Let's Hike: Mount Baden-Powell
The climb up Mount Baden Powell is a great (intense) leg workout. While it is a fairly flat dirt path for most of the trail, the incline hidden in these switchbacks is obvious to your legs and your lungs. We had a free weekend and had an itch to go for a longer hike, so after a bit of research, we chose this trail. The Angeles National Forest is fairly close to home, so it let us get a little bit of an earlier start on this one.
When you get out of the coastal cities and up in these hills, it is amazing how blue the skies get, how white the clouds seem, and how wonderful the air smells. These sensations all become much stronger when you finish climbing this almost 3,000 feet gaining trail to summit Mount Baden-Powell. It stands tall at 9,399 feet, provides stunning panoramic views of the San Gabriel's and surrounding features. Once you catch your breath and take a good look around, those 40 switchbacks will seem worth it.
We stopped at a ranger station and checked in on the status of the trail, bought a souvenir or two, and headed towards the parking lot up the road a ways. We parked in the crowded lot for the Vincent Gap Trailhead (several other trails connect here) just a bit before 9am, and there were maybe four or five remaining spots for cars. The parking lot is located just off of Highway 2, about 2 miles from Wrightwood.
You join the trail just off of the west end of the parking lot, near the restrooms. Take the chance to use those restrooms, because this hike is not be a quick one. Right away, you are greeted with a couple of signs that let you know you're headed the right way. They also let you know you're joining the Pacific Crest Trail! And just as quickly, you hit the first of many switchbacks that get you up this summit.
We enjoyed the first few switchbacks, and I began keeping count at every turn. We walked through dirt and rocks, then became surrounded by large trees that seemed to grow taller the further up we climbed. You'll meet a fork at the Lamel Springs Connector - continue on your trail to the right.
About 3/4 of the way to the top, we noticed a spot of snow off to the side. This was the highlight of the whole adventure for me (Andrea). I love snow, but it's hard to find in Southern California sometimes!
As you trek this steep climb, you can see the climate zones changing all around you. From dense forest, to rocky turf, to limber pine forests, to twisted trees at the summit. The terrain turned more rocky and harsh as we continued, and soon began to clear out with views at every angle. Soon after you reach this new zone, you'll approach a sign that indicates the split off of the PCT towards the summit. Stay right at this point.
Keep an eye out for the "Wally Waldron" tree. This tree is a mighty 1,500+ year old limber pine and may well be the oldest in the San Gabriel Mountains (as indicated by a nearby sign). This tree speaks to the roughness of the climate at this height - many years of ice and snow, treacherous conditions for hikers and trees, have twisted this beast into a unique form.
At this point, follow the almost straight ahead trail right up to the summit. You'll see a stone monument and know you have arrived. Hopefully you will have a chance to mark the register and check out the items left behind (maybe you'll find our card)! We didn't get a lot of time at the summit on our trip, because we were being surrounded by bees. I am allergic to bees, so I don't mess around with them when I'm that far removed from medical care. We tried to stay and look around, but after a few minutes, realized that the smart choice was to just leave.
There are a couple of nice shade trees at the top to sit and have lunch under - if you aren't getting a lot of attention from stinging insects. After you've had your break, and a good look around - it's time to start the trek down, exactly as you came up. This half of the hike will go much quicker, as downhill hikes tend to go.
We really enjoyed this hike and would definitely recommend that you take some time to try it out. If you aren't superman, expect to take a few breaks just to catch your breath and rest your legs, and expect the legs to be a bit sore the next day. But, by all means, it is worth it - go try it out!
- Trail Distance: 8 miles roundtrip
- Elevation Gain: +/- 2800 feet
- Time to Complete: +/- 5 hours
- Panoramic views, limber pine forests, maybe some snow!
- Take snacks and lots of water - the climb will make you hungry and thirsty!
- Be sure to wear sunscreen - the clear air that makes those pretty blue skies also let's your skin see a lot of sun!
- Check road conditions (Caltrans) for Highway 2 before you go - the road is often closed for rain and snow.
- I highly recommend trekking poles for these steeper hikes - makes things much easier on your knees! And by all means, wear good shoes. This is a tough walk on the feet and legs.
- Take a layer or two - temperatures can change quite a bit between the parking lot and the summit!
- A Forest Adventure Pass is required to park at the trailhead since this hike is in the Angeles National Forest. While in the forest, please follow the rules of fire safety and Leave No Trace!