Posted by: David and Deirdre Hayward | November 10, 2009

Mt. Baden Powell – San Gabriel Mountains

October 15th 2009TOPO!map

Distance 8.1 miles    elevation gain 2,825 ft

Other than Mt. Baldy, this is reported to be the most popular peak in the San Gabriel Mountains and should give our visitors (Dee’s sister Vanessa and her husband Keith) a real sense of the range and some great views. This is a hike that was originally scheduled for yesterday – but it rained, much to the disgust of our U.K. guests. Today we expect fair skies and the rain should have cleared the air. I had intended to approach the trailhead from the west along the Angeles Crest Highway, but it is closed due to the recent fires and we will need to go around the back of the range and then east on the Angeles Crest. I check the Caltrans website early in the morning and confirm that the 2 is indeed closed from La Canada to the Islip Saddle because of the Station Fire. Of more concern, it also reports it to be closed from Islip Saddle to 6 miles west of Big Pines by rock and mud slides. Our trailhead is 4.5 miles west of Big Pines. I check to make sure there is an alternative hike in the Wrightwood area (the Pacific Crest Trail) and decide to go for it, keeping the road update to myself.

Off we go in the morning mist on our two-hour, 125 mile drive! The traffic is reasonable and we make good time. The sun comes through and it looks like perfect weather. To us the scenery is boring, but it gives our visitors an idea of the desert terrain and the less developed side of the San Gabriels, a distinct contrast to the urban jungle on the south side.

We leave the desert floor and climb up into the mountains. Just beyond Wrightwood is a sign announcing a road closure ahead! We reach the trail  parking area at Vincent gap and right there, not ten yards beyond, the road is closed. We have just made it. I am somewhat relieved – I would have felt a real idiot if we couldn’t get in after two hours in the car!

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Just made it!

Vanessa has neglected to bring hiking boots with her from England and is wearing a pair of Dee’s. These are leather and Dee has hardly worn them herself i.e. they are not broken in. Largely at my insistence she has brought a pair of trainers as back up – Keith and I each have one shoe in our packs! Off we go.

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Off we go.

Our journey back from England, the pressure of our daughter’s wedding, much time spent in the car, late nights and vast amounts of alcohol are finally catching up with us. Dee gasps in the thin air and I have her lead so she can control the pace. After the first few switchbacks she sets a nice steady pace and seems to have plenty of breath available to chat with her sister! The multitude of photo-ops also ensures that we have ample time to get our breath back. I read somewhere that there are 41 switchbacks and Keith and I debate whether a zig and a zag is required to make up one switchback or, as we hope, that counts as two.

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A short break.

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Half Way.

The gradient is not steep but relentless with almost no respite. It is quite warm – and what did I insist we bring – hot coffee. That’s going to be as appropriate as the waterproofs I am hauling in my pack. Having said that, the coffee I have at approximately the half way point does give me a caffeine shot and I feel temporarily rejuvenated. As we progress up through the wooded mountainside past the turn to Lamel Spring (the only water source) I glance at Vanessa’s feet but decide not to tempt fate by asking if the boots are comfortable. It occurs to me that the girls, with their shorter stride, will need significantly more steps to reach our destination. This may be offset by heavier body weight (and the extra shoe) Keith and I are carrying. E Mt. Baden- Powell (9)The trees change as we gain height and through gaps we can see the surrounding peaks and rock walls and behind us the huge expanse of this end of the Mojave Desert. At about 9,000 feet, just as my usual altitude headache starts to penetrate my skull, we reach the first of the gnarled limber pines. These are reported to be up to 2,000 years old – almost as old as we’ll feel by the time we reach the top.

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The Ridge.

Then as with so many hikes in these mountains, we break out in the open on a ridge and the views immediately may the whole thing worthwhile. We can see Mt. Baldy in the near distance. At the end of the ridge we come to the Wally Waldron limber pine – a magnificent exposed specimen named after a boy scout leader.

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Mt. Baldy

Here the Pacific Crest Trail branches off to Little Jimmy Spring but we make the final ascent to the 9,399 ft summit.

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The Desert Floor Below.

There is a monument to Baden Powell, but it is the scenery that gains our attention – as well as the Mojave and Baldy we can see the southern end of the Sierras, Mt. San Gorgonio and San Jacinto. Nearer at hand is the Hawkins Ridge and peeping through the mist are Catalina Island and the Palos Verdes Peninsular. Cameras overheat with activity but eventually we settle down just off the peak for lunch. Several pairs of Clark’s Nutcrackers flit around the sparse trees and we linger for quite a while. First I and then Keith stroll around to take in more views.

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Catalina Behind Us.

A couple of men arrive at the peak and we exchange pleasantries. As we leave we enlist their help for a group picture. It appears that one of them was on San Gorgonio a few weeks earlier at approximately the same time as me, they have been to the Brecon Beacons in Wales and were recently in the Mt. Shasta area – coincidences abound!

We descend exhilarated and rewarded. The way down is relatively uneventful but enjoyable. As we lose altitude the talk turns to dinner. I do wish people wouldn’t talk about food and drink when there is none available for miles. I will have a mirage of a cool beer before me, but  just out of reach, for the rest of the hike! We reach the car and we are all glad to take off our boots. Maybe I’ll get that beer soon!



  1. Nice pictures! Did Baden-Powell last May, great hike.

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