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Sunday, January 29, 2017

Mount Baldy Snow Hike

Named by a local rancher for Saint Anthony of Padua, Mount San Antonio may be the official name of the peak but in SoCal everyone just says "Mount Baldy". There are actually two peaks with the main one at 10,064 feet (3,068 m) and West Baldy, at 9,988 feet (3,044m) and they are in the front country range of the San Gabriel Mountains. Mount Baldy is great as a hiking destination but I really like it when a big snowstorm that transforms the dusty trails into miles of winter challenges.

On the drive to the trail head I saw this sign which ties in to an incident three days before my hike.

Rescuers were called to the Mt. Baldy Bowl area about 12:15 PM for a reported avalanche that injured three men. That is a time of day when the sun has warmed the upper areas of the Baldy Bowl and primed the steep slopes for an avalanche of any heavy loads of snow. 

Cody Ayala was hospitalized with broken ribs and Chris Chung was reported to have a broken arm. Louis Wojciechowski was released after getting stitches for a cut leg. Wojciechowski commented that the speeding wave of snow swept the three men in different directions and he was briefly buried. Authorities say the men slid about 1,000 feet down the face of the bowl where they were ascending.  Ayala and Chung were hoisted to safety by a San Bernardino County sheriff’s helicopter.

This incident factored into my plans to hike no further than the area of the Baldy Bowl and not attempt to ascend to the summit. Because of the massive crowds that want to play in the snow at lower elevations I had to get to the Manker Flat area well before 7 AM to secure a good parking spot. 

Starting from Manker Flat the route followed a snow covered road about six tenths of a mile towards San Antonio Falls. A natural spring near the ski hut is the source and plenty of water was cascading down the falls today.

The upper waterfall.

Abut a third of a mile past the falls a hard left from the road puts you on a trail that ascends to the 8,300 foot elevation level where a picturesque ski hut is located. From there I planned to hike part way into the Baldy Bowl area and then head back down the trail to my truck. As seen on the map you can make a loop but the area called the Devil's Backbone can be treacherous in winter.

The day started out cold and windy and for this hike I brought crampons instead of snowshoes because I fully expected icy conditions. Here is a picture of my Grivel 12 point crampons. They are my "go to" set for all of the mountains I have climbed.

Many of the routes heading to the ski hut were not even one foot wide and crossed the steep blankets of snow on the slopes.

Cross country skiers carry their skis up to high points and enjoy liesurely descents across the fields of snow

Although the area was not crowded there were a fair number of groups and individuals sharing the crisp snow and the expansive views that stretched all the way to Catalina Island.

Heading up the final steep slope to the ski hut.

The 1936 ski hut is located at 8,300 feet of elevation and has its own web site:


After a quick snack break at the hut I headed over to the bowl to take in the views and also ID the area where Thursday's avalanche occurred.

The next set of pictures is a left to right set of snapshots of the bowl area. The third photo has a red arrow on the right pointing out where the avalanche occurred. Four climbers can be seen ascending the route around 10 AM. 

Here is a blurry shot the the four climbers in the avalanche zone.

The wind has sculpted snow over the large boulders in the bowl, transforming their stark exteriors with a whole new appearance.

Thanks for trekking up the slopes of Mount Baldy with me! If you like the pictures and narrative please share my blog with your friends. I hope that you are inspired to head out and create your own adventures.

Monday, January 9, 2017

A Hike In The Woods

It was high time to head to the woods, try out some new gear in the cool weather and test a portable HF transceiver. The local national forests still offer many places to escape to, especially in cold weather that causes others to stay home. I like the forests even more when there is snow afoot.

The roads were deserted so no issues with parking where I wanted to go.

There are lots of deep canyons with dense forests.

Let's hit the trail!

Sometimes I would cut cross-country based on what I saw on my map or GPS.

Lots of steep terrain with untouched snow

Old forestry roads made for quick traverses of some areas

I found a small clearing with some fallen trees and limbs that would allow me to try out some edged tools and then set up the radio.


This is a Bahco Laplander folding saw and can be purchased for a little over $20.  It weighs less than 7 ounces, measures 9" when closed and 16" when open. The 7" blade is coated to minimize rusting and has 7 teeth per inch. The handle has a safety lock for engaging the blade in a closed or open position.

Let's try it out on this handy log.

It was surprisingly easy to use and provided a clean cut without the dangers of wielding an axe.

I found that a military pouch designed for pop flares made a perfect carrying case for the saw and can be found for $3 to $6

The temperature had come up about 10 degrees at my test location making it much more comfortable. Not quite at 8,000 feet of elevation but close enough!

This next tool is a bit different from the Kbar knives or folding knife that I have carried before. The ESEE-6 is more of a bushcraft tool and not designed as a combat knife. This 11.75" ESEE has been the subject of many reviews on the internet and has both detractors and fanboys. It has a full tang, 1095 high carbon steel blade measuring 6.5" long and 3/16" thick with a black powder coated surface. The handles or "scales" are made of a grey linen Micarta and are quite robust. Never pay full price for one as they frequently go on sale when retailers try to slash inventory.

It is not designed to be wielded as a "chopper" as that is the role of a good axe or a specialty blade. But if you don't have an axe handy you'll have to know how to work with what you have whether chopping or batoning wood. If you need to process wood for a survival fire you cannot be picky about the exact method so it pays to practice various techniques and have a good idea of how to get the job done.

I did not need to chop all the way through but the stout blade easily took chunks out of the log.

It would be much slower than using the Laplander saw but if you had only the knife you could chop your way through this log. I like this knife a lot and have carried it quite a bit. I plan to keep subjecting it to more testing and seek better familiarization with its capabilities.

Now on to the radio test. HF radios allow you to communicate vast distances without the assistance of any sort of infrastructure between you and the other radio operator. Operating one does require some technical skills but modern radios have made that so much easier. The radio I packed along for this hike is the KX3 from Elecraft. It features internal batteries, antenna tuner and a host of smart features that enable it to achieve high regard for it's performance.

It measures 7.5" x 3.5"x 3" and weighs about 1.5 pounds. All that is needed is the appropriate antenna for the frequencies that you wish to talk on. In the past an equivalent portable radio would have weighed twice as much, had less than half the transmit power and not had the same receiver performance.

I used a very lightweight longwire antenna fed at one end by a small matching transformer. It was very easy to set up and allowed me to easily talk to another person in New Mexico. That was a distance of 775 miles on just 10 watts of transmit power from a radio I can easily carry in my pack.

Each end of the antenna was anchored with lengths of lightweight paracord and the radio has an internal tuner that can automatically optimize the transfer of the transmitted signal to the antenna.

 As the shadows lengthened and the temperature dropped again it was time to pack up the gear and head out.

I hope that you enjoyed our hike together and thank you for visiting my blog. If you like what you see please share it with your friends who also enjoy the outdoors.