The Mountain Took My Phone, My Car, & My Tooth
Mountains demand sacrifices—we all know that. So when I accidentally left my phone atop Mount Baldy's west summit, I thought: Fine. Better than blood.
My friend Matt Dixon and I teamed up this past Thursday to hike San Antonio Ridge, starting at West Baldy's summit, via Manker Flat and the Ski Hut trail, with a planned exit down Iron Mountain to Heaton Flat, some 8000 vertical feet below.
We were hoping going east to west would prove a little easier than starting at Heaton. Things (as usual?) did not quite go according to plan.
I noticed my missing phone long after we'd begun descending the ridge, which remains every bit as remote and rugged as I remember from my 2012 attempt to ski it. Even going downhill, the hiking was steep and strenuous.
After several hours of tough hiking, Matt and I made it all the way to the "gunsight" section of the ridge, just east of Iron Mountain, where we abruptly noticed smoke pouring up the East Fork canyon right at the base of Iron Mountain.
The wind was blowing directly in our face, which put us in the unhappy position of being both uphill and downwind of a rapidly growing wildfire. We sat down for a few minutes to discuss our options and concluded the only safe choice was to retreat back up the ridge.
That made for a long slog back up the mountain, with smoke progressively blanketing the entire area. We reached West Baldy's summit just as the sun set, allowing me to collect my missing phone (hooray?) and take some smoke-enhanced sunset photographs.
After that, we enjoyed a very long grind down the Ski Hut trail in the dark, without headlamps of course (at least until some kind souls somewhere below the Ski Hut took pity on us and loaned us one of theirs).
When we finally got down the mountain late that night we discovered the road to Heaton Flat, where my car was parked, was closed, which felt like a much bigger loss than my phone. Happily, Matt gave me a bed for the night, and police and firefighters let us enter the burn zone in the morning to recover my vehicle, which was well-smoked, but otherwise unharmed.
I made it home later that morning, sore, hungry, and exhausted, whereupon I discovered I'd somehow shattered one of my front teeth during the stumbling-down-in-the-dark phase of the adventure.
So: par for the course, eh?
I suppose the worst part of all of this is that I still haven't made it past the gunsight, which means I'm going to have to go back and do this all over again (hopefully without the fire and the dental work).
The usual "Andy Special" shenanigans aside, SAR remains one utterly awesome ridge. How can you not love this one?
15 miles and 8000 vertical feet down, with spectacular city, ocean, and mountain views, a dicey 4th class section, and an ethereal smoke-flavored sunset...all of it perhaps best enjoyed here, in the comfort of your own home, via our 2022 San Antonio Ridge/East Fire video.
— August 30, 2022
Andy Lewicky is the author and creator of SierraDescents
Brad Brown September 2, 2022 at 3:20 pm
Good thing you didn’t need SAR on SAR! I stumbled across your video looking for other goodies, I could see you already had a big day at the turnaround point! I can only imagine the mental reset effort to grind out the vert back to MB-never mind a slippery descent to ski hut😱
We did Register Ridge to MB descending via Ski Hut 8-8-22. The route was strategically designed for Sierra plans but even a well lit descent was tedious-night time/no lights ahh! It wasn’t my best outing but I held up reasonably well considering the last radiation treatment was 2 months ago, + age 71. Condolences for your MIA toof, no doubt sacrificed to the Mountain Gods who allowed safe nocturnal passage to Manker. Iron alone is a beast enough on the descent-did that last October, so absent fire you still had a big day. Good call on the retreat, getting stuck on Iron’s notorious uphill grade, in summer heat with perfect uphill fire spread conditions was prudent to say the least. An SD beat down is one thing, an SD flame out is another. Thanks for the good example!!
1. How much water did you bring?
2. Any climbing pro for gun site and other sketchy areas east of IM?
3. How many hours did you calculate for the sketchy zone east of IM? How many for overall?
4. The couple of point to point hikes I’ve done add hours with shuttling for cars. What time did you drop off at HF and then start at Manker?
