On an early Monday morning, I woke up at 3:30 AM and drove all the way to the trailhead of Mount Baldy with the thought that I would be the first one to “summit” the peak for the day.
From my house to the trailhead was an easy drive for 45 minutes and it was still dark when I arrived at the Parking Area at Manker Flats. While I was preparing my things (hydration pack and shoes), another vehicle arrived and parked across the road where I was preparing my things. The other vehicle had two hikers in it and they immediately opened their vehicles’ trunk to retrieve their packs and went directly to the trailhead. They were 5 minutes ahead of me when I finally started after taking a pee in one of the Portalets.
They were wearing headlights as I saw them in front of me for about 200 meters. I was not wearing a headlight and I was confident that the light from the moon could easily illuminate the dirt road towards the commercial establishment at the Ski Lift. Before I was able to hit my first mile, I had already overtaken them after I greeted them. As I moved ahead of them, I could still hear their conversation as they were taking their time for the hike.
Being confident that I was already the first one on the trail, I maintained my hiking pace until I reached the Ski Lift’s Commercial Center. It was already daybreak when I reached the place and nowhere I would find find the two hikers behind me.
As I passed the Ski Lift’s Commercial Center towards the Devil’s Backbone Trail, I saw a Rescue Truck parked at the end of the Fire Road, the farthest that a four-wheeled vehicle would reach towards the peak of Mt Harwood. I was thinking that those guys aboard in it were just ahead of me but as I saw at the horizon and the trails above me, I would not see any individual/hiker ahead of me towards the peak of Mt Baldy.
Looking at a distance ahead of me, I would see the Devil’s Backbone Trail and it looks like a very challenging and intimidating ascending part of the trail where both sides have steep slopes that the lowest portion could not be seen. If anybody would slip or feel dizzy and plunge to any of the sides of the slope, I would suspect that a hiker would be hard to be rescued from atop the trail. But if you are already standing and doing your hike at the said place, you can feel that your courage is slowly taking over your mind and for you to be able to cross this dreaded part of the trail. As you passed this trail, you are rewarded with a higher elevation and a flatter portion of the trail with the peak of Mt Harwood in front of you!
I decided not to “peak bag” Mt Harwood as I was trying to be fast as possible in reaching the peak of Mt Baldy. As I was hiking on this flatter portion of the trail, I had my first sip of water and I started to feel some perspiration on my back as I was wearing my Uniqlo Water Repellant Windbreaker.
Finally, I was on my last mile before the peak of Mt Baldy! After about 200 meters, I saw a hiker going down from the trail and I said to myself that the guy could have started way ahead of me! He looks like he is a good hiker with all those beard and moustache on his face and the hiking boots he was wearing. He was not using trekking poles. A simple greeting and look on each others eyes as we met were part of the usual practice among hikers and it feels a good sign of showing respect to one another on the outdoors.
On my final 100 meters towards the peak of Mt Baldy, I met two hikers with backpacks and trekking poles telling me that a helicopter will be arriving at the peak in 45 minutes and my understanding of the message was that there was an urgency for me to reach the peak and spend a short/quick time at the peak. I said thank you to the two hikers as I moved faster and closer to the peak.
Few meters from the peak, I have observed that there were lots of stakes with orange ribbons tied on them that were placed surrounding the peak of the mountain. I concluded that those ribbons were markers for the pilots of the helicopters for them to visually know where exactly they would land. On the peak, I saw three (3) guys with big backpacks and orange jackets whom I assumed to be those who rode in the Rescue Truck parked along the trail going to the mountain. They were lying on their backs and talking to each other and not minding about my arrival in the area. They were inside the area where those pile of rocks formed in a semi-circle which I believed is being used for those hikers who would set their tent and sleep for over night in the area. The pile of rocks is so high that it can protect strong winds from hitting a pitched tent inside the semi-circle area.
I could still remember where one of my ultra friends who lives in Los Angeles had to stay and camp at the peak of Mt Baldy for one week as part of his training for the 2015 Angeles Crest 100-Mile Endurance Race. He would pitch his tent at the peak and then hiked and run towards the Ski Lift’s Commercial Center and then back to the peak during the duration of his stay in the mountain. I guess, camping in the said area is FREE as long as one has an Adventure Pass displayed on ones vehicle at the trailhead. As a result of his training, the guy finished the race in less than 24 hours!
I spent almost 30 minutes at the peak, taking some “selfies” and eating my nutrition bars/trail mix fruits & nuts, before starting my descent from the peak. On my way back, I started to move faster and run the flatter sections. If the descending part of the trail is smooth and without any roots or rocks, I would run and quicker with my pace.
I did not stop at the Ski Lift’s Commercial Center as they were still closed but three (3) SUVs suddenly arrived at the area full with “newly-recruited” Park Rangers and they were instructed to proceed to the establishments. I said to myself that I had to run 3.5 miles down to trailhead and be able to finish my hike before 10:00 AM.
As I was running down along the Fire Road, I could hear the sound of an approaching Helicopter to the mountain but sad to say that I could no longer have the view of the peak of Mt Baldy. Whatever, the activity that was being done in the area was part of the regular training being done in response to any contingency or emergency situation that is usually being experienced among hikers in the area. This is what I call being prepared and work’s efficiency among those people responsible in the safety and protection of the parks.
At 10:30 AM, I was driving on my way back to the house in Downtown, Los Angeles.
My next plan will be to pitch a tent at the peak and sleep thereat for an overnight stay!