On April 12th, I had the privilege of hiking up 10,064′ Mt. Baldy, raising money for The Heroes Project. The annual event is called the Climb for Heroes, and the money helps wounded veterans — soldiers who have lost one or both legs in service — redefine who they are as they summit the highest peaks.
There were nearly 1,000 hikers participating, many of them hiking all the way to the summit. This was my first year participating, and in fact, I organized #TeamSoCalHiker. We had 49 SoCal hikers sign up, and together we raised $7,550 for The Heroes Project.
Our team was unique in that with only a couple of exceptions, many of us had never hiked together before. There were some couples, families and groups of friends on the team, any many of the team I’ve “met” through the SoCalHiker Facebook page, Twitter or Instagram. But this was our first hike together.
It was also unique in that this was my first time at the event. I learned a few things in the process, but I’ll get to that later. First the good stuff.
Just finding all the team proved to be our first challenge. If you count the folks in the photo above, you’ll note that many team members are missing. Some team members got an early start and some we saw on the way up (or down… or not at all). The more experienced teams had t-shirts and a better plan for meeting. Next year…
The first half mile was steep! We ascended 500 feet in that first half mile, climbing to the fire road from Manker Flat. Once we reached the fire road, it felt like we found some new legs.
Camp 1 was at the first mile marker and we’d already climbed 770 feet vertically. We queued up to shake hands with one of the wounded vets, who also handed out custom poker chips. We would earn a new chip at each camp all the way to the summit.
Camp 2 was at 2.5 miles — just beyond The Notch at the junction with the 3-Ts trail — and we climbed another 500 feet to 7,800′. From here we took the service road that winds around the Mt Baldy ski runs, snaking our way up to…
Camp 3 — This camp was a turnaround point for some hikers. But those who made it this far could opt for a cold PBR (I declined… knowing what was still ahead). My reward would have to wait a while longer. Camp 3 was at the 3.6 mile mark and an elevation of 8,537 feet. This also marked the beginning of the Devil’s Backbone Trail.
The Devil’s Backbone Trail is one of the most scenic sections of the trail. It’s also the most treacherous. The wind whips you as it howls over the ridge line from east. The trail itself balances right along that ridge — when it’s not traversing a steep slope of ever-changing scree. Trekking poles are a great plus here (a must-have in my book) but the event organizers went a step further and put a rope up to provide a handhold across the gnarliest section.
Once you pass the backbone, you make a bee-line to Mt Baldy, climbing diagonally along the western side of Mt Harwood. Poor Mt Harwood. Everyone hikes on it, but they’re mostly just passing by en route to Baldy. Very few visit the summit. Another time.
Camp 4 sat in the saddle between Baldy and Harwood. At this point, you’ve hiked 5.5 miles and are only half a mile and 750 vertical feet away from the summit. The altitude becomes a factor. And if you haven’t been drinking enough water, you’ll really feel it here.
The final push to the summit is steep, and a slow, steady pace is the best approach. The “trail” is really just a spiderweb of goat trails. You have to pick your way along, but mostly you go up… up… UP!
Finally we reached Summit Camp, and were greeted by Gyalbu Sherpa and Linville himself.
The summit of Mt Baldy is usually crowded on weekends, but I’d never seen it like this. There were hundreds of hikers up there, and a steady stream of folks coming and going. I had a chance to thank Linville for his service and wish him well on his quest to summit Everest, then we headed back down.
Our route back retraced our steps, but included a stop for lunch at The Notch — which graciously provided BOGO lunches for Climb for Heroes participants. We had the option of riding the ski lift back down, but decided to hike that last two miles to make it an honest 12 mile trek.
Usually I would make a loop out of this, but in this case, it was worth going back to Base Camp and exchanging our tokens for shwag.
I’m honored that so many people joined #TeamSoCalHiker, and many of you raised more than the minimum $100 target. I’d like to extend a special thanks to our top three fundraisers:
Mike Simms raised a whopping $1500! Way to go, Mike!
Susan Tracy raised $660!
Roxane Bukacek raised $560… and she made awesome red-white-and-blue paracord survival bracelets for the team and the soldiers on the trail.
Thanks to everyone on the team. I really appreciate meeting so many of you and hope to catch up with those I missed on another hike in the future. You all rock!
Charlie Linville is already already in Nepal. You can follow along on his Everest climb via updates on The Heroes Project’s Facebook page.
Climb for Heroes 2015 Trail Map
Mt Baldy - Climb for Heroes 2015.gpxClimb for Heroes Photo Gallery
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Mt Baldy Tips & Trivia
Mt Baldy’s real name is Mt. San Antonio
The Mt Baldy Ski Resort hosts full-moon hikes when the snow melts (i.e. now). They have special packages that include a BBQ buffet, live music at The Notch and the option of adding a lift — up, down or both. Not a bad way to explore the area and catch the sunset.
For more details on the area an my recommended loop hike, read Hiking Mt San Antonio (Mt Baldy) Loop.
Find more photos from the event on Instagram: #TeamSoCalHiker
To all the #TeamSoCalHikers out there who summited Mt Baldy, you’ve bagged one of the Six-Pack of Peaks. Which one will you summit next?