Revenge of the Girly Man — Page 7

Skis & Yucca Plant in San Antonio Canyon


Mount Baldy's broad southeast bowl feeds naturally into San Antonio Canyon, one of many deep gashes carving down the mountain's southern flank.

Rather than take the long traverse back to the Mount Baldy Ski Area, or climb the 1500 vertical feet to get over Mount Harwood, I've decided to follow the western side of San Antonio Canyon, hoping it will take me to Manker Flat and the Mount Baldy Road. I've scouted the visible portion of the route from Mount Harwood, so I know there's snow all the way down.

San Gabriel Wilderness Entering San Antonio Canyon Thinning Snowpack San Antonio Canyon

But is there enough snow? And will San Antonio Canyon stay open enough to allow a safe descent on skis?

I will soon learn the answer to both these questions, and what has thus far been an exhilarating but exhausting day is about to become a frightening safari as the Girly Man extracts its revenge.

I ski through the remainder of the glade above San Antonio Canyon, wondering what I'll see when I drop over the rim.

These are the last good turns of the day. The terrain is rolling and gentle, the trees are widely spaced, and the snow remains thick but not too grabby.

As I descend into the steep upper wall of San Antonio Canyon, Rocks, stumps, and bare patches sprout up with increasing frequency.

This is not a good sign.

I've still got over two thousand vertical feet to go to reach Manker Flat and the road.

My little voice is starting to nag at me now, suggesting maybe—just maybe—I really ought to be on the other side of the canyon, don't you think?

And as I'm listening to the voice, I find myself hating it for two reasons: first, because there's no way for me to get across San Antonio Canyon now—it's too late.

And second, I hate the voice because I know it's right. The trees part, revealing my escalating predicament. The canyon's walls continue to steepen, the snow continues to thin, and I hear rushing water somewhere below. My skis begin to crunch on rocks with every turn.

I'm forced to slow down, sideslip. The optimist in me is still hoping I'll be able to follow the side of the canyon all the way down. I'll know the truth soon enough, once I reach the bottom of the side-gully I'm descending. I gingerly step across bare talus to cross to a more favorable patch of snow. This is the primary task now: stay on snow.

Snow good, rock bad. Crunch. How does it look over there? Crunch. Maybe that patch? Crunch. The rushing creek grows louder. My precious snow is melting, and that hungry creek is stealing it away, carrying it off to someplace where I'm sure they don't need it as much as I do. Orange County, maybe. The moment of truth arrives when I reach the creek at the bottom of the gully. The canyon, of course, has completely closed out. There is no possibility of skiing any farther. I can only stop, look around, and consider the variety of bad options that now present themselves.

It's funny, but now, as I look down the canyon, a critical piece of information suddenly pops into my memory: there's a waterfall down there. It's called San Antonio Falls, and I'm standing somewhere above it. Little voice, this is something you really should have brought to my attention earlier.

The voice remains silent.

I'm exhausted. Climbing back up isn't an option. Climbing down doesn't look like much of an option, either. The sun is dropping toward the west, the shadows are lengthening, and the end is nowhere in sight.

next: Escaping the Falls

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.