San Antonio Ridge traverse
"but mike, do we HAVE to do this??!" the cleanest city on earth, L.A., in the background thats iron behind that cloud michael climbing down lee relieved we made it around the notch michael must like the rain and cold? trying to look brave here, but miserable nonetheless
After nearly a year of thinking about this and talking it up to friends and hiking buddies i've finally got it up to put caution to the wind, and face my primordial fears and just go for a "little walk" from Heaton flat to Manker Flat. I found out that Lee and Michael were gonna be attempting this (their first times also), and asked if i could tag along. The three of us had just done Cactus2Clouds (amoung other hikes) a few weekends prior, so fitness wise we were just where we needed to be to tackle a monster of this magnitude.
We left two of the cars at Manker Flats, and made the mistake of driving down Glendora Ridge Road to the trailhead at Heaton Flat. BIG MISTAKE. We got there alright, but could have saved maybe a half hour by taking the freeway and San Gabriel Cyn. Road, which would have spared us these quesy stomachs we now had. But regardless, we started our little road march at 4:15ish with some surprisingly warm weather for November 1st (ironic considering what was to come). We decided to just take our time up to Iron, and it took us about 5 hours to summit. Along the way we were rewarded with some spectacular views of the lights of the Inland Empire, and even saw a few shooting stars. The only significant critter we saw all day was an owl, who was stubbornly blocking the trail for a minute or two.
As daylight started to break we noticed an ominous looking cloud hovering over and enveloping Iron, dropping down to maybe 7500 feet, just obscuring the peak. As we got closer to summiting Iron that darn cloud was stubbornly staying put. We knew the weather report called for an early season storm to blow in late tonight, so we figured we'd avoid any inclement weather during the bulk of our day. Boy were we wrong! We took a short brunch/break about 20 feet below the top of Iron, and i was starting to get a little nervous about the lack of visibility and strong winds. After about five minutes into the traverse portion i mentioned to Lee and Michael that maybe we should turn around and forget about the traverse for today, and come back again in a few weeks. Owing to our unfamiliarity with the terrain and 50-100 foot visibility, i thought it prudent to backtrack, despite how badly i wanted this. But lo and behold, Michael in his infinite wisdom recomends we continue on, and just "explore" the ridge ahead of us just up to the point where i had to turn around on a previous Iron Mtn. hike. By the time we hit that point (about 7440 feet) the clouds cleared a bit and the winds eased just enough for us to press on and delicately make our way along this dragons back called the San Antonio Ridge.
Soon we came to realize that the surfaces of all the rocks that we had to downclimb were coated with mist, and just a tad slick. We had to be doubly diligent when downclimbing. Overall though our impression, up to this point, was that the San Antonio Ridge wasn't all that bad. We were amazed that the use trail was in as good a shape as it was in. But in the pit of our stomachs the three of us were just dreading and eagerly anticipating our last great technical hurdle of the day: Gunsight Notch. We hit the top of the knob with the dead tree, and looked down, and our jaws almost hit the bottom of the notch. No way were we going to climb down that, as it had now started to moderately rain. We had to find an alternate way around this mammoth rock, and we did! Lee found the ravine that drops down south from the tangly tree just west of the dead tree knob. We descended this ravine, cut across east, then ascended another steep ravine up to the area just east of the notch, totally bypassing it. Way to go Lee!! I was pretty ecstatic when we made it around, and felt like chest bumping Michael and Lee like the way NBAers do! thought better of it though, considering we were standing on the spine of a two foot wide ridge!
At this point our day was about half over, and i thought the rest of the ridge would be smooth sailing. WRONG! At peaklet 7903 we inadvertantly started heading down its north ridge, due to lack of visibility (50 feet, not to mention driving rain and heavy winds at this point). Fortunately my two companions had GPS devices, and Lee had a compass. We backtracked and got ourselves on the right track, and before we knew it began our long grueling ascent of West Baldy. But even then we couldn't even stay on the use trail! We ended up ascending half of West Baldy up the spur ridge to the west of where we should have been. Good thing we did too, because the winds were VERY strong along the W. Baldy ridge now, especially as we made our way to the summit of West Baldy. Use trail was in great shape though. All along the ridge from W. Baldy to Baldy we were being buffeted with 50-70 mph gusts and horizontal blowing hail stones slamming us on our right sides and hitting our backs.
We hit the iron plaque at the peak at 5ish, and immediately started looking for the trail heading due south down to Manker Flats. About twenty minutes down the ridge we were forced to put our headlamps back on, and maybe ten minutes later i was startled by the brightest bolt of lightning i've seen in many years, and it wasn't even completely dark yet! That was followed a second later by some deafening thunder that was as loud as a bomb. As we were still on the ridge we were quite concerned about those lightning strikes, which were just maybe a couple thousand feet or so above our heads. We made it off the ridge in solid shape, but the lightning and thunder followed us for another hour or so till just after the ski hut, then it was just a long slow wet slog down the southwest face of Mount Harwood till we hit the fire road, and twenty minutes later we were back at our cars. The whole thing took us 16 hours!
What a day!! An amazing and unexpected day indeed! If we had known that we'd be encountering THOSE types of weather conditions we definitely would have rescheduled this "little walk" that we went on. Its a very surreal experience hiking down a trail in the dead of night with lightning and thunder just above your head. But we made it. We'll definitely be coming up here again, but on a cloudless day! Congratulations Lee and Micheal!