Death Looms A Foot Away

Death Looms A Foot Away

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Location Lat/Lon: 15.45061°N / 163.83186°W
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Nov 1, 2016
Activities Activities: Hiking, Scrambling
Seasons Season: Fall


This trip was a mere foot or less from ending so differently from the terrific success that it did. It often is a reminder of how much one should cherish all of ther experiences and not take thing for granted. It is also a reminder that hiking and climbing has its inherit dangers even on the easiest of trails. Thankfully though, this was a great success and the near tragedy did not happen.

This trip formed largely because I was getting very depressed over having a very poor summer. As some of you may know, my health is really beginning to fail me in many ways. I have been dramatically slowed from having constantly swollen feet to sleeping issues and serious weight gain linked to a serious case of hypothyroidism. On top of this, this was another very stressful summer working and the result was yet another summer let down. I look to be going into the winter having to accomplish the least amount of hikes and climbs since 2007, the year I moved to Washington State. Also, we had a very rainy October when I was finally going to get out and enjoy danger and you can see how frustrated I became. Add on that I took off three in November only to find out that they were going to be rainy as well,  and I flew out to California.

So, on the last minute I decided to book myself a flight to Los Angeles with the goal of doing Mount San Antonio and whatever other peak I could find in the region. My friend, Josh Lewis,  was having a number of issues going on so I decided to bring him along as well. I figured I needed him due to the fact my health is not what it once was and I may need some help and encouragement along the way.

Heading to California

Golden Gate Bridge
Golden Gate Bridge

Josh and I met at the airport and took the flight to Ontario Airport. We decided to stay at a local hotel in the town of Mount Baldy in one of their cabins in order to get some altitude under our belt. The cabin was decent.  However, on the last night we had some issues but luckily the guy was willing to upgrade us so we were largely happy with the result. We brought a bunch of canned food from home and bought a lot of fresh fruit. Along with the occasional stops at "In and Out",  we were good to go the entire time we were in the mountains.

The First Hike: Sunset Peak

Sunset from Sunset Peak
Sunset from Sunset Peak

We decided to sleep late from the flight the day before. I was actually able to get a whole lot of sleep that night which helped me rest from the stresses of the summer months of not getting much rest. In fact, it took a lot just to get me from the bed. We did attempt a hike earlier in the day but with the warm Santa Ana winds we were only able to go so far without dealing with the sun beating down on us. Coming from Seattle which had the wettest October on record, we were not used to so much sun.

So we waited until later in the day and then attempted Sunset Ridge in order to see a great sunset. At 3 pm we started up the direct East Ridge route. This route is starting to overgrow in places but is still a very good and scenic route to the summit. On occasion, we had to deal with the agave plants and scrambles here and there. 

Hiking the Ridge System of Sunset Hill
The Ridge Route up Sunset

Once on the summit of Sunset Peak, we decided to wait it out on the mountain until the sun set over the horizon. One fellow hiker was from Colorado and the other was from nearby California. Talking to the both of them made the time fly on by as we realized that we got to the summit an hour and a half before sunset. Yes, I did talk about and I am glad to say that we now have one more great Summitpost contributor.

Looking Down the Valley
Looking down the valley
Flowers on the Summit
Flowers on the summit

Every thirty minutes, I took updated pictures of the surrounding San Gabriel mountains. It was great to see Mount San Antonio and Register Ridge with a nice sunset glow. After watching the stunning sunset,  we decided to attempt the same route we came up to head back. We soon realized with diminishing light, that this was a very bad idea. So, we merged onto the fire road and took the fire road all of the way back to the car. This road was long and very boring, but with headlamps it was easy to follow.

Mount San Antonio from Sunset Peak
Mount San Antonio during the sunset on from Sunset Peak
Colver from Sunset Peak
Colver Peak during the sunset on from Sunset Peak

It should be noted that the next day my foot swelled up again after the hike nullifying another hike the day after. So on that day we just relaxed and enjoyed a nice day at the resort while I soaked my leg in the cold pool to rest it up. That night we prepared ourselves for the entire reason why we came to California: Mount San Antonio.
Greg on Sunset Hill
EastKing in the sunset


The Main Event: San Antonio, West Baldy and Harwood

Ascending to Our Goal

Mount San Antonio from Sunset Peak
Mount San Antonio before the sunset on from Sunset Peak

We got up early that Friday morning and drove up to the trailhead. My foot was feeling better and we decided to do the famed Devil's Backbone Trail. This trail is well known for its narrow ridges and catwalks which especially held true just beyond the ski area. This trail up to the summit is very rewarding.  It has great views of most of the San Gabriels' as well as of the deserts to the north and the urban sprawl to the south.

