My Experience – June 8, 2013:
Any true hiker of the San Gabriel Mountains has contemplated traversing the San Antonio Ridge. It’s a narrow, uneven line connecting Iron, “the least accessible peak in the area”, to Baldy, the tallest peak in the area. First, in the usual SoCal hiking career, you summit Baldy and admire all of the lesser peaks around you: Pine, Dawson, Baden Powel, Ontario, Cucamonga, Telegraph. Then after you’ve conquered all of these you get bored and look outside the trails. How about Iron? Yeah, it’s only 8,000 ft and there is a “use trail” to the top if it. So you struggle up Iron, hopefully on a cooler day and tell yourself you’ll never do that again. But while you are up there on the summit of Iron, you notice a bumpy line of rock and dirt. Your eyes follow that route all the way to Baldy. The seed has been planted. It’s just a matter of finding at least one more person crazy enough to try it; I found five!
The six of us left East Fork TH at 5:40AM on that Saturday. We took this first part of the hike nice and slow to conserve our energy for the ridge. In what felt like two shakes of a trekking pole, we were on top of Iron. It was really 11:30AM, so we had taken 6 hours to go the first 7 miles. This was good because most of us still were still full of spunk. Unfortunately Graham was a bit under the weather since the night before, so he made the smart decision to turn back there.
Group shot on top of Iron Mountain
After a big snack we started down the San Antonio Ridge, hearts pounding in anticipation of what lied ahead. It was a steep downhill decent on loose dirt in the beginning, but that soon gave way to scrambling down rocks. We got over some sketchy spots with relative ease, then a ‘final’ down climb of a larger notch. Some of us got overzealous and convinced ourselves that was the Gun Sight Notch and it was smooth sailing ahead. WRONG! We hit an even more difficult notch a tenth of a mile later. Then we convinced ourselves that was Gun Sight Notch. But of course soon after we hit the real Gun Sight Notch. Each notch was more difficult and daunting than the last. Chris took point through all of this and scouted all of the doable down climbs and side traverses. We used trees, shrubs, rocks, trekking poles, each other, steps of faith, and a lot of profanity to guide us through. Time after time we would see no way to pass until we got right up to the edge.
Chris scouting a route
Trying not to fall from Gun Sight Notch
Relieved the notches are in the past
Once we were truly past all the notches we switched from one mental state of discomfort to the next. The “scary” part was over, but now we had to climb up from around 7,400 ft to 10,000 ft before we could finally descend to the shuttle cars at 6,200 ft. So it began. The first added difficulty was fields of buckthorn. I had taken the bottoms of my pants off earlier due to the heat and didn’t feel like stopping to put them back on for a short push through some thorns. But then a short push through thorns turned into hundreds of yards, so I stopped to put them on. It was too late; all the scrapes were getting soaked in salty sweat making my legs burn.
Pushing through the thorns
Once the thorns ended the view of the small rollers ahead of us looked pleasant. That’s when we all started to run out of fluid. I thought I had plenty, but I really only had about half a liter of water and a liter of Gatorade left. We thought about dropping down to Fish Fork for about a millisecond, but pushed on instead. We came to the last saddle and began our last climb up to West Baldy.
Early in the climb of West Baldy
We reached the summit of West Baldy at 7:00PM; Baldy followed soon after at 7:15PM.
On top of West Baldy
Crossing to Baldy
Summit of Baldy
The final descent down past the Ski Hut was pretty standard except two people fell and cut their hands, we saw deer, we got more water at the first stream without purifying it, and the last 2.5 miles were in the dark with crappy headlamps. We finished at 9:40PM – 16 hours of hiking! I would say the hike was as difficult as the Mountaineer’s Route on Whitney, and I never want to do San Antonio Ridge again.
Distance 16.1 miles
Net Gain 8,000 ft (trailhead to summit of Baldy)
Gross Gain 10,525 ft
Time to Iron 6 hours
Time to Baldy 13.5 hours
Total Time 16 hours
Heaton Flat (Same trailhead as “Bridge to Nowhere”) = N34 14.219 W117 45.936
Supposedly a wilderness permit is required to hike in from this trailhead and supposedly there is a self-issue station in the vicinity. I did not get a permit, did not see a self-issue station, and saw no signs about permits.
