Thursday, February 26, 2009

Mt Baldy via Bear Flat / Manker Flat

September 27, 2008
So my buddy Ken says he would like to hike up to Mt Baldy and invited me along. I was pretty excited for the invitation as Ken is a good friend and I know he must have something challenging in mind.
Turns out I was correct. There are several routes to Mt Baldy and most people go up and return the same route.
Kens choice was good and involved two separate routes and required staging of our cars to make this happen, easy enough.
I have been to Baldy five times and each hike was from the North Back Bone trail originating at Blue Ridge. That is a pretty stout hike and will be covered on a separate post, but now Ken was giving me the chance to do an approach from The South face.

The plans were drafted and refined, but it's not really complicated at all. On the morning of the hike I met up with Ken in the Baldy Village and each of us drove our cars higher up to Mankar Flat. Can you see where this is going? I left my truck at this location as we would be ending the hike here. Now all my gear is in the back of Kens truck and I hop in for a ride back down to the Baldy Village, the location of the trail head.

The parking area in Baldy Village for hikers is bad, no, it's real bad. That was the primary reason for leaving my truck up at Mankar Flat as it wouldn't fit. The allocated parking location in the Village is very limited and at least a couple of feet of the bed would have been hanging in the main road. This was not a concern since we had options, but others may not be so lucky. Ken had said that the Ranger station nearby has parking but the gate for access is secured and locked when they are closed. I don't really understand this as anybody hiking from this location will surely be there as early as us, before sunrise.

From the parking spot we would be hiking up the Mt Baldy Trail or also known as the Bear Flat Trail. Early on in the hike the trail passes through an area named Bear Flat so it seems the name sticks to the trail, I guess. The actual trail head can be tough to locate and we noticed a group of about four wondering around trying to locate it. This is a strange thing though since to actually get to the trail head you first have to hike up a paved street with houses on both sides. Probably the residence are used to having strangers walking through there but probably not. This is a very old community and some of the houses are on the other side of a stream.
There location causes some logistical problems for them as it makes it tough to get supplies to the house. They have overcome this opstical by building conveyor systems that have small baskets suspended by cables overhead. Some more intricate than others, but all operate on the same principle. Load up the supplies then wench the basket across the stream to the house, kinda cool. I have seen set ups like this on the Fawn Skin side of Big Bear Lake. I still couldn't imagine how they would get something like a couch or bed over there though.
Moving along, the paved street does turn to dirt and a mild increase in elevation starts with very good tree cover. Not much later we enter the Bear Flat area and notice that it has sustained fire damage within the last couple of years. It looks pretty bad but the damage is limited and I'm sure recovery will be fast. Hiking through Bear Flat the tree cover ends and the steep section begins. There are enough switch backs that help take the strain of elevation gain away but that didn't help much with the sun and it was beaming down with lots of heat. Temps were in the mid 80's and I would not like to be on this trail in any higher temps, it would not be pleasant at all.
We continued up the trail that gains allot of altitude within a short distance, always digging in. Ken had mentioned that not very many people hike this trail due to the difficulty and I believe him. On the North Back Bone Trail I almost never see anybody. Partially due to the difficulty but mostly due to the remote access to the trail. Well, we did see some hikers, but that was fine. Anytime somebody is on a trail like this you are sure to have a good conversation when you encounter them.

The slow grind up continued and before we knew it we had come to the turn off for West Baldy. I happen to really like West Baldy. No, there are no streams, water falls or trees with cover. The one thing it does not have is people. West Baldy is about three quarters of a mile South West of the main peak and that is the location of the masses. On any given weekend there will be on the average of 100 to 200 people loitering around the peak of Baldy. The majority of them come up alternate routes that are less strenuous and upon topping out just simply crash for a few hours not wanting to go any further. I know they can see West Baldy, but they never go there and I'm not sure why.

