Distance: 11 Miles | Time: 5.5 Hours | Elevation Gain: 5000 Ft
On Super Bowl morning, we headed out with grand plans to hike Cucamonga Peak for the second time. We parked in a nearly empty Icehouse Canyon parking lot and got our packs, gear and permit together before noticing two rows of yellow "Do Not Enter" tape blocking the trailhead entrance. The sign from the USFS mentioned a fire, which we thought was strange for this time of year, but nonetheless we weren't going to take any chances. So without skipping a beat, David looked at me, shrugged, and said, "Baldy?" "Baldy," I nodded. We were bright eyed and bushy tailed and God forbid that we woke up at an ungodly hour and drove all this way to just turn around. It was about 6:45am when we finally parked at Manker Flats and hit the trail, a little later than we wanted to start to avoid crowds, but thankfully it was surprisingly quiet for a weekend morning. (Thanks, Super Bowl.)
The trail quickly became icy as early as halfway up toward the ski hut. It was our fourth winter hike up Baldy and our first time seeing this much snow cover at these lower altitudes. To be cautious, we strapped on our miscrospikes and continued upwards, crunching our way along an increasingly snow-covered trail.
The first sign of the Sierra Club's iconic, green Mount San Antonio Ski Hut is always a welcome sight for sore legs. We veered right off the trail and found our usual spot on the hill above the hut for a quick water and snack break.
↑ The view from our favorite spot at the ski hut.
As we continued past the ski hut and began making our way across Baldy Bowl, we met some serious hikers attempting to hike straight up the bowl to the summit. Can you spot two of them below? Apparently this is only possible when there is heavy snow cover and as tempted as we were to try a new route, we decided to stick to our guns and follow the trail.
↑ Shameless husband and wife selfie.
I think it was at this point on the trail where it started getting CRAZY windy. Like, why is Hoku suddenly walking sideways windy. I think there was even one section where we were almost crawling on all fours just so we wouldn't get blown over. For that reason, I don't have too many photos of this part of the hike. Safety first after all.
↑ Here we are almost to the summit. We always look for this tree to know that we're headed in the right direction. This time last year, we were sitting under the tree eating lunch. With all the snow cover, it's looking more like a bush.
↑ The snowy summit of Baden-Powell to the north! We were there just two weeks ago looking in this direction.
With the Baldy summit pretty much all to ourselves for the first time EVER, we let Hoku run around freely until other hikers started arriving. But for a few minutes, it was our very own magical, snowy playground above LA.
As the wind chill started getting to us, we started down the mountain and David became worried that Hoku was getting cold and held him in his arms for a few good minutes. It was one of the warmer days we've had recently so I didn't think to bring Hoku's coat. I had forgotten to take into account the crazy wind chill factor and felt like just the worst dog mom :(
Once it got too steep and slushy, we dropped the leash and let Hoku walk on his own most of the way until we got back down to Baldy Bowl. It was the first time we've trusted him enough to hike by himself and surprisingly he was a really good boy and followed us closely. I wonder if his pack mentality is stronger in the wild.
↑ His "Enough pictures already, can we go now?" face.
We made it back down safe and sound, and in record time (5.5 hours!) which may not sound like much for more hardcore hikers, but it was our best Baldy time yet! It was our fourth snow summit up Baldy and our favorite to date.
On a scary note, we found two deer ticks on Hoku's cheek fur and one on my jacket after making it back to the car. Mostly likely from the trail below the ski hut which is slightly more overgrown and warmer than the trail at higher altitudes. We were surprised because it seemed very early in the year for ticks to be an issue, but upon further research, adult deer ticks apparently become active after the first frost and any winter day the ground is not snow-covered or frozen, which fit the timing of our hike perfectly. Dog people, please check yourself and your pup all over for ticks after hiking (even between their toes and in their arm pits). Read more about that and how to safely remove a tick here.
On an even somber note, our thoughts and prayers are with the two hikers who lost their lives climbing these mountains recently due to the extreme winter conditions. Please exercise extreme caution and do carry/ know how to use the proper gear if you plan to venture up any time soon.