Mount San Antonio • Highpoint: Los Angeles County
• Range Highpoint: Sierra Madre


The summit as seen from
Telegraph Peak. Note the
buildings at Baldy Notch.


Me crouching beside the marker


View of the peak as seen
from Baden-Powell summit,
May 2007

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Date: July 22, 2000 • Elevation: 10,064 feet • Prominence: 6,224 feet • Distance: 11 miles • Time: 6.5 hours • Gain: 3,900 feet • Conditions: Warm to hot

Mount San Antonio is the highest peak of the Sierra Madre, the wall of mountains that tower over the San Gabriel Valley and the suburbs of Los Angeles. The summit lies on the Los Angeles and San Bernardino county line, and is the highest point in Los Angeles County. The peak is more commonly known as Mount Baldy.

I grew up in the 'burbs of Los Angeles, first Azusa then La Verne. On a clear day, especially during the Santa Ana winds, the mountain was magnificent to behold. It is gigantic, rising almost 9,000 vertical feet above the valleys below. If it had snowed recently, it only added to the grandeur. However, most days weren't this clear. Usually, the smog and haze layers would completely blot out the mountains. All you would see was this ugly light tan backdrop, not even a faint silhouette of the peaks.

I never hiked in the hills below the peak, much less the peak itself, while growing up there. My cub scout troop would go on lame nature trail walks sometimes. Once, my AYSO soccer team coaches decided to skip practice. We were at San Dimas Canyon Park, which is astride the foothills, so we all went running off on an ad-hoc hike. The coaches were about age 20 themselves (we kids being about 11 or 12). They probably didn't know what they were doing, but they had a lot of fun. We didn't get much more than one short hill beyond the park boundary. Even as I got older, I didn't hike. There was just too much quality television to watch. Ironically, I would not start hiking these big SoCal peaks until eight years after having moved away.

For this hot July weekend, I planned to drive to Southern California to visit my brother's family and hike this peak and hopefully nearby Santiago Peak. I left Phoenix during the hottest part of the day, and it stayed ungodly hot the whole way in. Then things got exciting in Palm Springs.

Driving on Interstate-10, I saw a lot of red lights up ahead, cars braking all of a sudden. I slowed, then saw why they were braking: some idiot was standing in the effing freeway! I didn't see this guy until the last moment. I was expecting to see a car wreck to the side, not this. I was going to hit him! I couldn't just swerve like a maniac, given the traffic. Everyone else was braking, some were actually swerving. I braced for the impact. A big truck was on my right. But the guy somehow got out of the way. How he did it, I have no idea. It all happened in a split second, and I fully and totally expected to have his guts all over my hood and windshield.

I was unbelievably grateful that I had not hit this joker. I was grateful I had not swerved into, or been swerved into by, another motorist. I myself could have been in the wreck. I was grateful and furious at the same time. I called 911 to get the CHP on this guy. My adrenaline was through the roof. I don't think I've ever screamed so many F-words in a row so loudly all at once. I still to this day have no idea how I didn't hit him. I arrived to my brother's place at 10 p.m., where I goo-gooed with my two-month old niece, Emma.

The next morning I got a late start, not arriving to the Mount Baldy Ski Area until about 9 a.m., and delayed when I discovered I needed an Adventure Pass, which I had to double back into town to get. This is a popular hike and the approach road was already full of cars so I was forced to park lower. The trailhead is at 6,100 feet elevation, meaning a gain of nearly 4,000 vertical feet to the summit. And it was already getting warm, so I could tell I was in for a big day.

The first leg of the hike follows a service road to the top of the Mount Baldy Ski Area. This road meanders in and out of the folds of the mountains, roughly paralleling the ski runs and the ski-lift, which was not running today. Sometimes they run the ski-lift in summer so people can be "ski-lifted" to the top, where they can roam the highlands for the day. But not today. The walk to the upper ski area took a couple hours and was very tedious and unexciting. I was at 8,000 feet elevation, roughly half way up. I took a break up here amid the buildings.

From the buildings, I went west along access roads and smaller ski lifts until I had left the ski area altogether, now hiking up and over the Devil's Backbone, a stretch of trail along the high ridge with impressive drop-offs and sometimes "skinny" traverses across sections. The trail was sketchy in places and barely etched into the scree hillsides. Unfortunately, there was not much forest cover and it was quite warm. Along the way the trail bypasses Mount Harwood, the main sub-peak of Baldy to its east.

The going here is a combination of level sections, ups and downs, some steep and some lenient. I made good time, eventually worming my way around Mount Harwood and rounding a bend where I had my first high-up views of Mount Baldy. The final portion is a grunt: a steep 800-foot hike up open slopes and trail to the bare summit. I arrived here at 12:20 in the afternoon, noting the large plaque marking the summit. About 20 others were here as well, and I took a pleasurable break off on a side slope to rest, drink and have a bite. The views were stunning, except down into the San Gabriel Valley, where the usual smog and hazy air obscured just about everything down there. After not ever hiking the peak during my growing-up years in SoCal, it felt great to be able to claim this one for myself.

The hike down went well, and I was back to the ski area in about an hour. The heat of the day, even at this high elevation, was really affecting me. Temperatures down below were in the 100s, so I figured mid-80s up here, warm enough to make a big slow guy like me lag moreso than usual. At the ski buildings, a worker showed us where I could refill my water bottles from a spigot behind one building. This helped a lot, as I was running low. Other people up there also filled their bottles. Evidently I was not the only one suffering.

From the buildings, I hiked down the service road to where it came underneath the ski-lift again. Here, I had a decision to make: I could "stay legal" and walk the service road back to my truck, or I could take my chances and walk the sketchy path directly below the ski-lift. The ski-lift option would mean less mileage, like about two miles less. I decided to go "outlaw". No one would bother me along the actual path. The only place I could get into trouble is down below, if there happened to be a worker there and if he happened to give a damn. Plus, I'm pretty good at playing dumb if need be. It comes naturally to me.

The hike down below the ski-lift went quickly. It's mostly a jumble of rocks, with a scant trail running the whole way. I made good time, but as I descended the heat really picked up, probably in the 90s at the base. No one was there to arrest me, so I walked back to my truck, arriving at 3:30 p.m., a 6.5-hour day. The ski-lift hike had worked well, and had cut off a couple miles and probably an hour of hiking. As it was, I was really lagging back at my truck, very dehydrated and feeling crappy from the heat. I found a little diner in town to have a few drinks and a meal to recuperate. That helped, and from there I returned into the smoggy basin, to my brother's place in Cucamonga.

That night I went along as a "ride-along", a guest of my brother, a policeman for La Verne. I sat shotgun and rode with him as he made his rounds in town, pulling people over, answering calls, things like that. He even made a felony arrest of a guy who was wanted all over the place. He was pulled over because his vehicle's registration tag had expired. Hell, I wouldn't have noticed. That's why I'm not a cop. It was fascinating.

The next day I had an amusing morning "truck-hiking" to the summit of Santiago Peak.

(c) 2000, 2016 Scott Surgent. For entertainment purposes only. This report is not meant to replace maps, compass, gps and other common sense hiking/navigation items. Neither I nor the webhost can be held responsible for unfortunate situations that may arise based on these trip reports. Conditions (physical and legal) change over time! Some of these hikes are major mountaineering or backpacking endeavors that require skill, proper gear, proper fitness and general experience.