5. What time(s) did you first summit WMB and turn around?
6. What was the high temp forecasted?
7. Did the re-summit tax your water supply? The creek at Ski Hut was still flowing on our hike and was a nice safety valve if needed.
I’ve actually thought about this as an uphill day hike but water hauling is a concern. Summer always seemed a tough time of year though your plan kept you in comfort temperature wise per all downhill mode. 12-15 hrs uphill seems about right which, when shuttles/breaks/etc are added, makes this an epic day. Anyways, glad ur safe!!!
Andy September 5, 2022 at 1:18 pm
1. I brought a lot of water and worried about running out. I also brought a Steripen so we could make water if the creek was running, which it was. I carried 4 liters from the start (not knowing creek) plus a lot of fruit which also adds water.
2. The gunsight continues to elude me. It looks nasty, but looking at it I thought it could be passed to the north if necessary.
3. Overall I think we planned for a 15 mile hike at 2 mi/hr with an hour or two of padding added. We were moving quickly, including uphill, but I underestimated the amount of up-and-down on the ridge proper, which is significant
4. Kind of a lazy start. I think we dropped the car at 7am and starting hiking around 8
5. I think we were on West Baldy by 11am. Think we turned back around 1:30 ish?
6. High at Heaton Flat was forecast right around 90, which I thought was reasonable going down
7. Yes! We both ran out before the re-summit. Managing water is a big deal on this hike, and I expect we would have run out if we had continued all the way to HF. Definitely check that forecast for temps!
Brad Brown September 6, 2022 at 8:21 pm
Thx for this, thoughtful and informative as always. Seems simple enough right? Gain 4K, then drop 8k, only 15 miles so 8-10 hours pencils out. Plus you skied SAR and summited/descended Iron so significant advanced route knowledge-except for maybe a 1/2mile, don’t see a problem here.
But this is a tricky route complete with a car shuttle, seductive 4 miles of tempting bookended class 1 trail at either end, a faint use trail to navigate from WMB to Iron, class 4 (gun site) climbing where some pro seems advised (more weight yay!), and 3.5K of nasty descent on Iron. My concern with water was the point to point hike on a completely dry route this time of year-weight sparing water caches was obviously pointless-until you were begging for same upon that dehydrating re-summit. TG for your filter and something to use it on at Ski Hut. Quite the adventure, much appreciated the TR and follow up Q&A. How’s da toof?
Matt D September 8, 2022 at 4:28 am
I had our pace just a shade pokier - West Baldy around 11:30 and my first pictures of the fire are around 2:30. I also carried about 4 liters of water and some fruit, and was very happy Andy had that Steripen when we reached the ski hut on the way down.
The up and down on the ridge definitely added a little grind. One of those things that in my mind was "just a traverse" but the up and down, plus lack of shade there, made it taxing.
Joseph October 14, 2022 at 10:27 am
Sorry that the adventure soured on you.
I did Iron to Baldy in 2016 and we found the gunsight to be a loose/brushy class 2/3.
If it is any help, I went in reverse, Iron to Baldy, the key we found was staying close to the rocky ridge on the west wall of the GS, and then from the bottom we stayed near the ridge but trended to the south side of the ridge on the east wall of the GS.
tom bry November 4, 2022 at 1:13 pm
Um... hearing about getting caught on a ridge with fire on both sides is horrifically reminiscent of the Storm King fire in Colorado that claimed 14 smoke jumpers in 1994. Checking out the video it seemed like this wasn't life threatening, but definitely no fun either. Always a solemn reminder that these environments remain decidedly untamed and sometimes our best laid plans go awry. Few know this better than you. Thanks for sharing another adventure.
Mouse Trap - SierraDescents November 30, 2023 at 10:01 am
[…] shattered a tooth because a wildfire erupted on the day my partner and I picked to hike San Antonio Ridge, forcing us to backtrack and hike down […]