For the last six years or so, I've lived in the foothills below the San Gabriel Mountains, almost directly below Mt San Antonio, more commonly known as Mt. Baldy. I've spent a lot of time around Mt. Baldy in the last six year. We head up there almost every winter to see a rare sight in southern CA (snow), ride up the ski lift during the other seasons to grab a drink at the Top of the Notch restaurant, and hike around the Icehouse Canyon often. I can't believe that it has taken me six years to finally hike up to the summit.
Starting the hike
Hikers have several different options when starting out the hike. For those wanting to complete the entire 11.3 mile loop, you can start the hike at the base of the Manker Flats trailhead or from the Baldy Bowl (or pick one of these other trail options). For those of you that are satisfied with a shorter, yet still intense hike, you can take the ski lift up to the Top of the Notch Restaurant (elevation – 7300 ft.). Taking the ski lift takes off about 4 miles and about 1500 ft of elevation from the hike. While this may be considered a cheat to some people, that bit of the hike that is cut out is just walking along the fire road, and the resulting hike to the summit and back is still about 6.5 strenuous miles. Be prepared for steep inclines!
The most difficult part of the hike, in my opinion, is the Devil's Backbone. The backbone is a very narrow strip that has high, sheer drops off on both sides. The path itself is fairly straight and flat, but trail is only one to two people wide in most parts. Since I have a somewhat strong fear of heights (I typically go weak in the knees), I had a difficult time with this section of the hike. But for hikers that can't afraid of heights, this section of the trail is actually one of the easiest.
Mt. Baldy Summit
The section between the Devil's Backbone and the summit is easily the most difficult part of the hike. The trail is steep, covered with gravel and rocks, and fairly narrow. But believe me – it is all worth it.
Hiking Down from the Summit
After we finished the hike down, we decided to stop for a late lunch and a drink at the Top of the Notch restaurant that sits next to the ski lift.
Length of hike: 11.3 mile loop, or 6.5 mile in and out from the ski lift. Count on the hike taking 4 to 6 hours if you start at the ski lift, depending on your hiking ability. We're moderate hikers and it took us about 2.5 hours to get to the summit and a little less than that to get down.
Summit elevation: 10,064 ft.
Other: Roundtrip ski lift ticket is $20 USD for adults