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Baldy – finally

November 11, 2008

A month ago, I went on an amazing adventure with Erik and his friends (who together make up the super-hero team The Fantastic Four, if you haven’t heard) Fawn, Nick, and Tatyana. The goal: to climb Mount Baldy, aka Mount San Antonio. Of course, I wrote a great lj about it and then was too lazy to get around to gathering pics, so it’s been sitting on my desktop for a month, but here it is. In case you can’t tell, it’s more for me than you, but I do hope you enjoy the pictures.

Here’s the topographical map of the area. I’ve marked on it (in purple, of course) numbers of some of the spots along our route, so you can see where we went and just how high up we were at each point. They’ll be marked like this [[0]]. The red lines mark official hiker trails, so we were on that for most of the way.
Friday night we camped at Maker Flat[[1]], a wonderful little campsite about halfway up the mountain. Dinner was a delicious mix of grilled root veggies and brats, and with the help of a little firewood Nick ‘found’ (shh no one tell Katie) to augment the stuff we brought, we had a nice cozy evening. Then we went to bed.
O. M. W. Cold. The weather report said it’d get down around 40F, so we figured, cold, but doable. Nah, 29F was the low. I was so very glad I had someone to share my sleeping bag with, because damn that was cold.
The next morning, our first order of business was to restart the fire and thaw out. After that we had a leisurely breakfast of pancakes and bacon which proved to be our undoing. I added chocolate to mine, Tatyana proved to have mad skills at flipping pancakes without a pancake turner, and Erik amused himself dripping bacon grease in the fire.

We also met Bob, a character in a book made real. He’s an older guy who volunteers for the forest service for part of the year, and goes way up north to photograph wildlife sometimes too. He’s got a bushy beard, and will talk your ear off if you give him half a chance, but is so darn nice you don’t mind. We all decided we want to be Bob when we get old.
While Bob was talking, I saw my second new bird. Earlier in the morning I’d seen a Dark-Eyed Junco, and then during one of his stories a Steller’s Jay flew by. I could also hear a Mountain Chickadee all morning, and would be plagued by his voice with no sight of him for hours.
Eventually we struck tent and got in the car, suddenly aware of how late it was and just how tall the mountain was. We drove up to the ski lift[[2]], which was to be the first leg of our trip. Erik and I rode in the first car, and intelligently didn’t notice the safety bar. About 2500ft of elevation gain, and the pair of us sat there in chairs not strapped in.

But, as you might have guessed, we didn’t fall out and die. We made the top of the ski lift[[3]], let Erik talk to strangers (like he does) to figure out which trail to take, and started up.
Of course, we picked the wrong first leg. There’s a ski run and a path that run between the same start and end points, and of course we picked the steeper ski run because we’re great like that. Going was very slow for a while, until we met with the other path and turned on to that[[4]]. Already the view was fantastically amazing, and the mountain chickadee continued to haunt me. The trail cut across to the other side of the mountain, where there was a sharp drop and a great view of the desert beyond. Then it wound it’s way pretty straight up tot he top of the ridge.

Then, very suddenly, we’d reached the Devil’s Backbone.[[5]]
Thus far the trail was pretty wide, the drop offs not that steep, and basically you weren’t worried about killing yourself. Yeah, the air was thin, and Erik keep jabbering away, but pretty much life had been nice and safe so far. Not so much at the Devil’s Backbone. Here, very suddenly, you go from nice wide level trails to walking along the top of a ridge. The trail is between one and three feet wide, and on both sides there’s quite a steep drop. Fawn intelligently decided she wouldn’t risk it, while the four of us other fools gave it a shot. I’m still not sure how I got across it, considering my level of coordination, but after a bit we made it finally to an area which had a wall to the right again.
Actually, though, it didn’t feel any safer. The first stretch after the backbone[[6]] was hardly a trail, only six inches wide in places, and loose scree up and down from there. I paused to catch my breath before attempting it, being sure not to focus on just how far I’d slid if I lost my footing.

By this point, we were running out of time. We had to be back to the ski lifts by five to get a ride back down, so we only had about a half hour to make the summit. We pressed on as fast as we could, but after a report from a hiker coming down that he had left the summit 45min before, we finally admitted that we wouldn’t make it. Pausing for a snack, we looked across the vista to our left and realised that not only could we see the ocean, but we could see Catalina Island also, clear as could be, seventy miles or so from where we stood.
I got a second wind, figuring that I’d make it as far up as I could before time ran out, and the ground was easier in this bit. I figure I made it around Mount Harwood, because the trail started going uphill again rather suddenly, before I called time on myself[[7]]. Erik caught up to me and we sat for a snack, and the chickadee hid in the trees and mocked me. Eventually we went back down and caught Nick and Tatyana who’d paused earlier down the slope for food.
The way down was much easier, though crossing the backbone was just as scary as the previous time. We found Fawn again and started down the wide trails. All of a sudden we saw about four different birds, one of which was content to eat pine berries right above us. As we were short on time, I told the others to go ahead while I paused to look up who it was, IDing it as a Clark’s Nutcracker and bagging my third new bird of the day, before jogging on to catch up. Luckily they weren’t too far ahead, because I missed the turn onto the trail we were taking, and Erik’s voice floated out of the trees at me that I was going the wrong way. After pausing for a bit to figure out where the heck they were, I ran back up and rejoined the group. The rest of the walk down was spent rotating our one pair of gloves, eating trail mix, and wishing we’d had an hour more.
Back at the ski lifts, Erik and I figured out how to work the safety bar and felt much more secure on the way down. We looked around in vain for the chickadee, who I could still hear but had yet to sight, but got off the lift without finding him. We got off the lift, and while we were walking down the hill back to the car, there they were: three or four chickadees in a low tree next to the parking lot. It took all day, but he finally came out and let me see him.

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