Friday, March 6, 2015

Mt. San Antonio Winter Ascent (attempt)

Hiked: 3/6/2015
Distance: 7.1 miles round trip on trail
Summit Elevation: 10064'
Highest Elevation Reached: 8202' (Ski Hut)
Elevation Gain: 2260'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 1.80
Round trip time: 4 hours
Recommended water: 64 oz. (96 oz. for successful trip)
Parking/Fees: Adventure Pass
Difficulty: Strenuous (for successful trip)

One of my goals this year was to climb Mt. San Antonio in the snow. I wanted to duplicate Rod's hike up Devil's Backbone from the notch. However, because I had to be back early, I could not wait until the ski lifts opened and had to take the longer Ski Hut Trail. I started from Manker Flats at 6:00 AM and there was already enough daylight to skip a headlamp. The road was clear and I didn't expect to hit any serious snow until after the Ski Hut.

The temperature at the trailhead was in the mid-40s, and the forecast for the summit was low 30s with a wind chill in the low 20s. There was already a steady 10-20 mph wind at the trailhead. I got everything prepped and started up the familiar road. For some reason, I zoned out at the Ski Hut trail junction and continued up the dirt road toward the notch. I've been on the this trail 5 times and know it well. When I realized I had passed it, I returned and with a small amount of focus picked it up. I was moving slower than usual. To protect my hands from the cold, I was sporting new Black Diamond gloves and they were doing their job. They were also stiff and made it hard to operate my camera and everything else. I didn't hit any snow or ice on the trail until around 7000'. Then, patches of ice of varying lengths appeared frequently. My plan was to work around the patchy ice and break out the crampons at the Ski Hut. As I gradually warmed up, I started to get too warm, so I stopped to take off my fleece layer. When the Ski Hut was finally in sight, I got a couple of twitches in my right calf. I didn't pay them any mind until it went full cramp just below the Ski Hut. I continued slowly up to the Hut itself and sat down in the small sheltered porch area to get out of the wind, which was a steady 20-25 mph. I thought I'd see how it felt after a little rest. I fumbled around for food and got the crampons out, but before it was time to put them on, the calf cramped again. Since the hardest half of the hike was ahead, I decided not to push it and packed up to head down. As I worked my way down, I passed a fair number of hikers headed up, but could only give them beta up to the Hut.

This hike convinced me that I perform poorly in cold weather. It doesn't seem to be a winter skills deficit, and skills can be acquired in any case. It seems more like a physiological thing. This was my first calf cramp during a hike. It just hasn't happened, except this time, in the cold. Looking back on other cold hikes I've done, my performance has consistently been poor. I've tried compensating for this with better gear, but it hasn't made much difference. I need to rethink how I plan cold hikes in the future...and how often.

Snowy Mt. San Antonio from the start

The Ski Hut, the only shelter along the trail, locked up tight

Telegraph Peak (left), and Cucamonga Peak (center) from the Ski Hut

San Antonio Falls running strongly, taken on the way down


  1. Bummer dude. But really, how bad can a morning at the hut be? And Baldy will still be there tomorrow.

    1. Madison,

      I like to think that if don't fail occasionally, I am not pushing myself hard enough. It seems like a good rationalization, but I just stink in the cold.