So with this, we enjoyed the solitude of West Baldy chowing down on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. The views from here are really good. Below us to the North West is the area of Fish Fork. A very remote hard to get to area that is extremely rewarding. I will cover a few routes to Fish Fork that I have done on another entry, stay tuned. It is so peaceful on West Baldy that there are a few things you can hear. One is the noises of people talking on Baldy three quarters of a mile away, and that's crazy. Almost like somebody that lives with a freeway in site of there house, they always here the drone of the cars. The other sound you will here is the occasional fly by of a glider. These pilots are nuts and they fly those things buzzing the peak like cowboys, fast low and pull up! On Baldy you would not know they were coming until they are on top of your head, but on West Baldy you actually can hear the wind over there wings. This gives you a chance to get the camera out for a quick shot, but you better hurry since they are moving fast.

We packed up our stuff and lazily ventured over to the masses on Mt Baldy. It was crowded, very crowded. Sometimes it reminds me of a health clinic late at night. There is always somebody in there somewhere constantly coughing like they are sick. In all actuality they may be but with altitude sickness as Baldy is at 10,064ft and if they do not come up here often they will feel it. People, people everywhere. Standing, sitting laying down and some wondering around with no true destination in mind, just wondering around. A person can only take so much of this and both Ken and I agreed it was time to press on.

Departing Mt Baldy to the South we were now on the Baldy Bowl Trail. This trail also goes by another name, The Ski Hut Trail. About half way down there is a really neat old cabin that was built and maintained by the Sierra Club. Arriving at the Ski Hut was a treat for me as I have heard so much of it but never seen it. This is definitely worth a visit. As far as the name it can cause some confusion as there is no ski lift or slope near it for skiing, but I'm sure there is a reason behind the name I am not aware of. The hut does have very few provisions but lots of room for visitors and overnight gatherings of hikers. In the hut is a small kitchen with a wood burning stove, a big sink with a faucet that never stops running. It is fed be a source much higher up the mountain and I have no idea what it's location is. But the water is constantly running into the sink and spilling over to a drain that goes into the local stream, I think. Due to it's source the water is cold and pure. Pure enough to drink without treating and many passing hikers actually look forward to this natural water for a top off. Since the water is very cold the sink is also used as a somewhat refrigerator keeping perishables submerged in the never ending supply of ice cold water.

Both Ken and I took advantage of this little mountain oasis with a well deserved break. The volunteer manning the hut that day was a real nice guy and gave us a tour and a little bit of history lesson. Seems they had just put a new roof on it and this was no small chore. Every bit of the old roof had to be removed and hiked back down the trail as well as all the supplies for the new roof had to be hiked up. Don't forget they need all sorts of tooling and tall ladders. No paid labor, just all volunteers...Good Job!

We thanked the kind man and moved on down the trail moving fast as the trail loses lots of elevation in a short distance. The views just below the Ski Hut looking back at Baldy are simply breath taking and remind me of a French Chateau, although I have never been to one and therefore don't really know what one would look like.

The dirt trail ends abruptly and the remaining distance to Manker Flat is on a paved road. This road is used by the employees to drive up to the Baldy Ski Resort further to the East on Thunder Mountain. Arriving at Mankar Flat we unpacked our gear, hopped in my truck and drove down to Baldy Village near Kens truck. Exactly opposite of this small parking area is a Saloon / Restaurant. This provided the perfect location to enjoy a nice cold brew bringing another great day in the Angeles National Forest to an end.

Hike Summary:

Start hike: 0630hrs
End Hike: 1715hrs
Total Time: 10hrs 45min
Elevation Gain: 6,167ft
Elevation Loss: 4,292ft
Total Miles: 11.5


  1. Nice report! I just did the Bear Flats hike today, and can only imagine the workout involved making it to the summit by this route. I did the traditional Manker/Backbone route to the summit last year, and may try the Bear Ridge route in the future if I can man up. Keep up the good work.

  2. dlockeretz,

    Thank you, you have me blushing :)

    I'll let you in on a little secret, there is no easy way to the top of that mtn. So, you did a great job getting to the summit no matter what route you took. You get a huge congratulations from me!

    I hope you come back to my sad little blog again as Hiker Jim just gave me a kick in the pants to get it updated. More reports will be forthcoming!

    Thank you,