San Antonio Ridge Traverse
Ah, where to begin? In the immortal words of Tech and Talk's Chad, 'A bad snake charmer always blames his snake.' So I guess I can't blame the snake. I knew, going in, that a ski traverse linking Mount Baldy and Iron Mountain via San Antonio Ridge was definitely pushing the limits. But still, something about staying close to home always makes me more inclined to be ambitious.
Funny thing: when I first started skiing locally, I viewed the San Gabriel Mountains as a training ground for the Sierra. Now I find myself wondering if I got that backwards. The San Gabriel Mountains are a hard, hard, ill-tempered range. I keep telling myself over and over again to never underestimate their badness, and yet I do, and trips like these are the inevitable result.
The sticky part of the traverse was obvious from the beginning. We'd read reports of others being blocked by a 'sharktooth' section of the ridge (about 3/4 mile east of Iron Mountain) which involves technical climbing. I was hoping that our stunning local snow coverage would turn dicey class 4 rock into an easy snow climb.
Instead, we found mostly bare rock at the sharktooth, with just enough snow to make things worse. The smart choice would have been to turn around and gut out the long, painful climb back up to Mt. Baldy's summit to get home. But, several miles and thousands of vertical feet down, we were feeling pot-committed at that point. We had dropped a car at Heaton Flats, near the East Fork of the San Gabriel River, and we thought we saw an alternate route that would get us there, so we left the ridge and headed into the great unknown.
Going off-route in the interior San Gabriels is like dousing yourself in gasoline and looking for a match. We wandered endless steep ground for hours in search of an exit, trying to connect to what appeared to be a road on our photocopied topo map. With dusk approaching I battled a rising sense of panic, as I knew that finding the road—if it existed—still put us well over 8 miles from the car.
When we did finally find the road, at 'Widman Ranch', we also found a great many NO TRESPASSING signs plus a very agitated man who apparently likes to live a long, long way from civilization. He was kind enough to allow us passage across his land, and he even let us call our wives so SAR wouldn't show up asking pesky questions. As we left, he also gave us invaluable directions, and told us to 'enjoy' the 47 creek crossings ahead. Whoever you are sir—thanks for helping us get home. And thanks for not shooting us.
It turns out there really were around 47 crossings (I counted to kill the time). Most of them were knee-deep through fast rushing water. We made the car around 9 p.m., after beginning the day at 2 a.m. A quick run of the numbers shows that from Manker Flat, elevation 6165, to the top of Mount Baldy, elevation 10,064, to the car at Heaton Flat, elevation 2028, we traveled approximately 17 miles and 15,000 total vertical feet. Good Times!
While San Antonio Ridge offers stunning terrain deep in the heart of the San Gabriels, it is also a merciless and all but inaccessible part of the range. In case it's not obvious, please don't try to repeat this one yourself!
Andy Lewicky is the author and creator of SierraDescents
Gary K February 16, 2010 at 5:45 pm
Great adventure! I sure do love the San Gabriel mountains.
Bill February 16, 2010 at 5:55 pm
Most of the time I read your posts and jealously wish I would have been there. This time, I'm elated that I turned around at the West Summit ridge.
That looked brutal. I feel tired after watching the video.
Alex February 16, 2010 at 7:42 pm
This Bill guy sounds like someone I need to meet. While this is an amazing feat, I am glad I passed.
Colin in CA February 16, 2010 at 9:04 pm
Before I watched the video, when you mentioned that the landowner came out to meet you I thought, "Does the guy have motion sensor's out there or what?"
Nice TR. Type 2 fun is defined as stuff that isn't fun at the time, but when you look back at it later you think "That wasn't so bad..." :-)
Andy February 17, 2010 at 7:00 am
Yeah, I forgot to mention there were also signs saying we were under video surveillance. They definitely don't like visitors out there.
