11/28/09 A snowy hike to the top of Pine Mtn below Mt. Baldy. 14 miles, 5000' elevation gain, 18 degrees Fahrenheit, low visibility, heavy snow, the only human around. Awesome!
1 So, I'm, out eating dinner at 7:00pm the night before the hike thinking it was going to be a warm weekend (it had been unseasonably warm all week). Curious to see just how warm it was supposed to be, I check the weather forecast on my iPhone. Forecast... high of 36 degrees with snow!! What the heck??? Talk about a dramatic change of plans. Do I cancel, or do I still go? I had 2 hours until the stores closed to stock up on some warm gear. I started a mad dash to find new tire chains, hit up Sports Chalet for gloves, beanie, etc. Found everything I needed. Hell ya I'm going!! Hmm, more snow than I thought there was going to be. I almost needed the new chains I bought. And I almost slid off the road. Temperature is exactly 32 degrees. I'm afraid to park too far away from the Highway, so I park in front of a little cafe. I hope they don't tow the car. I put on another layer of clothes, pack up my gear, and head out. Elevation 5995'. Time 7:05am.
2 One of several "No Tresspassing" signs you have to pass to make it to the trailhead. I wonder if they really mean it?
3 Start of the Acorn trail. Now that I know exactly where it is, it didn't take me 45 minutes to find like last time.
4 This trail is wide and easy to see, should be no problem finding the trail here. BUT, the bite valve for my hydration bladder is completely frozen. I have to warm it for a few minutes just to get a sip of water out. Not good.
5 A nice morning view. I might luck out and have clear skies for the day. Or not...
6 Not a single human, nor a single human footprint the entire day. But LOTS of deer prints (never did see an actual deer though).
7 After briefly losing the trail and having to backtrack, I made it the top of the Acorn trail. 8240'. Temperature is now 26 degrees.
8 You have to follow a fireroad along the ridge for about a mile to get to the next section of single track. This road is part of the famous Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). I ran this portion. Trail running in the snow is a blast. It's tough on the ankles though, feet slip and slide on every stride.
9 Here is where the Backbone Trail starts. Obvious isn't it? I'm not sure how you would ever now without having done it before.
10 If you look over the side of the fireroad at just the right spot, you can see the sign that marks the start of the Backbone trail. One of my favorite trails.
11 It's hard to tell from the picture, but this is a STEEP descent. It was slippery and hard to find the trail in completely dry conditions. Now that it's covered in snow, will I make it?
12 I'm beginning to have second thoughts now. The snow is getting deeper. It's now 18 degrees (and that's without the wind chill). No more sun out, it's starting to lightly snow, and visibility is dropping. I'm realizing my gloves are not warm enough. My fingers are going numb. I try putting my hands in my pockets, but then I can't balance. I've already been on my ass several times. To make matters worse, the entire tube from my hydration bladder is now frozen stiff as a rod (full of solid ice). My only hydration for the rest of the hike is eating snow.
13 It's called the Backbone trail for good reason. You follow this narrow ridge between two peaks with steep drop offs on either side. It is WINDY here. You can see how the snow blows entirely to one side of the ridge.
14 Despite the cold, I still have a chance to enjoy the amazing scenery.
15 Depending on the wind, there are areas of knee deep snow. You have to be really careful where you step.
16 Even though the trail is invisible, it's tough to get lost here. Just follow the ridge. But it is getting really cold. The thermometer is hovering between 15 and 18 degrees and with the wind chill, I wouldn't be surprised if it's sub zero.
17 Once the trail leaves the obvious ridgeline, things start getting a lot tougher. This area of the trail was VERY hard to follow even with zero snow. Now it's completely covered in snow. I'm basically just guessing and wandering in a general direction at this point. Visibility is extremely low, so I can't see any of the peaks around me to get my bearings. I'm going by compass, map, and a couple glances at my iPhone GPS (the battery is almost dead, and I'm worried about the phone getting wet and frozen, so I use it sparingly). I double back many times. I slip and slide and crash land many times. This is the first point at which I start to really get worried and wonder whether I'm being stupid here. I don't take too many pictures during this stretch.
18 A sign! I must be headed in the right direction. My mountaineering skills are improving :) However, now that I feel less lost, I start to become aware of my left big toe. It is really, REALLY, cold. Though my Salomon shoes are awesome, they aren't waterproof. And my shoes have been covered in snow for hours now. I think that as I slowed down while I was lost, less blood was pumping through my toes, and their temperature dropped preciptiously.
19 I made it to Pine Mtn. Elevation 9648'. I was beginning to seriously wonder if I would make it this far. It's a bit warmer here away from the ridgeline (upper 20s). But I'm really getting worried about my toe. I take my shoe and sock off so that I can try to warm my toe with my bare hands. It feels like a solid block, almost no feeling, and I can't bend it. It's bright red. I'm not sure what the early signs of frostbite are, and I don't think I want to chance it. And I want to be sure I leave plenty of time for getting down before dark. I decide to make Pine Mtn my summit for the day. I wander around Pine Mtn for a little while trying to get blood flowing back into my toes before I head down. Someone built a couple huge and elaborate trail markers here. Pretty cool.
20 A 360 video from the top of Pine Mtn. You can hear the wind and the snow falling.
21 Backpackers built a tent shelter on Pine Mtn at some point. It's quickly filling with snow.
22 Mt. Baldy is right there. Just a couple miles away and less than 500' higher than where I am now. With a just a few equipment changes, I think I could have summited. Oh well, maybe next time.
23 I head back down. It's now snowing heavily. My footprints from the way up are slowly but surely starting to fade. If they disappear, I'm screwed. I've learned that trails are harder to follow while going downhill than uphill, and I was counting on being able to follow my footprints back down.
24 As I head back down the ridgeline, visibility gets even lower, the temperature is back down to 18 degrees, and the wind picks up. But, my toe is starting to warm-up and I'm actually feeling pretty good.
25 It's always hard to judge steepness in photos, but trust me, you don't want to slip down that!
26 Every so often amidst the cold and worry of losing the trail, I just have to snap a picture of the amazing views.
27 It's now snowing heavily with HUGE snowflakes. And they have amazing different shapes. Maybe not a big deal if you grew up in the snow, but pretty cool for me.
28 Check out the perfect shape of that snowflake. How cool is that?
29 Following my tracks back down the Acorn trail. The toughest part is behind me and I'm feeling pretty good.
30 Another shot of the Acorn trail, even deeper in snow than I when I last saw it. Notice my footprints are about half the depth they were before.
31 Back to the edge of Wrightwood and civilization. I made it!
32 One of many amazing private houses/lodges in Wrightwood. I wonder if they ever do anything other than ski up here. I feel a little apprehensive trespassing through their private streets.
33 One of many old buildings in Wrightwood. This one evidently a lodge from 1926.
34 Transportation in Wrightwood.
35 The cafe where I parked my car. I feel bad for leaving it here all day, but I do end-up eatintg here, so I am technically a customer.
36 An amusing sign in the bathroom at the cafe, and the end of my trip.