I went hiking up Mt. Baldy a few weeks ago and got lost in the snow on the way down. Yes, it was a terrifying experience but it had to be one of the best hikes I had ever done and by far the best Baldy ascend I’ve done yet.
I looked at the forecast, and it said that it would rain lightly in the morning and sunny in the afternoon. Although the weather wasn’t ideal, my adventurous self was thinking that it would nice to make it to the top of Baldy. Having previously hiked to the Icehouse Saddle a week earlier and successfully summited Baldy twice earlier in the summer, I thought that this shouldn’t be a problem.
However, I did make a rookie mistake by underestimating how different the trail would look in the snow and how fast the weather can change.
I took the ski lift up to the Notch Restaurant. Oh, I was also by myself, which I would advise my future self and everyone that it’s not a smart idea to hike alone in the snow unless if you’re super experienced, which I was obviously not.
Don’t worry because I actually ended up hiking with 3 others. We met in front of the Notch Restaurant. I decided to tag along with them because at that point, the weather was looking really crappy. It was freezing cold and super foggy. My original plan was to hike as far up as I could and head down if deem unsafe, but with other people, I could actually make it to the top, I thought.
We started hiking around 10am. The sky started to clear up, and it was a great sign. Once we could see through the mist, it was beautiful. The view during the winter definitely beats the summer view. The snow covered tree tops and almost crystal clear air were just so nice to look at.
The hike was rather smooth most of the way. If i stepped in a wrong spot, the snow could be up to my knee, but other than that, I wouldn’t say that the trail was anymore difficult. I’d actually even say that it’s a bit easier to hike during the summer because the snow almost make the trail even out and the slope wasn’t as steep, and I didn’t sweat as much because it was cold.
On our last mile or less to the top was when it started to get interesting. It was cold; very cold. My water bottle started to freeze. I had to use some muscle to open the lid because the leaked water turned to ice, and the water started to freeze with ice started to form in my water bottle. Now, I’ve never really hiked in the snow prior to that, so I thought that it was really cool.
I felt like I was a part of some intense expedition. You know, those exaggerating Everest summit expedition we see on Discovery Channel.
The fog moved in, and I couldn’t see the view at all. All I could see was the trail and possibly 10-15 feet around me and anything beyond that was just white.
The wind was really strong and I almost fell a few times. Luckily, if you have hiked Baldy before, you will know that the trail up the Devil’s Backbone trail is easy to follow because there’s nothing on either side of the slope.
I stopped to let other folks to catch up. Honestly, at this point, if I was alone, I probably would have head down. Knowing that I wouldn’t be able to see anything at the top and the weather only seemed to get worse, I hesitated to continue.
One fellow hiker told me that they wanted to make it to the top, and they encouraged me to keep going. I pondered for a second and decided to continue with them. Although I was getting a little scare, It was an exciting experience. I always enjoy adventure, and I thought “hey, I’ve never hiked in a snow storm before, so this is actually cool.” I felt like I was becoming a serious adventurer.
We finally got to the top. The fact that I couldn’t see the top at all until I was there made the ascend much easier. I looked up and saw the sign. I was certainly happy.
The first two times I got up to Baldy, I spent more than an hour just laying around at the top. But this time, I just wanted to hike down immediately. I waited for a few minutes for the other folks to catch up. We snapped some cool pictures.
Now is when it gets exciting. I was getting really cold, so I decided to hike down with another girl in the group without the other two guys. One of the guys had problem with his crampons, so he was just going fix it.
We started hiking down. I basically took the wrong path. At the top, the snow was thick enough that I couldn’t see the actual trail. It started to snow pretty heavily and covering up the footprints pretty fast.
I was so cold that i didn’t take a clear look at where I was going. We basically followed a wrong path down and ended up, I believe, on the ski hut trail instead of Devil’s Backbone.
We probably descend up half a mile down from the top. I don’t know why I didn’t realize earlier that we were on a wrong trail. Devil’s Backbone and Ski Hut are so drastically different. However, at that moment, I just wanted to get the hell out.
I realized that we were on a wrong trail and told the girl that we should stop. I looked around, and there were probably 5 or 6 different foot prints leading off to different directions. Now, I was freaking out a bit.
At the time, I didn’t think that we were on the ski hut trail but rather on a completely random side of the mountain. People ascend Baldy from different directions, and this could be any trail. I had no sense of where the Devil’s Backbone trail was, and to make things worse, we were separated from the other two guys. It was just me and the girl at this point.
She asked me “are we gonna be okay?”. I said “yes”, but honestly, I almost pooped my pants. I am definitely one of those people who get really angry at stupid characters in horror films. But at the moment, I completely understand why people do irrational things and make wrong decisions when they’re freaked out and confused.
Not to mention that my food was frozen, so I haven’t eaten since morning.
We called out for the other two guys. They descended down the same way, and we met up. After discussing and had a panic moment together, we decided to hike back up the mountain because it was the only place we were sure that would lead up back to the Devil’s Backbone. Seriously, in my head, I couldn’t believe how stupid I was. I even thought about the possibility that I could die up on the mountain and end up on the newspaper.
This all may sound very dramatic, and if i was reading this about someone else’s experience, I probably would think that he’s being dramatic too. The truth is that when you’re stuck in a tough situation like that and you’re scared, all you can think of is the worst possible scenario.
We hiked up for a bit. At this point, every step was heavy and hard; everyone was exhausted.
Fortunately, the sky cleared up for a minute. One guy ran to the ridge and saw the trail. I can’t tell you how relief I felt.
We got off trail (not that we were on one in the first place) and cut through the ridge of the mountain and hiked down the devil’s backbone.
Lessons learned! First, don’t hike alone unless you’re extremely experience. Things could have turned out worse if I was by myself, which I was originally. Second, always look around and check your position often! I know when you’re tired, all you look at is the ground, but that’s very unsafe. Third, don’t trust the weather forecast too much.
Regardless of how terrifying it was, it was one of the best hikes I’ve ever done. It was a great experience and the first time where I felt like my safety was questionable, which was scary but exciting. Most importantly, I was so glad to have met those folks on the trail. They were great company, and I hope to join them again in the future.