Tom Kane February 17, 2010 at 9:34 am
What an epic journey, did you happen to spot the eagle mine or the Gold dollar mine? They are supposed to be under the shark tooth section. While exploring the Tungsten mine in Cattle canyon I rode my mountain bike down past the Widman ranch, upon the return trip that same old time was waiting, very pissed off. He did let me return through his property up to the Cow canyon saddle.
Andy February 17, 2010 at 9:40 am
Tom, we did see the mines. Passed right by the Gold Dollar. Maybe that's why that guy is so territorial? Though I can tell you at that point in the trip, hauling off some extra pounds of raw ore was the last thing on our minds! Hey-- where did you start riding your bike from? Were you on that crazy road with all the crossings?
Tom Kane February 17, 2010 at 9:54 am
We started riding from the Cow Canyon saddle, dirt road on the north side of the canyon leads down to the juction of cow and cattle canyon. Then up to the mines. We didn't go but a half mile or so before we realized that we had bitten of more than we could chew and turned around, we may have crossed the stream twice. I was on the summit yesterday as well form Chair 4 and down to the hut, baby cakes compared to your trip but hella fun. Love your site bro, keep it up!
Michael February 17, 2010 at 4:01 pm
Wow what an Epic. Thanks Andy for letting us enjoy this vicariously. Your movies are getting to be really good.
Hamik February 17, 2010 at 6:03 pm
Fantastic! I did this in January (Manker to Iron then back to Manker) on foot and have been itching to do this traverse on skis. I'm pretty sure that the "record" times kept by the folks on the San Gabes forums can be absolutely decimated by a ski traverse.
Andy February 18, 2010 at 6:39 am
Hamik you wild man!! How did you get past the technical section of the ridge? And how many hrs did it take to do the whole traverse and back?
Terry Esslinger February 18, 2010 at 10:07 am
Wish I could have seen the adventure but video would not load. What format is it in?
Mark February 18, 2010 at 11:18 am
Many yrs ago I hiked from Manker over Baldy to Iron Mtn and back. We probably started about 8am and were back to the car about 11pm. The rocky section on the ridge is maybe 3rd class, don't recall any difficulty with it. More difficult with snow and ski boots. You may be the first to ski out there.
Zé February 18, 2010 at 7:33 pm
oh man, classic. that 'escape route' down the ridge into Coldwater Canyon is somewhat well known from Christopher Brennan's site, and of course because it comes just before Gunsight Notch.
I believe the Widman Ranch is still owned in the family...but either way you would have been much better served (not that you would have known) to take the trail heading SW above Widman that intersects the saddle south of Iron Mt. That trail is in passable shape. Then you take the trail back to Heaton Flat. Probably 2 hrs to trailhead from Coldwater Canyon.
On the descent down into Coldwater, did you head due south all the way down the ridge, or did you eventually drop down off the east or west side? Just interested to know, I've been to Baldora/Widco mines (in Dry Gulch) and was wondering what the best way up to Gold Dollar would be.
Andy February 19, 2010 at 9:08 am
Terry, the video defaults (I think) to HD, which is really slow to load unless your connection is fast. You can hit pause right away to let it buffer completely and then play it, or else turn off HD and you should have no problems.
Ze - we started down Dry Gulch, but got worried it was going to cliff out, so we headed east and then northeast (back toward Baldy) into the neighboring drainage. One of our maps showed a trail there, but we never really found anything persistent. It's rough country back there!
Hamik February 19, 2010 at 2:40 pm
Going to confirm what Mark said, except I'll add that we were skeptical it was "easy class three" until we got on it, mostly because the rock was black, loose-looking, and just generally jagged and intimidating. After we started moving on it we agreed with the grade, though. Sadly I think the time may be past when a full ski traverse (except the part past the 3rd class rock) can be done. I think the (effective) snow level may be higher than the low points of the ridge. Anyone have recent pictures from Baldy or (better) Baden-Powell?
