On a random Saturday when we weren’t feeling epic (meaning, we didn’t have to do something that was ridiculously hard or even noteworthy), we decided on a quick climb up Mt. Baldy. We wanted to see if we could gauge the snow levels in Snow Creek on the north face of San Jacinto, and Huy was hoping for a bit of a snowstorm, two contradictory goals meaning that joy or disappointment was guaranteed depending on your philosophical bent. I have rarely been up there in winter, so I was excited no matter what the outcome.
We parked at Manker Flat early-ish in the morning. and the place was already packed with mountaineering students, snow sledding families and of course and endless array of dudes in heavy gear ready for anything the mountain could throw at them. Kam and Huy put on their cold weather gear. I stripped down to shorts and a long-sleeve shirt with the complementary knee-high socks just to drive Huy crazy, and we were off.
We ambled up to the Ski Hut on Baldy Bowl Trail, Kam and I testing out our knew boots and Huy plugging along effortlessly despite having forgotten his trekking poles (fortunately, he remembered his ice axe). I got to the Ski Hut first and drew some incredulous glances for my shorts and t-shirt, which was nothing new, but lately it’s seemed like people just stare. Made me feel a little freakish. I had a fleeting urge to strip naked and scream:
“Are you not entertained!”
But as everyone there was Asian or European, I’m not sure the Gladiator reference would have gone over that well.
We all donned our crampons at the Ski Hut for the next stage, took some pictures, ate a little and then then headed across the stream to the bottom of the Bowl. From there, we quickly passed a random collection of students and others who seemed perplexed by the whole experience of going straight uphill. A few minutes later, we were nearly alone in the fog.
About halfway up, the clouds above cleared long enough to see the wee spots of three climbers up the chutes ahead of us. It was the first time we had any perspective, and it was great to see that we were headed the right way…and also that we had a long way to go. Sounds odd, but we didn’t want it to be that short of a day.
It was easy going on tow or three inches of snow on top of soft ice. It was easy to kick steps even on the steeper sections, and I never took out my ice axe. The sun came out about three-quarters of the way up and cool air turned into an oven. I couldn’t believe how hot it was.
We cleared the top of the chute, met up with the three specs that had been above us earlier — a family of three in snowshoes — and took in the view. It was gorgeous. The family went ahead, slowly, and we could tell the woman was wiped out. She was shuffling slowly and somewhat reluctantly up the ridge toward the summit. I don’t know how they made it down without crampons, but I hope it was safe. I’m sure it was slow.
On the way up, I was a bit concerned about my calves after they had seized up while running on Thursday, but they were fine until right near the top — and it later turned out that Huy and Kam were feeling the same burn. So nothing to worry about there.
Visibility and the temperature plummeted as soon as we got to the top, so I put on some actual cold-weather gear while the family stared at me like I was a lunatic. Or maybe their faces were just frozen like that; hard to tell. But I was warm and toasty soon enough.
We decided to descend toward Devil’s Backbone and get out of the wind before eating. We all felt great; it was just a beautiful, mellow time in a wonderful place. That lasted about ten minutes. Then we learned that Huy was experiencing his usual AMS, Kam’s crampon was malfunctioning, her hands were freezing, and the Backbone disappeared in fog. So we decided to play it safe and take the short route down by cutting back into the Bowl rather than continuing on Devil’s Backbone.
This was a bit of a bummer, but the glissade down as hysterical. My butt was numb when we reached the stream by the Ski Hut (shorts are not really meant for glissading), but it was worth it. A few minutes later we were back at the Hut, then back at the car, then at BJ’s having Pizza looking more like vagabonds than rugged outdoorsy types.
It was a great short day, beautiful, but not very strenuous. Every day doesn’t have to be epic. It’s just good to be around great friends in the outdoors.