Revisiting "Old Baldy"
Updated: Sep 4
Date: June 4, 2022
Distance: 11.4 Miles (10.7 hiking/0.7 Ski Lift)
Total Elapsed Time: 10h 2m
Total Moving Time: 7h 37m (includes 15m on Ski Lift)
Highest Elevation: 10,073 Feet
Elevation Gain: 4,001 Feet
Trailhead: Manker Flats
Previous Ascent(s): 2
June 8, 2020 - Ski Hut Out-and-Back
This was my third visit, in as many years, to Mount San Antonio, better known as Mount Baldy or Old Baldy. Due to the location of most of the peaks on the SoCal Six-Pack of Peaks list, I generally only hike them once a year for the challenge. The drive from home to Manker Flats is approximately 130 miles and depending on the time of day and traffic, averages about two and a half hours so Baldy is not one of those peaks where I wake up on a whim and decide to hike it. My plan was for a 3 a.m. wake-up, feed the critters, pack my gear, and be on the road by 4 a.m. As I had not prepped my gear the night before, I was a little behind schedule as I hit the road at 0430, wondering what the parking situation would be like at my planned arrival of 7 a.m. As luck would have it, I found roadside parking almost directly across from the trailhead! I had made good time and arrived a little before 0700 but ended up waiting in a long line to use the lone privy at the trailhead. The trailhead was a buzz and there were a lot of people still arriving and in various stages of gearing up to hit the trail. I anticipated the trail to be very busy, so all the more reason to wait in line for the restroom than have to deal with taking care of business on the trail. 🤷🏻♂️
I am taking a slightly different approach to this trip report, breaking it down into segments and leading each section with my basic stats for that leg, but it's still presented in my first-person, quasi-storytelling style 😉 I use the desktop app GPX Editor (Developed by
Modesitt Software) to analyze the GPX tracks created by my GAIA GPS App (I use both the mobile and desktop apps from GAIA). With GPX Editor, I am able to precisely identify exact GPS points and select a beginning and end point to calculate time, distance, and elevation, it's really very handy. 👍🏻
Manker Flats to The Notch
Time: 1h 49m
Distance: 3.4 miles
Net Vertical Gain: 1,540 feet
Thoughts: Straightforward walk up the dirt access road to The Notch
Starting from Manker Flats, there are a couple of options for the ascent, the first choice is deciding on the Baldy Bowl Trail (Ski Hut Route) or following the access road (graded dirt road) to The Notch, the restaurant, and ski lodge. An early off-shoot of the Baldy Bowl Trail is to follow Register Ridge, a steep trail that makes a straight shot to intersect with the Devil's Backbone Trail just below the Mount Harwood Summit. I've yet to take the Register Ridge Trail, mostly because I enjoy hiking the Devil's Backbone, so I opted to do the road walk up to the notch as I had last April.
On my first ascent to Mount Baldy, I did an out-and-back on the Baldy Bowl Trail out of safety and necessity. I had wanted to traverse the Devil's Backbone, however, forecasted winds were high with gusts at 60 mph, and having never hiked the route, I wasn't going to risk it. On that day, I had met two experienced hikers on their way down from the summit, one had come up Register Ridge and the other had come up via the Notch, both said it was one of the most harrowing hikes they'd ever done and with the high winds it just wasn't safe. One guy was visibly rattled as he had been knocked off his feet at one point.
The conditions were much better on last year's trip and I completed the loop, going up via the Notch and Backbone, summited both Baldy and West Baldy, then descended on the Baldy Bowl Trail. On that trip, I had been focused on finding the survey mark located on West Baldy but the snow was too deep and it was a futile effort to randomly dig where I thought the mark "should have been". That had been my first trip across the Devil's Backbone and I fell in love with the route, so today my plan was for an out-and-back across the Backbone.
The walk up Falls Road/Mount Baldy Road to the Notch was easy going and I maintained a good pace. About halfway up I stopped and set up my new Gossamer Gear Ultra Light umbrella (wt. 6.6 oz) with a hands-free pack strap attachment. I had purchased this primarily for exposed desert hikes, but since I had it in my pack, thought this would be a good time to test it out.
OMG. This was a total gamechanger! The silver reflective umbrella immediately dropped the temperature by 5-10 degrees, I was shocked at the difference! I kept the umbrella up until I was about a third of the way across the Backbone, then the winds picked up and I needed to stow it away. If I would have had a pack filled with them, I probably could have sold all of them on the trail! It was amazing how many questions and comments I received about it and everyone wanted to know where they could get one (see the link above...and no, I'm not an affiliate, just a satisfied customer!)
