Last summer, Emily and I had the opportunity to complete what could be considered a Scout rite of passage. We hiked from Vincent Gap, up forty unrelenting switchbacks, and made it to the peak of Mt. Baden-Powell in the Angeles National Forest in Southern California. Named for Lord Robert Baden-Powell, the British Army officer who founded Scouting in 1907, this hike is special to Scouters, and is well trafficked by Scouts as well as other adventuresome hikers. The peak also provides some awesome 360 views of the desert and valleys below. At 9399 feet, it is one of the highest points in the San Gabriel Mountains.
My boys’ troop uses Mt. Baden-Powell as one of their training hikes to prepare for their Sierra Trek. Emily and I did it last year as part of a four-day campout that included other parts of the Pacific Crest Trail around the town of Wrightwood. We did the hike in mid-July, and as the hike starts at 6565 feet above sea level, the temperatures were pretty mild. Most of the trail was pretty well shaded even on a cloudless summer day, as it followed the Silver Moccasin Trail and Pacific Crest Trails up the north side of the mountain. This didn’t make the hike any less difficult, but at least we weren’t exposed to the blazing sun the entire time. As we approached the summit, we saw the change in ecology. With each switchback, the scenery changed from a pretty well-wooded forest to a more barren landscape of limber pines. Close to the summit, when I was too tired to count how many switchbacks we actually completed, we arrived at the Wally Waldon tree, an ancient limber pine, said to be over 1500 years old. At that point, both Emily and I were pretty fatigued, and were disappointed to learn that we had not reached the end of the hike. I should say I was disappointed anyway; my tired self didn’t want to move anymore. But we were so close. We continued on another eighth of a mile or so and finally arrived at the Boy Scouts of America monument to Lord Baden-Powell.
The views from 9399 feet were truly spectacular. It was fine day to enjoy looking down on the San Gabriel Mountains and the basin below.
After a trail lunch and plenty of water, we were eventually ready to head back down. I won’t lie, going downhill was a killer on the knees, but it was slightly less of a torture trek going down. On the way back to the car, we took the short side trail to Lamel Spring. Keep a good eye for it; it’s a small puddle of cold, clear water and it’s easy to miss. I have no idea how Lamel Spring got its name, nor could I find much information on its significance. At any rate, it was a fun little side trail, and it was nice to stick my hands in some cool water.
It was an exhausting 8.7 miles, but also an exhilarating experience. To climb 2800 feet in four miles over 40 grueling switchbacks was a challenge, but one that was doable and well worth it. Yes we were tired, but we felt proud of what we had accomplished. And yes, we did brag to the boys.
Some things to note:
This hike is no joke. The altitude alone can be an issue for those who aren’t used to higher elevations or those susceptible to altitude sickness. Give yourself time to acclimate to the elevation. When on the trail, be sure to hydrate and know your limits.
Multiple hiking sites rate Mt. Baden-Powell as a strenuous hike. The trail is well-maintained, but is steep in parts. I recommend practice hikes to lead up to Baden-Powell, especially for those who are less experienced. We do our Henninger hikes to train for more strenuous adventures.
The hike to Mt. Baden-Powell was an adventure to remember, one of many to be had in our San Gabriel Mountains. Happy trails!
For more information and sources:
Photos of the Wally Waldon Pine: John Orolfo
Other photos: Rochelle Haas and Emily Haas