Devils s Backbone
Devil's Backbone

I especially liked crossing over the narrow ridges that the Devil's Backbone trail climbed over. One spicy section was the catwalk on Devil's backbone.  It isn't just the fact that it is a catwalk but the footing is not that great on it either. We took it slow across this section and continued toward the summit of Mount San Antonio. It would be later that we realized how dangerous this section really was.

The trail then mellowed out once we got past the narrow ridges and catwalks. Soon,we could see Mount San Antonio coming into view. The altitude was having an affect on our speed but we were doing very well on our way to the summit. Once we got past the gap past Mount Harwood and San Antonio our pace slowed down dramatically. The thin air was having an impact on me largely because I have not been above 10000 feet in three years. But I fought through the thin air, and though the last 500 feet was slow we were on the summit and at first we had the summit to ourselves.

Mount San Antonio
Mount San Antonio from the trail

The Three Summits

EastKing on Mount San Antonio
EastKing on Mount San Antonio
Josh Lewis on Mount San Antonio
Josh Lewis on Mount San Antonio

After goofing off on the summit of Mount San Antonio for a couple minutes we were soon greeted by a large number of hikers. After saying hello to them we quickly headed off the main summit over to the summit of West Baldy. Though it is 80 feet shorter, it looked from our vantage point that West Baldy was going to be more scenic than the true Baldy summit.

West Baldy
West Baldy from Mount San Antonio

We headed on over to West Baldy to see the better views. It turned out that we were correct and the views from the summit of West Baldy were very stunning as well. This time there was no one but us on the but us on the summit and we checked out future summits such as Baden-Powell and others. I only pray that I can maintain enough health to hit these mountains in the future.

Josh Lewis on West Baldy
EastKing on West Baldy
Josh Lewis on West Baldy
Josh Lewis on West Baldy

After thirty minutes on West Baldy we then headed on over to Harwood. We had to go over San Antonio again. Luckily this time I was used to the altitude and travel was not nearly as slow as heading up the summit the first time. Once at San Antonio we sat up top for a full break where we made conversation with a number of very experienced climbers looking at going to Denali in the near future. They told us about a lot of great beta on different Mexican volcanoes which hope one day to hit in the future.

Mount San Antonio
The summit of Mount San Antonio
The summit of Mount San Antonio
The summit marker of Mount San Antonio

Mount Harwood
Mount Harwood

After our break we headed to Mount Harwood. Heading down to the gap was much easier than heading up and we were greeted with an excellent view of our next destination. Once in the gap we spotted a very small boot-path which rose to the top of the ridge. I was a little tired and slow here but the altitude was not affecting me as much as it was early in the trip. Once we were on the ridge we had some discussion on where the true summit was so we decided to stand on all the tall spots though we both thought that the eastern highpoint was the true summit. The views on Mount Harwood were very beautiful just like the summits of Mount San Antonio and West Baldy.

The true summit
The true summit of Mount Harwood
Looking east
Looking east from the true summit of Mount Harwood

Like with West Baldy, and San Antonio we stood on summit for a good while before descending the scree field back to Devil's Backbone Trail. It looked at this point we were on our way down with another three summits. No drama right.....

Josh descending down the scree
Josh heading down the scree field

When it all could have changed

Josh on Devils s Backbone
Josh on Devil's Backbone

Remember that I was talking about all of the catwalks and narrow ridges. In the back of my mind I kept sensing what was coming around the corner. Though I have been on hundreds of mountains in the past for some strange reason I was acting very sensitive heading back on this trip. As we got closer to the catwalk my nerves began to tighten. It was as if I had never been on a catwalk before.