You will need a Forest Adventure Pass to park, though.
When to Hike:
March to May if there is no snow and temperatures are cool, or in the fall after it cools down but before the snow falls. The forecasted high for the ridge on the day of our hike was 82. Thankfully there was an intermittent breeze up there, but the iron-rich rocks were still hot to the touch, and we all had to ration our fluids before we even reached Baldy. We all started with about 6 liters each.
From Heaton Flat trailhead parking lot, hike to the top of Iron Mountain. No one should attempt this hike that has not been to the top of Iron already. See the report I wrote on my trip back in February if you need information on that hike.
San Antonio Ridge from the top of Iron
From the top of Iron, begin down the east ridge towards Baldy. This is the San Antonio Ridge. At the very start you will pass a large boulder on your right with writing on it.
There are debates online over whether it is Korean or another language
Over about the next 1.25 miles you will be challenged by the notches. From a distance you can tell there are only three true notches, but it feels like more. Just know that they are not done until you get across Gun Sight Notch. This has a vertical drop, a dead tree in the middle, and a nearly vertical wall on the far side, hence the name Gun Sight Notch.
Notches seen from Iron’s south ridge
Closeup on notches
I will not even attempt to describe how to get past these notches. It is up to those who attempt this route to find their own way. We used our eyes, previous scrambling experience, patience, guts and most of all TEAMWORK to get ourselves through the gauntlet. Make sure you do the same. Even if you do, THIS RIDGE COULD STILL KILL YOU; we had many close calls. There are loose rocks and scree everywhere waiting for you to put your foot or hand in the wrong place.
Looking back at Gun Sight Notch
Once you look back and see you have passed Gun Sight Notch, all you have left on this hike is misery. Follow the use trail through fields of buckthorn. Put on gaiters if you brought them, or the bottoms of your super-cool convertible pants if you unzipped them. If it’s just you and a pair of shorts, grit your teeth and push through. Yes, it will burn like hell when your sweat pours into all those new scrapes and cuts, but it passes after a few minutes.
Around the 10.2 mile mark you will hit the bottom of the last saddle before your final push up West Baldy. The switchbacks start out zigzagging towards your left, and eventually break out of the brush and trees. It turns to loose rock and scree but there is a slight path to follow making it a bit easier. It stays on the north side of the ridge most of the way up.
Ascending West Baldy
Looking back on Iron
At mile 11.5, you reach the summit of West Baldy, then half a mile later the true summit of Mt. Baldy. We left our shuttle vehicles at Manker Flats the night before, so we dropped down the Ski Hut Trail. This also gave us a chance to stop for water near the hut on our way down, since we had been out since around the last saddle before West Baldy.
Google Earth view of the trip with elevation profile
Tom Harrison Maps: Angeles High Country - There is no mapped or official trail all the way from Heaton Saddle to West Baldy, so not much can be gained from any printed map I’ve seen.
Go on the coolest day you can – do not go if it’s higher than 70s on the ridge. Even then, bring AT LEAST 7 liters of water. It was in the low 80s for us and 6 liters was not nearly enough; 8 liters would have been perfect. If you do find yourself in desperate need of water on the ridge, the only option (besides pushing on) is Fish Fork. Once you get east of the notches, you can drop down the north side of the San Antonio Ridge about 2000 ft to get water out of Fish Fork, but then you have to climb back out.
Also, bring at least one trekking pole.
DISCLAIMER: I AM NOT A GUIDE. I am an amateur hiking enthusiast who likes to share personal experiences on the trail. I offer bits of information that may assist you in planning a certain hike, but this is no substitute for a real guidebook or accurate maps. Before embarking on a trip, make sure you do all the appropriate research, and bring the appropriate gear, clothing, maps, guidebooks, supplies, first aid kit, the Ten Essentials and most importantly TELL SOMEONE EXACTLY WHERE YOU ARE GOING AND WHEN YOU PLAN TO BE BACK. Cell phones cannot be relied on when hiking and you will often lose service before you even get to the parking area.