Mt Baldy Via Devil's Backbone Overview
Mt Baldy, also known as Mt San Antonio is just outside Los Angeles and about a 2 hour drive for my wife and I from San Diego.
Mt Baldy is 10,064 feet in elevation, and we decided to use this hike as another stepping stone in training for Cactus to Clouds. After our fun San Diego 5 Peak Challenge in one day, we wanted to step up the climbing and elevation for our training.
We decided to hike Mt Baldy via the Devil's Backbone route only because I thought the narrow Devils Backbone portion would have some fantastic views, and I was not disappointed!
The Devil's Backbone Route would be an out and back trip of about 6.13 miles up and 6.13 miles down for a rough total of 12.26 miles. Along those 12.26 miles there would be about 4k in elevation gain.
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Mt Baldy Via Devil's Backbone Maps
The map below can be viewed and downloaded on Caltopo here.
Mt Baldy Devil's Backbone Packing List
I had a decent heavy pack for this day hike. Due to the heat I took a lot of extra water. As always I always have a few extra pounds of photography gear. I always take my tripod with me so that I can get pictures of me and my wife together, but didn't use it once on this hike. Due to the heat, we were racing up to beat the heat, so I didn't want to spend the time to use it. There were also enough people at the summit to ask someone to take our summit picture together.
You can check out all the gear in this pack here.
Mt Baldy Devil's Backbone Trail Guide
It's been a pretty hot summer all over the United States this year and of course the day we planned to hike Mt Baldy was when a heat wave came into Southern California. About 24-48 hours before we were supposed to Hike Mt Baldy, we almost canceled but then decided just to start the hike earlier than planned and attempt to get above the tree line before it got too hot.
To make this happen we bought some burritos the night before, so we could wake up earlier, chomp them down and get on the road at 3 am. We ended up waking up at about 2:30 am, ate our burrito breakfast and made it to the parking lot just before 6 am and were on the trail soon after!
We aren't exactly huge fans of waking up early so I was surprised how many cars we saw at the parking lot at the trailhead when we arrived. Luckily we still got a decent parking spot! While changing out of my sandals into my boots and checking my gear there were a lot of mosquitos at the trailhead. I got eaten up pretty good and had some nice itchy bug bites by the time we got off the mountain.
Starting up Mt Baldy the trail begins with a short smooth paved road that transitions into a fairly smooth dirt road. This section was nice for us because we were able to get up the first section fairly quickly since it was less of a "hiking trail" and more of a road.
Sunrise had already occurred by the time we got on the trail but the sun was on the other side of the ridge line. We were able to start off hiking in the shade for most of the morning which was fantastic.
Our goal in the morning was to make it up to the Mt Baldy Notch before the sun was completely above our heads and on full blast with the heat. The notch is also where the road becomes more of an actual hiking trail as well.
With the trail being smooth winding switchbacks we were making great time up towards the notch. It felt like a nice Sunday stroll, but that may have been a little adrenaline of just being happy to be out on a trail.
A little over 2 miles into the hike you start getting some great views of the temptation of the easier way to hike this trail. There is a ski lift that you can take up to the notch to save a couple miles of hiking. Some hikers will take this up to the Baldy Notch and then hike to the summit from there. If you ask me though, the lift seemed a little bit too old and rickety for my liking so I think I will stick to the trail when Hiking Baldy ;-)
The old ski lift did make for some great pictures though!
It's about 3.3 miles up to the Baldy Notch and you will know you are getting close when you start seeing signs of the resort, where the ski lift is.
Right as we were coming up on the resort buildings at the Notch, the sun was just cresting over the other side! We hit our goal by making it to this point before the sun was fully beating down on us. I was glad we were able to make it up the dirt road at a fair pace in the shade.
At this point you can just see the Top of Mt Baldy above the "Baldy Bowl" in the top left corner of the picture above! I know we had a lot of snow this year but it was pretty crazy seeing little patches of snow all the way in the distance near the summit!
After Passing the Notch we took a bit of a wrong turn. We didn't quite get lost but, maybe could have taken an easier route up.
In the map above we should have probably taken the route marked in yellow, but we took the route marked in red. If you look closely at the elevation lines the route in red pretty much goes straight up the steepest section. I think it's a ski run in the winter... The yellow route looks to be less steep and might be less taxing on the body.
What also made this section tough was the sun was out now and it was nice and hot. Luckily we both had sun hoodies on which helped keep us a little cooler and at least kept us from getting burned. It has a bit of a false "summit" on the steep section we did. As you get to the top of the first steep section you are excited to be done, but it levels off real quick and then goes straight up again.
Eventually we made it up to this section and decided to quickly find some shade to relax in, rehydrate and refuel. While refueling we definitely enjoyed the views.
After refueling we had a nice break of a short area that was fairly flat as we approached Devils Backbone. Devils Backbone, other than the summit, was the highlight of this trail for me. Great views on either side of this skinny ridge line. For those who know me well, I am not a huge fan of height but oddly love the feeling on Mountains like this! I can see how this narrow section can be deadly in the winter for the unprepared.
After hiking through the Narrow exposed sections of Devils Backbone, we felt so close to the summit. It felt like it was an arms reach away.
Mt Baldy is nice enough to give you a little bit of a break before the last grueling half mile to the top. Enjoy this flat section while you can. It's a great active recovery section that has amazing views of the Baldy Bowl and the summit up ahead. Viewing the Baldy Bowl made me excited to come back and make a winter attempt!
The last half mile or so to the top of Mt Baldy is steep, and this was by far the most challenging section of the hike. At this point we had been up since 2:30 am and had been hiking for over 6 miles. We were a little fatigued from a short night's rest, long drive, and now our legs were also joining the party of feeling tired and fatigued. To add to the fatigue we were also about 9,500ft in elevation at this point and remember we woke up at sea level in San Diego this morning!
Right before the final climb we took one more rest off our feet to rehydrate and get a few calories in. It's also nice to sit and enjoy the views. While moving, I sometimes forget to enjoy the beautiful views around me, as my mind just gets on a mission to keep putting one foot in front of another.
I wouldn't say it was crowded but this section was where we saw the most people other than the summit. The steep climb makes everyone crawl like a slow line of ants. We would pass a couple then take a quick standing break to catch our breath before pushing forward as everyone leap frogged each other towards the summit.
As individuals leapfrog each other on the trail you begin to make some friends as you squeak out words of encouragement to each other. Due to the slow pace you often pass the same individuals a couple times on the way up.
Time seems to move super slow in this section but eventually you make it up to the top which just has amazing vibes. We didn't see a ton of people on the trail other than this final climb but the top was dare I saw crowded! The energy was fantastic, with everyone celebrating their Mt Baldy Summits and taking pictures together!
Mt Baldy Strava Stats
Here is my strava data from our Mt Baldy Hike:
- Distance: 12.65
- Total Time: 6:32:47
- Moving Time: 5:17:36
- Pace: 25:05 /mi
- Elevation: 3,914 ft
- Calories: 2,806