What better way to enjoy April Fool's Day than a relaxing day in
the mountains, away from society and all of its pranks?
(5:28 am) Not only is it April Fool's Day, but it's also the first
day of Daylight Savings Time. So, 5:30 in the morning still felt like
4:30. Amazingly, both Marc and I managed to be ready at such an insane
hour. Here's Marc outside his place, just before we headed out.
(6:30 am) An hour later, we park at the base of Mt. Baldy ski area.
I've been to ski areas before the lifts open, but never before
anyone else arrives. A few minutes after we arrived, another guy drove
up, ready to snowboard. Apparently, he was confused by the idea of
(8:03 am) We started our hike under the lower ski lift. There was enough
snow remaining that we opted for the snowshoes midway up the slope. It
was my first time in snowshoes, and they took some practice. They seemed
to be designed to go straight up, so traversing across or down a slope was
a bit tricky. Marc held out longer than me, but he eventually strapped
on the snowshoes, too.
(8:41 am) On our way up, the chairlift started running above our heads.
The ski lift operators and owners were just opening up the mountain. We
rested at the top of the first lift. Then, it was on to the second lift.
The second lift never opened, so the hiking was more peaceful. Also,
unlike the first lift, which was in a shady valley, the second one went
up along a ridge, providing sunny weather and great views. Here, I'm just
deciding that I'll need snowshoes for this ascent.
(9:40 am) At the top of the second lift, we stopped for a break. The
weather was now very nice, and even starting to get quite warm. Earlier
in the morning, the snow was a bit soft, and now it was starting to get
pretty wet. I took off a couple layers in preparation for the coming
warmth, considering that it wasn't even 10 am yet.
(10:10 am) Now we were free of the Mt. Baldy ski area, heading up from
the second lift to the peak of Mt. Baldy itself. This was the most
mentally stressful part of the hike for me. To the right was a 45 plus
degree snow-covered slope that never seemed to end. The left was a milder
version of the right, with less snow and steepness. Following the trail
along the ridge with 30+ pound packs and snowshoes on our feet was a
challenge. Breathing was becoming difficult in the thin air. Here, we
admire this gnarly old tree.
(11:43 am) After an hour or so of strenuous climbing, things became
easier. The trail headed down to the left where it was mostly dirt. We
removed the snowshoes for the last time, and followed the trail. As we
headed back up to the ridge, the left side of the ridge flattened out to
this nice snowy area. Looking back, Marc stands near the ridge, still
snowy and steep to his right.
(12:06 pm) Hiking down to our left a bit, we catch a great view of our
destination: the Baldy Bowl. Back in May of 1998, Marc and I skied at
Mt. Baldy ski resort and looked across to the Baldy Bowl, covered in snow.
We expected there to be even more snow now, being only the beginning of
April, but the recent heat wave killed those hopes. We skied at Baldy
three weeks earlier, and at that time it was completely covered with snow.
Now, much of it was melting in the upper bowl, leaving alternating stripes
of snow and gravel. The bowl is mainly to the right of me in this
picture. We ended up going around the back of the bowl and entering it
just above my right shoulder, where the snow is thicker.
(1:02 pm) After an hour of hiking up along the final ridge, we reached
the summit of Mt. Baldy. Here, I'm looking back at Marc toward Mt. Baldy
ski area, located below the peak directly behind Marc. The day before,
Marc, Vince, and I went skiing at Snow Summit, in the San Bernardino
Mountains. We were able to look back at Mt. Baldy and the San Gabriels.
Now, from the peak of Baldy, we see in the distance where we were the day
(1:04 pm) It was pretty amazing standing on top of this peak, looking out
over the San Gabriels. Nine months earlier, I had been standing at
the same spot wishing that the mountain was covered with snow and that I
had my snowboard to take advantage of it. Now, here I was again, with
that dream finally realized.
(1:06 pm) I used one of Marc's car rack straps to tie my board to my
pack. It was simple and worked amazingly well. Marc had more of a
challenge, with his skis being longer and there being two of them. He
had just bought that yellow backpack, and it did amazingly well in
getting everything up the mountain. Here, Marc stands in front of the
rest of the San Gabriels, with Pasadena just behind (to the left) of the
range. Although the peak (West Baldy) immediately behind Marc seemed
higher to us, we were reassured that we were in fact standing at the
highest point in the San Gabriels.
(2:30 pm) We set up camp just below the peak, sheltered from the moderate
breeze by a rock pile. We used this time to catch up a bit on the sleep
we missed the night before. Here, Marc is refreshed and ready to head
down. It may be hard to see here, but the snow had an interesting texture
near the top of the mountain. There were ripples like sand in the desert,
with closely spaced streaks going across them.
(2:48 pm) Down we go. The snow was unlike any I've been on. It was soft
and consistent like fresh powder, but wet and a bit heavy like slush. It
was an entirely different feeling than being at a ski area. Knowing that
every foot of vertical that I drop was earned by a vertical foot of
painful, backpack-laden, oxygen-deprived hiking made me slow down and
really enjoy every turn. Here, I'm descending through the trees below the
peak, as we head for the bowl.
(2:50 pm) It was strange not having a trail map or any trails to follow.
We had to navigate by sight and be careful not to get stuck in any
gullys, since wrong turns were punishable by large amounts of hiking.