Josh on Devils s Backbone
Josh on Devil's Backbone

The narrow ridges were as easy as they were on up. But then came that catwalk with the loose footing. I let Josh go on ahead because he has been through a whole lot of steeps and rock climbs this year. He started on this like it was nothing because it was nothing to him and it should have been nothing to me. He then stopped to take a picture of me but I told him not to am to be very careful.

Hiking over a steep part of the Trail
About where Josh fell. Trust me this side slope was far steeper then it looked in the picture.

Ten feet later, Josh's feet went out from the ground and I saw him up in mid air. It is strange but this split second felt like an eternity until he hit the ground. But where would hit the ground. Below him was very steep slope with a 30 foot or more cliff below that. With no trekking poles there would be nothing to stop if he started down the steep slope. My heart at this point skipped a beat. IS IT GOING TO END LIKE THIS????

Josh's body landed directly on the narrow loose trail. And though the section was angled for him to continue to the steep slope it was just flat enough that Josh was able to catch himself before he started the tumble to potentially his final 3 seconds of life. He quick got himself back on his feet, acted as nothing happened and let me know he was okay. Now it my turn with my trekking poles to make sure I did not fall myself. My nerves were on fire but slowly and carefully I made it through the loose catwalk.

Once off the hardest part of the Devil's Backbone Trail we decided to head down to ski area and back to the car. Luckily there was no more drama and once we got to the car both of us felt the relief and happiness to get three more summits.

The Rest of the Trip

Once down from the mountain we decided to regretful stay down in the sprawl for the last night. We headed to Scandia Amusement Park to take what was left of our adrenalin out of us. The tower drop was closed but the rollercoaster was both open and a lot of fun. It was worth the money and we were happy to end this great day on a great note.

Our final night was one the worst hotel experiences in my life due to a dirty room and a neighbor consistently partying and knocking on my door. The next day we were going to do another mountain but there was no parking for me to do that so we passed on the hike and headed to downtown LA to go up the highest building in downtown. There we rode down the open glass on the 70 floor. This slide was not all it was cracked up to be but at least we got to see downtown Los Angeles for the first time. After another stop at In and Out University we headed on our flight back to Washington after yet another successful trip.

It ended as a great trip which is just what I needed while I am fighting a number of health ailments right now. But it was also a reminder on how quickly things can change even on the most popular trails. It is also a reminder on how quickly things can change in life and what is most important in life. Life is like climbing a mountain, success is not achieving the summit but the successful journey of getting there and back. Hopefully for me this will mean that I am back.


Post a Comment
Viewing: 1-9 of 9

scramblingbadger - Nov 22, 2016 6:54 pm - Voted 10/10

Amazing Report

Thanks for sharing! Glad you guys made it back safe and sound. Despite all the difficulties of life, isn't it amazing the therapeutic effect spending some time in the mountains and forests can have on a person?


EastKing - Nov 25, 2016 12:04 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Amazing Report

Thanks!!! You are so right. Whenever life seems to push down, heading to the mountains always seems to lift me up. Hopefully this will change the momentum of what has been slowly deteriorating for the last 6 years.


stoaX - Nov 25, 2016 3:08 pm - Voted 9/10

Thanks - good reminder

Thanks for the trip report. It's a good reminder to keep your wits about you at all times when hiking and climbing. It is easy to let your attention wander and make a wrong turn or slip and fall.


Diesel - Nov 25, 2016 3:42 pm - Voted 10/10


The two pictures on West Baldy have the links reversed.

Bryan K

Bryan K - Nov 28, 2016 10:21 pm - Hasn't voted

Great trip

Thanks for sharing this trip. Years ago Gimpilator and I were up there with horrible conditions in mid February.
Glad that Josh's fall didn't amount to anything more.


EastKing - Nov 29, 2016 12:29 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Great trip

Thanks Bryan. Sometimes the easier peaks have surprises. I remember seeing your pics from that trip. You both went in intense conditions.


EastKing - Nov 28, 2016 10:58 pm - Hasn't voted

Thanks Josh!!

You put some awesome new pictures up on this trip report.


DM88T - Apr 19, 2017 3:50 pm - Hasn't voted

Devil's Backbone, etc.


EastKing - Apr 25, 2017 1:36 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Devil's Backbone, etc.

Two died right where Josh nearly lost his life. Thanks for the article update.

Viewing: 1-9 of 9