Happy week after Thanksgiving, friends. Some cold virus has taken it upon itself to fell me most thoroughly this week, so sitting here typing this is one of the more energetic things I’ve done this week. Baby steps! Anyway, a horrifyingly long 3.5 years ago I went on a hike for my birthday, and got to meet up with Dan on his trip over the PCT. I’d gone up Baden-Powell a few times before , but that doesn’t make it a less cool hike to go on. We also saw people flying in gliders. It was a beautiful day. (ETA – this is an 8 mile RT, 2800′ gain hike)
I invited a lot of people along for my birthday hike, but almost nobody was in town or otherwise able to make it. However, Nathan was of course there, and Jess was able to make it as well, so we had a small party of people to drive up with. Also, due to some unavoidable schedule irregularities, Dan had called me a couple of days before, and he was just coming into Wrightwood along the route of his PCT adventure. This is just a hair before Baden-Powell, so we arranged to meet up with him at the summit.
So, the three of us drove up there and managed to arrive right about when I had hoped, around 10.30. The drive up (the way around through Cajon Pass) was actually surprisingly green…well, in the way that Southern California desert areas can get, in the way that looks so green to me, but not to people more used to the east coast 🙂 Anyway, we went around and past the Mormon Rocks, and up into the mountains, and made our way safely to Vincent Gap.
It was a pretty crowded day, but we found a spot right across the street, and started up the hill. I’ve done this hike a few times before, and it was basically as I remembered it…starting out in pretty good shade, with long lazy switchbacks. Having a cold definitely made it a little harder to keep pushing up the hill, as breathing was definitely a bit of a challenge, and my heart rate kept speeding through the roof. I definitely tried to make it up a few switchbacks before needing to take breaks – hitting breaks at switchbacks 4,8, 13, 16 to start off. We passed a good number of other people going both up and down.
The day was really honestly just about perfect weather, starting maybe in the 50s, and heading up to the 60s, and occasionally a bit warmer in the sun. The trail criss crosses out of cover many many times as it wends it way to the summit. The many many switchbacks let us get continually improving views of Baldy, the Mojave, and places farther distant. As we started to get to the switchbacks above #20, they finally started getting shorter, and we were really feeling as if we were pushing our way more quickly up the hill. I knew they started longer and got shorter at the top, but I thought there were a few quick turns, and we would immediately find ourselves at the ridgewalk, but of course there was just a little bit more work to do (as there always is) before you get to where you think you’re going to get to!.
View into the distance
But we made it to the back and forth quick area on the top, and then made it to the ridgeline, which was actually just as awesome as I recalled. There is one bit of real knife-ridge, nice and sharp with views both way, some of which were really stunning. We then made it over to the junction, where the summit bit turns off from the main PCT. Up here, we were seeing little bits of the rime ice Dan had been mentioning. It had just rained during the week, so I guess it was deposited then, but in the bright sunshine of the day, it was falling off the trees in big chunks. On such a bright beautiful generally dry day, it was weird to see these random new pieces of ice falling around on the ground. Anyway, the last few switchbacks up to the summit were just as crappy as I remembered, but I pushed through it. There were lots of people hither and yon, but there was still plenty of room for everyone, and the view from the summit is a great 360.
When we got to the summit, around 1.15, we found that Dan was already there, which was awesome. So we sat and talked with him and took some photos and had some other through-hiker take a couple of photos, and we sat down and ate lunch. There were some ultra-light planes flying overhead, glider types I guess, and they were swooping around this way and the other and generally being very close to our summit. It was really cool to watch them coming and going, and we generally even felt like we could just about see into the cockpits. That really looked like a huge ton of fun! The time on the summit was really pleasant, and I gave Dan some maps I had printed out for him, but eventually the time came for us all to go, and we headed back down the summit track. We got to the turnoff, and said goodbye to Dan (who I would see a few days later), and started our way back down the slope.
group summit pic
The way down was definitely a lot easier for me to breathe on, since downhill just isn’t heart taxing the same way. The down trip was fairly uneventful, with mostly uninterrupted walking punctuated with occasional conversation. The weather had shifted a bit and it was notably warmer on the way down, but nothing too crazy. We did do a bit of stopping to take a few photos on the way down, most notably when nathan wanted to get some shots of some snow flowers we had seen on the way up, and also, jess wanted to find a most excellent pine cone. These diversions were pleasant to break up what was mostly just a downhill walk. There were a few different things we could see on the way down, but generally, especially since the trail was so switchbacky, the new things to see were on the trail itself, rather than any particularly interesting new views.
And then we successfully made it down, yay!
another glider pic