I was just getting over my nasty Euro cold (caught on a business trip to Switzerland that didn’t involve any outdoor fun or mountains ) that had laid me up for about 3 weeks and currently suffering from Robitussin withdrawals. I figured the next best expectorant would be a good long hard day hike that I had never done before. So Tony said he had just the ticket for what ailed me; Iron-Baldy. He said that if hiking Iron-Baldy didn’t kill me it would make me stronger; sounded good to me.
Tony suggested the West-to-East Iron-Baldy which involves starting at Heaton Flat trailhead (East Fork of the San Gabriel river) and hiking up Iron Mt, then heading East across some class 2/3 sections on San Antonio ridgeline, up West Baldy over to Baldy and finally down to Manker Flats. It can also be done in the opposition direction. Going from Iron-to-Baldy, all the class 3 sections on the San Antonio ridge are downclimbs while going from Baldy-to-Iron all the class 3 sections are up-climbs, chose your poison! Since the San Antonio ridgeline is long, dry, rarely visited, convoluted with some class 3 scrambling, has no good escape routes, and is attempted once you’re already tried from hiking up Iron Mt (or coming over from Mt Baldy), it has all the trappings to make for many epic trips.
Tony and I met Peter & Mike at the Heaton Flat trailhead. Peter already had one epic encounter with the ridgeline and was eager to have Tony lead the way to success. We started at 5am with cool temps and strong Santa Ana winds blowing straight from the desert and over Blue Ridge right at us. We used the headlamps until ~6:15 and as the sunrise started to illuminate the San Gabriel we were treated to spectacular views in all directions on this very clear day. We hiked up the Heaton Flat trail to the poorly marked junction to Widman Ranch (at 3.5 miles) and then headed up the south ridgeline on a fairly good use-trail to Iron Mt. Although the trailhead elevation is ~2K and Iron Mt is 8007 (for ~6K gain), there is a lot of additional elevation gain due to all the “bumps” along the way. Along the bumps we got buffeted by very strong winds (~50 mph at times), saw 1 squirrel (the only critter we saw all day) and what we thought might be bear & mountain lion scat. An Iron Mt summit register entry from Oct 8 indicated that he saw 2 cougars along the trail. Tony got a photo of the bear footprint right on the trail. Do mountain lions bury their poop like house cats?
After getting to Iron Mt at 9:30 (4.5 hrs) and a quick snack on the chilly summit, it was time to head off X-country along the San Antonio ridgeline. It’s best to stay on the spine of the ridgeline for most of the way and particularly at the crux class 3 sections. The crux is getting down from Iron Mt to the Gun-Sight Notch which involves several sections of class 2 and 3. The notch is the lowest point along the ridgeline, probably ~7000’.
Along the ridgeline it’s evident that someone sometime ago has chain-sawed many bushes & trees. It’s hard to imagine why someone would carry a chain-saw along the San Antonio ridgeline. The rocky ridge is already a nature fire break and they didn’t cut enough to enhance the fire break. Anyone know who, when, why ?
Once past the Gun-Sight notch, there is no more technical scrambling, just lots of up & downs, a stout climb up the north-east face of West Baldy, and oh yeah Buckthorn bushes, acres of Buckthorn bushes! Most of the Buckthorn bushes are on the ridgeline closest to the base of West Baldy.
The stout hike up the north-west face of West Baldy involves about 2000’ of elevation gain with lots of route finding to pick the easiest line thru the scree & talus, scrub pines, manzanita, various animal trails, and to avoid all the bear scat on the lower slopes.
We final got to the windy and chilly summit of West Baldy ~3:15 just in time to see the only other person we saw all day start hiking off the top of Baldy towards the Sierra Hut. It had taken us about 5 hrs to get from Iron Mt to West Baldy, whew! An easy hike over to Baldy (3:45) and then just as we started to freeze we headed down to the Sierra Club Hut as fast as possible. Got to the hut at 4:25 and then down to the fire road at 5:15 just in time to avoid needing to put the headlamps back on. Hiked down the fire road in the dark and got to Manker Flats and the car at 5:30. Total of 12.5 hrs total, ~18 miles and ~10K gain, Woo Hoo! The last item of the day was to shuttle back to Heaton Flats TH to pickup the other cars & then head home.
Iron-Baldy is the probably the hardest hike/scramble that I’ve done in the SoCal. I think it’s harder than C2C because of the intensity of the climbs (calf & thigh burners). So for anyone looking to burn out the last remnants of Robitussin from their system, I highly recommend Iron-Baldy