The word "classic" should not be thrown around lightly, whether in art or mountaineering, but in my view a traverse of the San Antonio Ridge in Southern California's San Gabriel Mountains qualifies as a classic day hike. And make no mistake -- it is definitely a "tiger hike."
One fine June morning, our group of 8 gathered at the Manker Flat trailhead. Our plan was to traverse the San Antonio Ridge from east to west starting from Mt. Baldy (10,064 ft. elev.) and ending up on Iron Mountain No. 1 (aka "Big Iron")(8,007 ft. elev.). We would then descend Iron's south ridge and end our journey at the Heaton Flats trailhead near the East Fork of the San Gabriel River. The distance between Baldy and Iron along the ridge is somewhere between 3 and 4 miles as the crow flies. However, the entire route from trailhead to trailhead is about 16 miles. Plus, we could look forward to a 6,000 foot gain coupled with a 10,000 foot loss. You don't find many routes with those gain/loss figures around these parts!
Our group got out of the blocks at Manker Flat a little after 5 a.m. fairly bristling with enthusiasm and adrenaline. By the end of the journey both items would be in much shorter supply. We pounced onto the Ski Hut Trail and summitted Mt. Baldy in what seemed like almost no time. Unfortunately, one of our party had gashed the top of his head on a tree branch on the way up. He bled profusely and his blood matted hair gave the appearance of a red mop. We cleaned and covered his wound and spent time deciding whether he should continue or not. He opted to turn back and managed to find a good Sammaritan at the summit who agreed to return with him. This little mishap delayed us well over an hour, but we finally got going again.
After the brief jaunt over to the summit of West Baldy, we began the ridge traverse. Descending from West Baldy we encountered patches of hard snow. Overall, the route involves lots of up and down and lots of scree and passages of sharp Buckthorn to navigate through. THE CAMERA IS ONE OF YOUR 10 ESSENTIALS ON THIS TRIP. There were stunning vistas all along the ridge and we spotted the remnants of at least one plane wreck. For those of you who enjoy 3d Class rock, there is an extensive section of it on the east ridge leading to the top of Iron. The exposure here will make you take note and I made a mental note to myself that much of the rock was pretty loose.
The End at Dusk
While climbing the 3d Class section, two full water bottles worked their way out of my pack's outside pouches and tumbled into a deep gully. Another note to myself: don't carry bottles in those outside pouches on a route like this. The loss of two liters of water caused me to get uncomfortably dehydrated during the last 3 hours of the hike. This was a trip where no one had much water to spare, but I did manage to score a few sips from one generous soul.
The last mile of the approach to Iron seemed never-ending: one false summit after another. We summitted Iron at 1:30 p.m. An hour later, we began our descent down Iron's extremely steep south ridge. From the top of Iron to our finish line was 7.3 miles. Again, on this ridge descent expect lots of loose dirt and rocks along narrow passages bounded by yucca and Buckthorn. The worst is over when you get down to Allison Saddle, 4.3 miles from the trailhead. It's easier going from here and our miserable carcasses were lucky enough to confront a cooling fog bank at 3500 feet. We arrived at the trailhead at 6:30 p.m. with an hour car shuttle still in front of us back to Manker Flat. The hour afforded time to reflect on an exhilarating and exhausting day. Incidentally, the accompanying photo was taken on a separate hike to Iron, but it shows the view from near Iron toward Baldy.