we get to experience a lot more than what other species ever get to undergo and encounter on occasions like this. And we get to express and share it with others.
The slow going continued in the next section of the trail that was completely covered with snow, and there was nothing else but trudging through the slanted slope of the hard snow that broke easily under my feet. At some parts my feet sunk as the surface gave in, and they were from ankle deep to half shin deep.
Once I finished crossing this snow covered section of Mt. Baldy Winter Hike, I was quite excited to see my favorite landmark on the trail – the free standing dead tree, which meant the summit was about 2 miles or so away from this point on.
What I didn’t know though was how many snow covered sections were waiting for me on the other side. It turned out that the usual, narrow trail that snakes around this particular slope was completely covered with snow. And I didn’t want to take a chance in case it was all ice underneath, so I decided to walk up that hill, which was free of snow.
And more snow covered parts appeared once I reached the other side.
I turned around to see how far I’ve come again on this Mt. Baldy Winter Hike, and the only thing I saw was my footprints.
Then, I looked up.
Wait, shall I climb that first?
Do I dare?
The entire peak was pretty much covered with snow. I saw some faded footprints in two separate trails going up diagonally, but for me it has been already slow going. And it meant that I don’t have a whole lot of hours to do what I was going to do.
So, I told myself that I would think about it once I reach Mt. Baldy summit. Because technically it is slightly easier to go from Baldy to West Baldy anyway.
And there I was.
At Mt. Baldy summit – 10,064 feet elevation. It was not like I had never been here before. In fact, one time it took only 2 1/2 hours to reach the summit.
But then, I realized that I really appreciated this Mt. Baldy Winter Hike.
From the heavy load that I was carrying was to all the stops I made to take photos with my camera to the fields of snow that encompassed the most slow going I’ve ever experienced since my first backpacking trip ever in the High Sierra 4 years ago, I was reminded of something again this day.
You gotta earn it to enjoy it.
And I was enjoying the view laid out in front of me.
Gorgeous day to be up at the summit.
There were three (3) hikers resting when I reached the summit. After me, five more came up. The summit was not crowded. It was just perfect.
The summit was half covered with snow, which was slightly crisp but also slushy as the sun was high and out of the clumps of clouds in the blue sky most of the time. However, I couldn’t help myself noticing the smog that started rolling in and obscured the visibility of the surroundings, particularly Mt. San Gorgonio and Mt. San Jacinto. After all, it was a workweek, meaning there’s a lot of vehicles on the road emitting CO2.
Once I was done feeding myself and was fully rehydrated, it was time to take photos. I walked up and down and around the summit to find interesting angles, and eventually I got some, but part of me wished that I would stick around till the sun goes down. It could’ve been something quite different and more interesting, although there’s no guarantee.
However, I didn’t want to risk it because of snow. I would never know what kind of dire situation it would become once the temperature drops. Better part of me said no. But then, also part of me said I could come back with backpacking gear.
After spending a good hour scouting and pressing the shutter button, I reminded myself that it was time to descend.
Usually when I hiked Mt. Baldy via Bear Canyon, it was always either that I took Baldy Bowl Trail to go down to Manker Flat or that I took the Devil’s Backbone to get to the Baldy Notch.
In case of the latter, I took either the fire road to get down to Manker Flat or went on to bag 3 Ts (Thunder Peak, Telegraph Peak and Timber Peak) and come out via Icehouse Canyon, which ends up being 21.5 miles. If a walk from the Icehouse Canyon parking lot back to the village is added, it becomes 23 miles. I did it before, and it is doable as long as you do not go dehydrated.
Or you can shuttle from either exit back to the village.
I’d never gone back down via Bear Canyon.
But, since I didn’t know of the condition of the other two trails although the five hikers who arrived at the summit after me looked fine. I chatted with a hiker who reached the summit before me while having snack and learned that he came up via Manker Flat. I got the impression that it was fine.
However, shuttling also could be a problem on weekdays. As I saw less vehicles parked at Icehouse Canyon parking lot earlier, by the time I reach the parking lot (via Icehouse Canyon Saddle), I would end up having to walk that extra 1.5 miles back to the village. And I really didn’t want to do that with my heavy gear.
As I was coming down on Mt. Baldy Trail, the sun played hide and seek behind this huge clump of clouds ahead of me, which created some dramatic effects. I tried to capture the sliver of light cast on the hills and the slopes in front of me.
Also, the vast San Gabriel mountain range was completely permeated by the smog trapped in each valley. The way that the sunlight hit it was quite occult to me. As if I were looking at a long exposure shot of the waves coming in and out at the shore and left the light veils of faint smoke that coats up the rocks.
By the time I reached the trailhead, it was 7:12 pm.
An easy hike with a heavy load that I planned to do became a 12-hour photo shoot hike.
The following is the stats according to Gaia GPS,
11.7 mi Distance
6 hrs 20 min Moving Time
45:08 min/mi Pace
8 hrs 46 min Total Time
2 hrs 26 min Stopped Time
1.8 mph Moving Speed
1.3 mph Avg Speed
5320 ft Ascent
5683 ft Descent
I stopped recording three times when I took long breaks from hiking to take photos on this Mt. Baldy winter hike. And also I was not able to start recording till at least a half mile in, which explains why the total time only says less than 9 hours and the distance on this Mt. Baldy winter hike reflects only 11.7 miles.
As strenuous as this Mt. Baldy winter hike was, I thought this was a great opportunity to see things in different light. I can’t say this Mt. Baldy winter hike was easy because the load really took a toll on me, and the snow made it very slow going. However, I am also appreciating this newfound interest in simple, light day hikes.
Would I leave my full frame camera and the tripod behind? Based on the photos that I looked and started processing at home, I am not sure if I want to. Then, I must find a way to reduce the weight.
And lastly, I need to get better conditioned overall. During this Mt. Baldy winter hike, cramping was constant, and taking a banana, 3 salt pills and 2 plus liters of electrolyte infused water didn’t prevent it from happening. Especially, I should really get conditioned for upcoming backpacking trips in summer.
Have you done Mt. Baldy winter hike via Bear Canyon? Have you ever done Mt. Baldy winter backpacking in the snow via Bear Canyon? Have you ever carried heavy camera gear like that?How much did it weigh? What would you recommend if you have done it?
Thanks for reading.