The Notch to Devil's Backbone
Distance: 0.92 miles
Net Vertical Gain: 879 feet
Thoughts: The first steep-ish section
It's just under a mile to hike from the Restaurant to the beginning of the Devil's Backbone (DB) trail, and it's the first "steep-ish" section of the route that parallels Chairlift #4. During the ski season, this run is called "The Roller Coaster". There are some alternate trails that follow other ski runs (Turkey Shoot, Spring Ridge, and Bifurcate), but they all come out at the top of the lift. Not too far past the chair lift station is the signpost that marks the beginning of the Backbone and some great views both to the north and south.
Both of these pictures were taken at 8,625 feet of elevation, from a position just a few feet from the official start of the Devil's Backbone Trail. Given the nature of the route, for most of the morning, I always had a good view back down into Manker Flats to the south and the wide-open expanses to the north (between Palmdale and Victorville).
I had reached this point just before 10:30 a.m. and was starting to encounter the "early risers" who were on their way back from the summit. Coincidently, I also began to catch up with folks that had started before me, which gave me a little mental boost.
There are always lots of variables, but when I hike solo, it's not uncommon for me to be in my own bubble (speed-wise) where despite a large number of people on the trail, I manage to remain solo. I did have two sections today where other hikers had caught up to me and we hiked together for a stretch. Denise, a local resident, had caught up with me about halfway up the dirt road and we chatted as we hiked together to The Notch. She had split off on one of the side trails while I took the direct route to the top of Chairlift #4, just a few minutes after I arrived, she crested the trail, perfect timing! That was her turnaround point for the day, so with appropriate well-wishes, I bid her farewell and continued on.
Devil's Backbone to Mount Harwood
Time: 1h 33m
Distance: 1.2 miles
Net Vertical Gain: 708 feet
Thoughts: Coolest section of the trail, narrow at times, great views
Admittedly my favorite part of the trail, bar none. First, it's the name, seriously how can you NOT like a trail named The Devil's Backbone? AMIRIGHT?! 🤣 Second, it's a pretty awesome ridge traverse with enough narrow, sketchy sections to make you feel like a legit badass without 💩ing your pants. 🤣 And finally, it provides THE. BEST. VIEWS. ❤️
I think the name probably discourages a fair amount of newbies from choosing this route, much in the same way that it draws me to it. That's purely speculation on my part, but when I have talked to non-hikers about it, described the route, and shared pictures, more than a few have said "Oh, hell no!" so maybe there is something to it.
To be honest, the first time I took the DB I was expecting it to be MUCH more narrow, however, the trail itself was as wide as many that I've hiked previously, the main difference being that those didn't have the precipitous drop-offs on either side (or both) of the trail.
Perhaps it's context, for example; if you lay a 2" x 4" x 12' board on the ground and walk across it, no biggie, the risk of danger is non-existent. Take that same 2" x 4" x 12' board and elevate it 10' off the ground and put it between two ladders, that takes crossing it to a whole different level. Same board, different context. Still, I feel like I've walked plenty of ridges and narrow sidehill trails that have left me feeling less safe than I did on this trail. 🤷🏻♂️
When I hiked this route last April, I was bagging every peak along the way, taking the side trails to the official peaks for the Devil's Backbone High Point and Harwood Mountain. On that day I added 7 peaks to my list following the loop that came up and over the Backbone and descended past the Baldy Bowl Trail. As I mentioned earlier, today I was more about the survey mark on West Baldy and didn't want to spend the time revisiting any peaks that were even remotely out of my way.
Final Climb to Summit
Time: 1h 4m
Distance: 0.6 miles
Net Vertical Gain: 770 feet
Thoughts: The final push to the summit
I approached the final climb to the summit right before noon, and by this time the trail was pretty busy with people moving in both directions and I spent a fair amount of time stepping aside to let others pass. For the record, and for the benefit of those who don't do a lot of hiking, there is a "Right of Way" protocol, those traveling uphill have the Right of Way and those descending should find a safe place to step aside and let the ascenders pass.
More often than not, I will wave descenders on as they approach and take advantage of their passage as a chance to catch my breath and rest a bit 😜, this is particularly true with trail runners as they have a heck of a lot more momentum built up when they're coming downhill. This also gives me the opportunity to chat with people as they pass. In one such incident this morning, I saw four women picking their way down the loose, rocky trail so I moved a bit off the trail and called ahead for them to keep coming through.
