< Revenge of the Girly Man - Page 8 - SierraDescents.com

Revenge of the Girly Man — Page 8

San Antonio Canyon

Escaping the Falls

If you think about it, it all began on the traverse around Mount Harwood, when the snow was sticking to my skins, and I decided to change my return route to make life a little easier.

From that moment in time, you can draw a straight line connecting the dots to where I am now, trapped somewhere in the middle of San Antonio Canyon. If UPS had brought my Glop-Stopper wax a little earlier, I'd be lounging in the Mount Baldy Lodge right now, wolfing down a cheeseburger and fries.

Stuck in San Antonio Canyon Andy Lewicky & Skis San Antonio Canyon: Rough Manker Flat & Exit

Such are the whims of fate that bring down armies, empires, and backcountry skiers. I'm tempted to try to follow the creek.

Unfortunately, that only guarantees I'll get hung up over San Antonio Falls, which, according to my suddenly-improved memory, stands about a hundred fifty feet high.

I see the possibility of climbing up and to the west, over the cliff band to my right, but I have no idea what lies beyond. A topo map would come in handy right now, but of course I'm in my own backyard here, and I allegedly already know everything.

Even if I did have a map, I'd hate to find a hidden cliff system that USGS's sixty-foot contour lines missed.

No, the best choice is to try to rejoin the Manker Flats hiking trail, which lies beyond some unknown number of steep, rock-ribbed, brush-clogged gullies to the east. In that direction, at least, I know the possibility of escape exists.

I put my skis on my pack, cross the creek, and begin climbing the opposite side of the canyon.

Almost immediately, my spent legs begin cramping, ruined by the sticky-skins ascent. I can't raise my knees without risking cramps in my hip flexors—making climbing a tricky business, to be sure.

Smooth slabs of rock lie hidden six inches beneath the snow, waiting to send me skidding out of control back down to the creek. Thick thorny bushes become allies in my journey, self-belay points which I ruthlessly employ to get across these awful gullies.

Hikers get lost in these mountains all the time, and it's easy to see why: the terrain borders on impassible.

Here in the lower reaches of San Antonio Canyon, the San Gabriels are essentially just a big, steep pile of loose sharp rock carved out by water and covered with cactus.

My intended route is made harder by the variable snowpack, which is somehow simultaneously too shallow to ski but too deep to walk on. It's a curious phenomenon deserving of further study—by someone else. Meanwhile, I'm wallowing in a snowdrift up to my chest trying to climb around another cliff band.

Each time I try to lift my legs, they cramp again. I'm forced to build myself a platform in the snow and snap back into my skis to side-step up. This proves to be a good choice, however, as it allows an easier traverse across the next gully.

I get spiked a few times trying to avoid the many Yucca plants, until I realize the Yucca actually make for a more stable platform to walk on. I doubt my skis are happy, but a few strategically placed Yuccas later, and I've successfully traversed out of the hellish depths of San Antonio Canyon and safely bypassed San Antonio Falls.

The Manker Flats trailhead is only a few hundred vertical feet below, which I downclimb, once again on foot. The safari comes to an end. It will take another half-hour or so to hike up the Mount Baldy Road and return to my car, but already my sense of relief is immense. It's one thing to choose an arduous challenge. It's another entirely to find yourself trapped unexpectedly within it.

As for the Girly Man Chute, I hesitate to call it overrated—especially as I look down at my bruised-purple toes and my battered body. It will take some time to heal from this one, I'm afraid. Perhaps the Girly Man is not a D14 chute, after all, but there's no system I know of that can capture the full range of today's experience—and that's just the way it should be.

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.