Devil's Backbone and Baldy Bowl
- 4000 ft.
Max Elevation Reached
- 10,064 ft.
Earth KML - Link
Download GPX - Link
Mt. San Antonio, or Mt. Baldy, as it is
commonly referred to,
is the highest peak
in the San Gabriel Mountains of Southern California. Located in Los
Angeles County, this mountain is one of the most popular hikes that
ardent local hikers frequent. I even know of some hikers who have made
it an annual family ritual to climb Mt. Baldy.
There are multiple trails that lead up to
the Mt. Baldy
1. From Manker Flats via Baldy Notch and
2. From Manker Flats via Baldy Bowl and Ski
3. From Mt. Baldy Village via the Bear Flat
Option 1 can be simplified by taking the Ski
lift up to the
Baldy Notch and completing the rest on foot. Since they start at the
same trailhead, options 1 and 2 lend themselves to forming a convenient
loop trail that can be hiked in any order. Option 1 to ascend, option 2
to descend, and vice versa. This page describes the loop hike which
involves ascending via Baldy Notch and the Devil's Backbone and
descending via the Ski Hut and Baldy Bowl.
Let me start off by saying that this hike is
one of the most
beautiful hikes in Southern California. It is, in my opinion, unrivaled
in terms of scenic beauty by any hike within San Diego Co. At the lower
elevations you walk through pine forests that grow progressively
thinner as altitude is gained. They eventually disappear above the tree
line leaving only granite rocks in the immediate foreground and
spectacular vistas in the background that stretch all the way to
infinity in every direction.
This trail starts at the east end of Manker
Flats parking lot
on a paved road which has a steady and comfortable uphill grade. At about 0.5
miles from the start lies a sharp hairpin bend which provides
a convenient viewpoint for the rather small yet pretty San Antonio
Falls. There is even a short
trail that veers off to the left from
bend and leads to the base of the falls. The additional mileage, though
insignificant, is accounted for in the description of this trip and is
shown approximately between the 9.5 mile and 10 mile marks in the
elevation profile below. At the sharp hairpin bend, the paved
surface ends and the road continues, unpaved,
all the way to the Baldy
Notch at about 3.5 miles from the trailhead. On this unpaved road, at a
about a quarter mile uphill, a trail
climbs steeply to the left. This is the Ski Hut trail which also leads
to the summit, but will form the return trip on this particular hike.
The ski lift
mentioned above ends at the Baldy Notch.
A small restaurant
here and has restroom facilities. On the last stretch before the
Notch one can get a clear glimpse
of the Mt. Baldy summit.
The real fun, if you will, begins beyond the
Baldy Notch. A
steep uphill trail to the left follows a second ski lift and climbs to the Devils Backbone.
is evident in the sudden change of grade
in the elevation profile at approximately the 3.5 mile mark. The trail
in the initial parts of this stretch is made of loose granite rocks and
dirt and requires careful footing. As the trail climbs towards the
backbone, which is essentially a ridge top leading to Mt. Harwood and
eventually to Mt. Baldy, it narrows and gradually flattens. Beautiful
vistas to both the west and east open up.
Once on the narrow ridge top, the reason
behind the rather
macabre name becomes clear. While the trail itself is not terribly
narrow and has no sheer vertical drops, there are spots where a lost
footing could result in a fairly steep slide down slippery slopes
either side. In some places, a slide could quite easily go
unchecked for a hundreds
of feet and could cause serious injury if
certain death. But trust me, the vistas are worth the small risk.
Beyond the Devil's Backbone the trail hugs
the southern face
of the very colorful Mt. Harwood - the faux summit that was thus far
concealing the real goal. Here, the trail flattens out briefly before
becoming very steep once again as you make the final bid for the
summit. This stretch is well above the tree line and therefore is truly
"bald". The trail is rather faint, very slippery and extremely steep.
The seemingly never-ending ascent is slow owing to the
loose footing and the altitude. Remember, the trail is nearing
10,000 ft. mark here.
Once at the summit, you truly get the
feeling. No peak seems higher. At a distance, towards the south east,
lie the prominent peaks of Mt. San Jacinto and Mt. San Gorgonio. Much
closer, and to the south are the Cucamonga and Ontario peaks. The
summit is a marker
that is theft-proof due to its sheer size.
declares the elevation as 10,064 ft.
The descent on this hike is mostly within a
feature of the south facing slope of the mountain called the Baldy Bowl.
The Ski Hut trail starts downhill due
south of the summit. It initially sits atop the western rim of the bowl
and descends very steeply. You immediately begin appreciating how much
harder it would have been to come up this way. You are filled with
respect and awe for those few hikes who are now on their final bid for
the summit. The pine trees start to reappear. Look to the left, towards
the north-east, and spot other hikers on the upper parts of the Devil's
Backbone and on the slopes of Mt. Harwood.
The trail turns to the east descending
straight into the
bowl, again very steeply. It flattens out as you reach the base of the
bowl. At this point the only vistas you see are towards the
The walls of
the Bowl block of much else. As you near the Ski Hut,
you cross a
couple of small trickle sized streams which eventually lead up to the
San Antonio Falls downstream. Beyond the Ski Hut the trail
on to the eastern wall of the bowl through a progressively thicker
forest which now starts showing desert vegetation in addition to the
At about 3 miles from the summit the Ski Hut
trail joins the
unpaved road that took you to the Baldy Notch at the start of the hike.
From this junction, retrace your steps back to the Manker Flats parking
lot crossing the San Antonio Falls to your right.
Started from San Diego - 4:45 am
Started from Trailhead - 8:00 am
Reached the summit - 1:00 pm
Started back - 1:45 pm
Reached Trailhead - 5:00 pm
Started Driving back - 5:30 pm
Reached San Diego - 730 pm
Photos - Link
Panorama - Link
Sesh. K and I started driving from San Diego
at 4:45 ... 15
mins later than we had intended to. There was no traffic at this
ungodly hour. We missed out exit on to I210 and had to do a bit of
navigation to get to the bagel place for breakfast. The bagles
were dry, felt stale and tasted funny. Some place on Fruit St. in La
Verne. Not recommended.
The weather was gloomy throughout our drive
from San Diego to
Angeles National Forest. However, at the trailhead, we were already
above the clouds and in bright sunlight! There wasn't one cloud above
us. The same June Gloom looked much prettier
from up above, like an endless ocean of
dense cotton candy.
Our uphill trip was slow with several small
pictures and stretching. We also took a slightly longer break at the
Baldy Notch. At the summit, we at lunch, took several pictures and just
lay about people watching.
The descent was quite quick without any
At 4 pm we still saw people attempting to go uphill ... ostensibly all
the up to the summit ... they were asking us about the wind conditions
Once back on the unpaved road, we proceeded
to the falls and
took the short trail to its base. Got some good pictures