As they approached, the gal in the lead thanked me with a big smile on her face, in an instant, I recognized her from the San Bernardino trail I hiked a couple of weekends ago. On that day, I was on my descent and I had stopped briefly to chat with her as I stepped aside to let her pass, her smile had captivated me then and I could tell she was just genuinely happy 😁, her apparent joy of being out hiking gave me a renewed boost of energy.
When I mentioned that we had passed on San Bernardino two weeks prior, recognition clicked and we instantly fell into that "great to see you again" conversation of people that really only met in passing, and introductions were made all around. Buoyed once again by her infectious smile and the "feel-good vibes" of meeting new friends and acquaintances on the trail, I pressed on to the summit. Such is the joy of hiking.
Most of the hiking friends I have made over the past couple of years, started off much the same way, from an initial brief encounter on a trail or summit, so a shout-out to Breonna and her crew, I expect our paths may cross yet again, keep on smiling! 😁
I hit the summit right at 1:00 p.m. and saw that it was pretty busy, since my primary goal was further on at the summit of West Baldy, I paused only briefly to take the obligatory summit selfie for social proof that I had completed peak number 2 of 12 on my list for this year's SoCal Six-Pack of Peaks Challenge. There was a Boy Scout Troop from Tustin milling around the summit when I arrived, I asked one of their group to snap my summit pics and in turn, I took a bunch of group shots for them. As a cool aside, being an Eagle Scout myself, I was pleased to hear that they had 3 Eagles in their ranks, way to go guys! 👊🏻
I spent a total of 10 minutes at the summit before pressing on toward West Baldy.
Distance: 0.5 miles
Net Vertical Loss 67 feet (+283 feet, -350 feet)
Total Time at Summit: 1h 28m
Thoughts: Easy walk over to West Baldy, an empty, quiet, peaceful peak.
The walk over to West Baldy is an easy one, the trail is well defined and the elevation loss/gain is not significant. When I was here last April, it was still mostly covered in snow (which stymied my efforts to find the survey mark) and because it was cold and windy, I had taken shelter on the lee side of a boulder to quickly eat my lunch. Today, the weather was absolutely perfect and I ended up spending about an hour and a half at the summit.
First things First - SMASH!
My entire raison d'être for the day was to locate this one survey mark. One of my hiking friends, when he learned of my passion for locating survey marks, sent me a picture of a mark that he had seen on West Baldy. I had looked for it last April, but the snow was too deep and it seriously would have been a "needle in a haystack" search of epic proportions (even with approximate GPS coordinates)
I spent my first 45 minutes at West Baldy, crisscrossing the summit and walking the ridge looking for the rock outcrop where this mark was located. As you can see from the pictures below, the mark was located in a low rock outcrop, and before I chalked it up for my photos, it was just a dark circle on the rock.
My first effort had been to search the immediate vicinity of the GPS coordinates that were embedded with the photo Scott had sent me, I started working outward in increasing circles from that spot with no luck.
Changing gears, I dropped back to my knowledge of how most markers are set on peaks, they are usually at the highest point provided there is ample space to set up surveying equipment. I scoped out the obvious high points on the peak but came up empty once again.
The next approach was to look for major rock outcrops or boulders that would provide the most stable foundation for the mark, and be in a position where it was practical to set up surveying equipment, I focused my attention on the ridge on the north side of the summit but was still coming up empty.
Just a little frustrated that I couldn't find it, I headed back to the stone windbreak where I had dumped my pack and decided I'd take a lunch break and then make one final sweep before calling it a lost cause. As I followed the faint use trail along the ridge and turned back toward the windbreak, a dark circle in a low rock outcrop caught my eye, SUCCESS! I shook my head, noting that I had walked right past this a few times already today. When I dropped a waypoint on my map to mark its coordinates, I saw that I walked right over the spot where it was back in April (albeit the mark was under a couple of feet of snow!)
The kicker about this survey mark? It is not stamped with any uniquely identifying information about the peak itself. The mark is in the National Geodetic Survey database, but it's an "inactive" mark, meaning there is no descriptive data explaining how to reach it nor does it have any recorded geodetic control information tied to it (so it is not really useful as a control point for surveys)
I verified its name and PID by matching the coordinates they had recorded on the datasheet to the coordinates I recorded for my recovery. Still, I was very happy to make the recovery and add it to my database 😊 Now it was time for lunch!
Sidebar: Had I done a complete search for this mark in the NGS database (including inactive marks) I would have found the exact coordinates and likely could have located it even in the snow of last April. But this is an evolutionary learning process and I glean more info as I go.
