This past Saturday, with the help of a Subway sandwich bribe, I convinced Samantha, my twelve-year-old, to hike up Mt. Baden-Powell with some of our Scouts as part of their Sierra training. We started from Vincent Gap off California Highway 2, up forty unforgiving switchbacks, and made it to the peak of Mt. Baden-Powell in the Angeles National Forest. As mentioned in Hiking Mt. Baden-Powell, this trail is well-trafficked by Scouts as well as other adventuresome hikers. This Saturday was found to be rather busy on the trail, but being away from the peaks closer to LA, the traffic was manageable. The peak also provides some awesome 360 views of the desert and valleys below. This weekend’s weather was perfect for taking in these views at 9406 feet.
It was foggy on the drive up the Cajon Pass, but this cleared as we got closer to Wrightwood . The hike starts at 6565 feet above sea level, so the day stayed pretty mild as we were up in elevation. While much of the trail was decently shaded, the sun was brutal on Sami’s fair self. Still the thought of that Subway treat and her bag of Cheetos kept her going on the hike as it followed the Pacific Crest Trail up the north side of the mountain. As we approached the summit, we saw the change in ecology. With each switchback, the scenery changed from a pretty well-wooded oak and pine forest to a more barren landscape of limber pines and manzanita. We also found a few scattered patches of snow, which Sami loved because it meant that she could get in a mini-snowball fight with the boys. It was slow going as we acclimated to the exercise and elevation, but we soon arrived at the Wally Waldron tree, an ancient limber pine, said to be over 1500 years old and named after an old Boy Scout leader. Sami and another Scout were pretty tired and ready to be done with the trail, but we were too far along to quit now. We followed the backbone and finally arrived at the Boy Scouts of America monument to Lord Baden-Powell.
We took about a 45 minute break for lunch. Sami relaxed by lying down on her brother’s insulate pad until her other brother opportunistically commandeered the pad when she went with me for a photo. After more pictures and snacks, we were ready to trek down the mountain. Like last time, the hike down killed my knees, even with the aid of a trekking pole. And this time, I was in hiking boots that were a little too big, which caused a lot of discomfort on my toes. My perfectly-sized, nice worn pair actually met their end on this very mountain two years ago. For Sami, going down proved more challenging than going up, and it was harder to keep her motivated. Nevertheless, we got back to Vincent Gap in about an hour and a half, and were rewarded with cold beverages at the Marketplace in Wrightwood.
It was an exhausting 8 miles, but also an empowering experience for my Sami. To climb 2966 feet in four miles, according to Strava, over 40 grueling switchbacks was a challenge, but one that was doable and well worth it. And it was a good reminder to myself and to Sami, that it isn’t about how quickly you get up the mountain, it’s about persevering to get to the peak, and enjoying the journey.
Some things to consider:
This hike is rated by most as difficult and for good reason. 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. I recommend more water than you think is necessary, as well as ibuprofen for the inevitable headache.
The trail is well-maintained, but is steep in parts. Trekking poles are helpful for the steep and rocky areas. I’ve done this hike with and without them, and I thought it was significantly easier coming down with the poles to assist. I also recommend practice hikes to lead up to Baden-Powell, especially for those who are less experienced. We have done several hikes such as Henninger Flats and Echo Mountain to train for these more strenuous adventures.
An Adventure Pass is required to park at the parking lot at Vincent Gap. You may purchase one at REI or from the U.S. Forest Service. We used our America the Beautiful Pass, which grants entry to national parks and other federally protected lands. At $80, this is a great value if you plan on visiting multiple national recreation areas. Our pass came with a handy placard to hang the card from the rearview mirror.
The hike to Mt. Baden-Powell is an adventure to remember, one of many to be had in our San Gabriel Mountains. I am so glad that my Sami was able to experience it, proving to herself that she can climb many mountains. I hope you can too. Happy trails!