Tom K February 21, 2010 at 8:53 am
Andy, how about stopping at the mines and hiking back out instead of going down and out coldwater? Maybe an overnighter somwhere along the ridge or on West Baldy to give more time? I'd like to take a look at those mines, but not in one day. When you dropped the north side of West Baldy(I think) did you see any possible overnight camp possibilities down there?
norma r February 26, 2010 at 2:36 am
great TR and video. i've been looking forward to doing the traverse on foot. i had no idea there was a ski traverse to be had. i never thought i was wasting $$ on alpine skiing, but this season with all the AT skiing i've been watching, i realize there is another sport out there waiting for me to experience. your video helped fuel that fire.
Lou February 28, 2010 at 3:53 pm
Was oringinal objective to descend from Iron to Heaton via the standard ascent route up Allison drainage or somthing more ambitious?
Andy March 1, 2010 at 12:08 pm
Yeah, we were planning on descending via Iron's south ridge to the Heaton Flat trail. As far as overnighters go, the trip is big enough to make carrying overnight gear a chore, which is why we were trying to day trip it.
J.Menard April 8, 2010 at 5:41 pm
Been wanting to do that route. Probably will this May.Thanks for info.
Marc October 19, 2010 at 10:25 pm
Wow! Never thought of doing this in snow or skis.
I did this on foot with two college buddies in 1993 (the day before our senior year classes began at Cal Poly Pomona). It turned out to be the adventure of a lifetime. We left one car at Heaton Flats and then drove our second car along Glendora Ridge Road to Mt. Baldy. I don't think GRR is open anymore but it was back then. We left my truck at Baldy and ascended Baldy by 8am then proceeded down the same path as you. It was quite fun boulder hopping until we got to the "bushes from hell". Unfortunately what is not shown under the snow are these nasty thorny bushes reminiscent of the crown of thorns. We ended up dropping off the ridge numerous times to avoid the bushes as we were wearing shorts but eventually, to keep to our timely schedule, we ended up going through them. At the end of the hike our legs looked like the actor who portrayed Jesus Christ in The Passion of the Christ. All of our white socks were blood red. During the hike we pondered how one could possibly go over these and not hurt themselves (snowshoe like bottoms, perhaps?). Anyway, we too got to the face of Iron Mtn and realized that we would not be able to traverse it without ropes and protection and so descended into Coldwater Canyon. We found three mines (Gold Dollar, Eagle, Baldora) along with the railings and pulleys still hanging in the air and even found a near mint condition Pennslyvania Oil can which we assumed was a predecessor to Pennzoil. As we were not concerned with collecting artifacts but rather getting out alive, we left it there. We too could not find the trail that was supposed to run north of Widman Ranch. There were "NO TRESPASSING" signs all over and so we desperately looked for the trail. After wasting 20 minutes to no avail and dusk upon us, we ventured through the ranch that looked like something out of Deliverance or Southern Comfort. We never saw an old man but saw many cars on blocks with expired license plates. We treaded lightly as quickly and quietly as possible and then near the end of the ranch we heard some guys panning for gold in the creek. We kept going and eventually after crossing the 40+ creeks, got back to the road to Heaton Flats. When it was all said and done, we had to go back to Baldy to pick up my car, and didn't get back to Cal Poly til 2AM. We went to school the next day showing off our "still fresh" wounds on our legs. It was too painful to wear anything over them!
Andy October 20, 2010 at 6:57 am
Marc, thanks for sharing. You just brought back a lot of memories... :)
Marc October 20, 2010 at 11:02 am
Your video is great and brings back some great memories too! Every once in a while I type "Widman Ranch" into the internet to see what I can find as I too was very interested in what this community was doing up there. When we "cruised" through stealthily in 1993 there seemed to be no one there but we still didn't hang around long enough to find out.
I wish I could make contact with my two old college buddies to share this website and video with. I've tried Facebook and our college alumni intranet system to no avail. Hard to believe that some people are still difficult to find on the internet.