Eat Up, Brace Up.
Content that I'd finally closed the book on this recovery, I returned to the windbreak to have lunch. Setting up my super awesome NEMO Moonlight Reclining Trail Chair, I settled in for lunch. There were a handful of trail runners that passed by on their way to Baldy and ultimately down to Manker Flats via the Backbone and The Notch. A couple of them stopped to ask how far they were from the Baldy summit, apparently, they had started at Heaton Flats, a long day with a ton of elevation gain! They were eyeing my chair with overt jealousy! 🤣 After lunch, I took the opportunity to put on both knee braces since I had the privacy of being the only one on the summit (I had to strip off my pants to put the big brace on) and the convenience of being able to sit in my chair to properly fit both braces. With a full tummy, braces on, and fully dressed, I headed back toward Baldy Summit.
West Baldy to Baldy Summit
Distance: 0.5 miles
Net Vertical Gain 67 feet (+350 feet, -283 feet)
Thoughts: Easy return to Baldy Summit
Since I've broken this trip down into individual segments, I felt compelled to include the return trip to the summit as a "leg" of the journey. It was an easy walk back to the summit and when I arrived at 3:20 p.m., there were only 6 people on the summit, 2 groups of 3. I chatted briefly with the family of 3 that were just finishing their pictures at the monument, they offered to take pictures for me so I took them up on it, after all, it was an opportunity to get a summit photo with no one in the background! 🤣
From the monument, it was a short hike across to the start of the Devil's Backbone trail, at the base of the second sign (behind me to the right in the photo above) was a peculiar artifact...The Devil's Pin!
I'm sure there's a story here, but I have no idea what it is! 🤣 I paused long enough to snap a couple of pictures, then continued on. Given the time of day, I had settled on taking the Ski Lift down instead of hiking down the road. I still had a 2 ½ hour drive home and hungry equine critters waiting for me to feed them, so it was an easy decision, plus I'd never ridden on a ski lift before!
Return Trip to Notch
Time: 1h 52m
Distance: 3.1 miles
Net Vertical Loss: 2,298 feet
Thoughts: Slow and careful on the descent from the summit, good pace on the Backbone
Despite having both knee braces on, I was determined to be extra careful on the first descent from the summit, there were multiple trail options snaking down through the loose dirt and rocks and it would be extremely easy to step wrong and have my feet fly out from underneath me.
As I picked my way down, I heard someone coming up behind me so I pulled off the trail and motioned for him to go ahead of me. I didn't realize he'd been behind me for a while and he acknowledged that we were traveling the same pace, so we ended up hiking together as we returned to The Notch. We never did exchange names, but we talked the whole way back which made the time pass quickly. Back at the Notch, I paid for my lift ticket and bought a cold drink and some snacks then got in line to go down.
Ski Lift Down
Distance: 0.7 miles
Net Vertical Loss: 1,280 feet
Thoughts: Peaceful, easy, and a timesaver
The ride down was pretty awesome, especially since it saved me about 3 miles and an hour and a half that would have otherwise been spent on the road walk. It was a little awkward getting situated in the chair seat because I had to hold my pack in my lap and I still had my trekking poles at full length in my other hand, but I managed well enough. The ride only took 15 minutes and was very peaceful. Had I planned it a little better, I would have stowed my poles and braced my pack so I could have taken better pictures or a video on the ride down, as it was I managed to snap a few pics (see below) without dropping any gear 😜 (my iPhone is ALWAYS on a tether, so at least THAT wasn't a worry!)
Once off the lift, I headed over to a picnic table and took a short break to drink my Gatorade and have a snack. I knew that I wasn't too far from the trailhead and where I parked, but I wasn't sure of the exact distance. Rather than follow the switchback road that led through all the parking lots, I followed a worn footpath on the east side of the parking lot, taking the most direct route to the road and, ultimately, the trailhead parking area.
Back to the Car: Final ½-mile
Distance: .5 miles
Net Vertical Loss: 292 feet
Thoughts: Easy road walk
Based on checking the waypoints in my GPX editor, that final segment was only a half-mile walk back to the car. I had originally planned for the day's hike to be 14-15 miles, shaving off the last 3 by taking the lift down had me a bit over 11 miles for the day. I had achieved what I set out to, recover the survey mark on West Baldy and check off my second peak on the SoCal Six-Pack of Peaks Challenge for this year, two down, ten to go! Hiking the Backbone is my new favorite route, but I still have yet to do either the Bear Canyon or Register Ridge ascents, so I'll be back to tick those off my list.