Los Angeles County Highpoint Trip Report

Date: May 9, 2005
Author: Matt Worster

"How to make a 4,000 foot gain into 6,000."

I arrived at the Falls Trailhead on Monday morning, trying to fit in an attempt or at least a recon on Mount Baldy before a 6 pm meeting in Temecula. I began to hike at 8:30, just behind two other hikers. We turned off the access road and headed up the trail to the ski hut. I caught up with the other hikers at the ski hut, elevation about 8,000 feet. The snow became continuous here in bowl, and we all switched to crampons. Had I been alone, I probably would have turned back in a few minutes since clouds brought the visibility to 50 feet. I joined their group and up we went.

We ascended the bowl, making for the southwest ridge of Baldy. After hitting the ridge (with a slight slushy cornice) we made for the summit in high winds. We reached the top and immediately headed down to get out of the wind and blowing snow/sleet.

We intended to go down a different chute than the one we ascended due to the steep grade. Alas, we made a classic white-out error: we failed to confirm our direction with a compass when we left the summit. We ended up on the *north* side of the east ridge and descended nearly 2,000 feet before realizing our error. There was nothing to do but to head up to the top again with the wind in our faces and descend correctly. Upon further review of the map, we could have shot for the saddle between Baldy and Harwood and saved 600 feet of gain but, with the conditions we were facing, it was probably better to retrace our rapidly disappearing steps rather than risk another error. Weather made map/compass/gps reading very difficult so we made the conservative choice.

I post this as a warning and reminder to be careful. The other two had summitted Baldy over 50 times between them, one of them doing it regularly at night this past winter. They are avid mountaineers (one has extensive experience over 20,000 feet). We still headed the wrong way because we failed to confirm our direction. I've done enough mountaineering to know what I'm doing but I still learned a lot from my experience: When you're in a group and you aren't the leader, take it from Ronald Reagan: "Trust, but verify." Don't get complacent just because the mountain is "only" 10,000 feet -- just don't get complacent (I suffered a terrible navigational experience at 3,000 feet this year - learned a lot there, too). This is the same mountain that RJ Secor took a fall on 3 weeks ago, and he's still in medical care.

Just keep your head up and be aware.