The San Gabriel Traverse
I don't know when, exactly, I first started thinking about skiing across the San Gabriels, but 2008 (the first time I climbed and skied Baden-Powell) is probably a good guess.
From the top of Baden-Powell, you get a good look at the long ridge linking the high peaks of the San Gabriels: Pine Mountain, Dawson Peak, and of course Mount Baldy (Mount San Antonio).
There is a summer trail for this route, known as the North Backbone, which connects Baldy's summit to Blue Ridge Road, just south of Wright Mountain and the town of Wrightwood, California.
It's a short but strenuous hike, much less heavily traveled than the Ski Hut trail, and notable for having the highest trailhead in the range (8250') as well as offering stunning views of the San Gabriels interior.
I first hiked the North Backbone in 2021, with my son, after learning about the trail in an obscure guidebook he got me for my birthday. And that pretty much sealed the deal on me wanting to ski the route.
So what took so long?
Well, first of all, there is the logistical challenge of either dropping a car or getting picked up on the opposite side of the range. It's not a trivial drive from Mount Baldy Village to Wrightwood.
And the ridge itself has technical sections, plus a portion of Mount Baldy's north face, all of which demand a great deal of care in getting your timing right.
I suppose I should also add fitness to the mix—this is a strenuous undertaking.
Still, if you're wondering, should I do this myself? I think the answer is yes—when conditions (in totality) are right. It is truly a spectacular line, and I rate it easily among the most memorable skiing experiences I've had in California, which is not an impoverished list.
Do note our original plan was to exit to Mountain High, which would have involved about three extra miles of travel along Blue Ridge Road. We bailed on that option, thinking it would be easier to ski down Wright Mountain's northeast ridge.
In hindsight I think that was a mistake. Wright's NE ridge is interesting but kind of steep and scrappy—likely to put you on unfavorable snow late in the day when you're tired and ready to just go home. There are a few exposed sections to navigate as well.
In contrast ending up at Mountain High East (when it's open!) would make for an easy and pleasant ski down to the parking lot (provided they've given you permission to park there).
I do apologize for my heretical ramblings in this video. Perhaps it was the combination of all those spectacular views and some degree of hypoxia? The good news is we don't have to pick. The San Gabriels are ours, just like the mighty Sierra. :)
— March 31, 2023
Andy Lewicky is the author and creator of SierraDescents
charles March 31, 2023 at 8:49 pm
Superbly cinematic. Extraordinary. Thank you for this.
Dan Conger April 1, 2023 at 10:57 am
Epic trip report and video. So much snow in those mountains this year.
Brad Brown April 2, 2023 at 10:49 am
Great TR. Your suboptimal narration, despite self complaints, must have been heavily edited out- sounded like your old fun style we’ve come to appreciate. Bob and I did a reverse out and back via your route in 2017 starting from the campground about 3 miles west of where you crossed the FS road. Fairly steep terrain in spots, looked pretty sketchy where you traversed the east face of Pine….that’s a long slide only ending at dirt level right there. The car to car hike logistic are not trivial in our home ranges-it’s basically doubles the drive times over out and back/loop routes. In 2019 we crossed the San Gorgonio range via south fork, summited Carlton and Little Charlton, Jepson (XC route for these 3) then SG proper, thence to descend via Vivian creek-minus the skiing part. A big day as was yours. A very cool route design-apparently unique considering you have first tracks. And I agree with how much there is in our own back yard-the “Range” will wait for later summer adventures per the hazardous you have noted elsewhere…
Randy April 21, 2023 at 2:37 pm
Thanks for doing this (now I don't have to!). Gil from the hut did this probably 20 years ago