Of course, falling and getting hurt were out of the question. I made a
conscious effort to tone things down a bit and concentrate on maintaining
good control rather than going all out for speed, air, or deep carving.
(2:51 pm) Marc gives me a nice splash of slush. It's not easy getting
good close-ups. Unlike most mountains, the top part of Baldy (the side
that we came down, that is) was pretty flat. It was a nice way to warm
up the legs for snowboarding after a morning of climbing.
(2:52 pm) Marc glides effortlessly through the soft, fresh snow. We
decide to cut over toward the bowl, to avoid unnecessary hiking that
would result from getting stuck too far down a canyon.
(2:56 pm) As we head over toward the bowl, it gets a bit steeper, but
still nothing too extreme. A nice chance to practice manuvering around
obstacles -- a skill that it turned out we'd need more than we thought.
(3:12 pm) Ahhh, the bowl! At last, our destination reached. Now, the
pitch increases suddenly as we descend over the lip into the "Baldy Bowl."
Marc dives in first, initially surprised at how thick the snow is. We
considered taking pictures of the bowl, but it was so huge and open that
even a panoramic shot would have trouble capturing the full effect of
(3:17 pm) My turn to drop in. You can see the thick snow around my feet.
On a board, it's kind of nice, though, since it's easier to float on top
of it. Behind me is the rocky rim of the upper portion of the bowl, which
curves around to the far side where we hiked up.
(3:21 pm) On our hike up, we spotted a nice gully with snow that
extended far below the bowl. We cut across the bowl to the right, heading
through the trees, in an attempt to extend our run into this gully.
(3:33 pm) After traversing through the trees, we find this nice steep
pitch to descend. We warmed up with the flat top of Baldy, then hit the
bowl for some steep, but wide open, cruising. Now, fully warmed up, we're
ready to descend the steep and narrow gully. Here, I start my descent,
adrenaline pumping, heart racing, mind a bit slowed due to lack of oxygen.
(3:34 pm) After a few turns, I've had my fun. Time to stop and give Marc
a try. As I slam on the brakes, thick snow flies out in front of me. The
thick wall of snow is barely visible here, but it really impressed me how
easy it was to dig in and spray snow on this slope.
(3:40 pm) Marc's turn to hit the slope. I took this picture just after
he came through a narrow snow path through the trees, up and to the right.
(3:52 pm) Farther down, we encounter a difficult section -- steep,
narrow, and rocky. Marc traverses to the far side to check the next
gully over, but it's no better. It wasn't pretty, but we made it through
the narrow chute and on to more fresh snow. Below the rocks, it was steep
enough that with each turn, I was creating mini-avalanches. As I
dislodged sections of slush, they would very slowly slide down the slope
and form little trains of slush that continued until it got flatter.
They moved so slowly that I could create a mini-avalanche, stop and watch
it for awhile, and then head down and catch up with it and cut through the
moving slush train. With a huge open bowl and deeper snow I could see how
these conditions could be very dangerous, but in this confined area it was
(4:36 pm) We continued down a bit farther before deciding to call it a
day, in terms of snowboarding/skiing. We hiked back toward the bowl,
attempting to reach a cabin at the base of the bowl, from which a trail
would take us back down the rest of the mountain. Here, we pause and look
back at our tracks in the gully. The previous picture was taken from
just above the big rocky area to the right of the tree. You can see the
steep, narrow section where we had some trouble, between the tree and the
rocky section in the picture. Lower down our tracks are more easily
(5:15 pm) On our hike to the cabin, we had to cross a mountain stream.
This was completely unexpected. I was still wearing my snowboard boots
and carrying my board under one arm, expecting a nice easy hike the rest
of the way. Getting down the steep slope to the stream was difficult, but
getting back up the other side was the most exhausting part of the day.
It took complete concentration and intense exertion to get up the steep,
seemingly endless far side.
(5:33 pm) From the cabin, we look back at our favorite gully, now more
distant and below our current elevation. We make final preparations for
our remaining descent, and then head down the trail.
(5:34 pm) It was nice to have a trail to follow. After spending an hour
or so hiking the short distance from the gully to the cabin, it was nice
to know that the remaining miles would require little physical exertion
and no mental strain of trying to find the best path through the
mountains. Marc stands in front of the sun-bathed range on the other side
of the valley we initially hiked up.
(7:10 pm) Later in the evening, the fog crept up from the city into the
valley below. With the sun setting, we knew we had to keep moving if we
were to get back before dark.
(7:10 pm) Looking back the other direction, we see the far side of the
bowl, not quite as snowy as the near side, where we descended. We
continued down the trail and reached a dirt road. We hiked up the road
toward the ski lift where we parked.
(7:47 pm) Back at last! Hiking back to the car, it was just light enough
to see the parking lot from the dirt road we were hiking on. We decided
to cut down from the road directly to the lot, before darkness set in.
Soon after we got back, it got dark and the last trucks in the parking lot
were heading home.
(7:48 pm) We unloaded our packs, threw everything in the trunk, and
headed back to Pasadena. Driving home was an interesting adventure.
The fog in the picture above made visibility almost nonexistant. Even the
signs on the side of the road weren't visible until we were almost past
them. When we got back, the total exhaustion of the day's adventures
provided me with a great night of much-needed sleep.