Revenge of the Girly Man — Page 3

Mount Baldy Appears

A Long Traverse

As I at last round the last of Mount Harwood's ridges, I am rewarded with my first view of Mount Baldy's summit. The weather is turning. Fierce winds blow a steady contrail of snow from the summit.

Thick clouds begin to form to the west. The traverse has been a bad idea, made worse by snow sticking to my climbing skins. I pause, taking in the view of Baldy's spacious south bowl, and contemplate my return route. I'm not willing to repeat that traverse in reverse.

Mount Baldy's South-East Bowl Snowshoes on Mount Baldy's SouthEast Bowl Mount Baldy's Southeast Bowl and Talus Mount Harwood Sticky Snow

Similarly, the thought of climbing back up Mount Harwood to return to the ski area isn't very appealing. Instead, I consider skiing all the way down San Antonio Canyon, the natural runout of the Southeast Ridge chutes and Baldy Bowl.

The plan has a certain appeal despite the unknowns.

I can see snow all the way to Manker Flat, so theoretically I'll be on skis the whole way, for a whopping 4000 vertical foot descent.

Shouldn't I try for the complete Baldy Summit Descent at least once, while conditions permit?

On the side of the voice of reason, I can't see the entire route, because it vanishes into the deep gash that is San Antonio Canyon.

If that canyon were to close out, I'd be in trouble, as the surrounding terrain is steep and extremely rough, with few escape routes.

But the canyon offers the prospect of avoiding the long traverse back to the ski area, I know, and it is this thought that prevails.

Mount Baldy attracts a regular crew of climbers, even in winter, and today is no different. I'm pleased to see two snow-shoers making their way down the bowl from the summit.

I'm not the only one escaping the city today.

I cross a last bare talus streak before meeting up with Baldy's east ridge—the road to the summit.

Such bare streaks are unfortunately the norm on this part of the mountain, which is not only wind-scoured but also south-facing, aimed squarely in the sights of the Southern California sun.

Given a heavy snow year, this bowl can be completely snow-covered, making for outrageously good spring corn descents.

But with marginal cover, as now, even the higher reaches of Mount Baldy typically show very spotty coverage.

As for the lower part of the mountain...well, I'd see about that soon enough.

Around 9300 feet, I exited the bowl and began skinning up the north side of Mount Baldy.

With the change in aspect, the snow shifted from soggy slop to cold, saturated powder, blasted by wind. The north face of Mount Baldy is perhaps the most impressive ski descent in the San Gabriels, with consistent deep snow, ample vertical, and broad, big-mountain steeps. I don't generally worry about avalanches in the San Gabriels. Hoar layers and brittle slabs are rare (though wet slides are common). But Baldy's north face is big enough and cold enough to merit extra caution.

I'll likely be returning to ski Baldy's north chutes later this year, conditions willing, but for now, in early March, I'll leave them be. That said, the snow is perhaps the stickiest glop I've ever battled. Huge wads of it—six inches high and more—are now clumping to the bottoms of my climbing skins, putting five, maybe even ten pounds extra on each leg.

Baldy's summit is achingly close, but the sheer effort involved in lifting my legs is turning what should be an easy ascent into a serious gruel. I try to console myself by calling this another learning experience: if my skins were doing this on a big Sierra tour, I'd likely be forced to turn back. Ah well, as the boy scouts say, be prepared.

My legs start to cramp. I gut it out and press for the summit.

next: Summit and Ridge

About SierraDescents

When there is snow, SierraDescents is Andy Lewicky's California backcountry skiing and mountaineering website. Without snow, sierradescents becomes an ill-tempered hiking and climbing blog.

Pray for snow.