Revenge of the Girly Man
Southern California Steep Skiing on Mount Baldy's Southeast Ridge
- D-Scale Difficulties
- The Devil's Backbone
- A Long Traverse
- Summit and Ridge
- The Girly Man
- The Southeast Bowl
- The Safari Begins
- Escaping the Falls
MOUNT BALDY, CAIFORNIA — I admit it: I did not fear the Girly Man. Having skied many lines in Southern California's San Gabriel Mountains, I'd found none that were truly heart-stopping.
And then I saw the new D-System Ski Descent Rating Scale, proposed by WildSnow.com blogger Lou Dawson and Chuting Gallery author Andrew McLean. I was browsing the upper end of the D-System's ratings one day, wondering how I'd fare on such heavyweights as Mount Sneffels' Snake Couloir, or the Messner Couloir, when I chanced upon an entry called "the Girly Man Chute".
The Girly Man was rated D14—higher than either of those previously mentioned giants, with a maximum pitch around 50 degrees, prolonged steepness, and especially difficult terrain.
The kicker: the Girly Man was located on Mount San Antonio, aka 'Mount Baldy', in the San Gabriel Mountains. That's right—there was apparently a world-class ski descent hidden somewhere in the mountains of Southern California, my present home and place of exile.
With some help from the Couloir Magazine forums, I was able to identify the Girly Man as a narrow gully descending through the rock bands along Mount Baldy's southeast ridge.
I had noticed these chutes from afar during my Mount Baldy travels, though I hadn't paid much attention to them. They were on my distant to-do list, behind a series of other descents in the range that I considered more interesting.
Suddenly, I was very interested in that ridge. Winter, however, was not cooperating. For most of January and February, the SoCal mountains stood bare—until March, when an arctic storm plunged southward across the state, bringing snow all the way down to the foothills of Los Angeles. With skiable snow in the Mount Baldy backcountry for the first time all year, I had a date with the Girly Man.
Given that 10,064' Mount Baldy is less than 5 miles from the Mount Baldy Ski Area, the peak is surprisingly difficult to access. Skiers can approach the summit via San Antonio Canyon, from the Manker Flat trailhead, for a big 4000' vertical day, but the hike will almost certainly begin on dry talus, covering five miles of extremely rough country.
The obvious approach is to simply ride up one or two of the Mount Baldy ski area's chairlifts, if they're running, to get a jumpstart on the elevation gain. March's arctic storm had laid snow all the way down to 2000 feet, raising the possibility of a huge summit descent, but I decided to play it safe and take the chair up. The apparent ease of the ski area approach, however, is deceiving. As the crow flies, it's another five miles to Mount Baldy's summit via the aptly named Devil's Backbone ridge.