Mt Baldy via the South Face/Baldy Bowl
The story of a Big Wall climber in Southern Californian’s Alpine!
Snow, 4000′, Grade II
San Gabriel Mountains/Los Angeles County, California
10,064 ft (3,068 m)
I’m feeling God’s embrace, this is better than church!
~Sam/Seuk Doo Kim
The South Face of Mt Baldy
Mount San Antonio, better known as Mount Baldy, is the highest peak of the San Gabriel Mountains and one of the highest peaks in Southern California. At 10,064 ft (3,068 m) it is of a pretty respectable height. I have hiked Mt Baldy several times but had never climbed its South face, better known by name Baldy Bowl. It is a pretty straightforward snowfield climb of about 2000 feet with a maximum angle of 40 to 45 degrees, but being a south-facing route means that it can have some wet slides and rock fall on a warmer day, especially after a fresh snowfall. So on a cold January day, I decided to climb it with Andre, my big wall climbing partner and friend. Andre has climbed several big walls in Zion and Yosemite Valley and has climbed El Capitan from various routes. However, until that day, he had never been on a snow climb. So this route seemed like the best way to get him into some easy alpine climbing. The only concern we had was that the forecast called for 30-mile/hour winds in the morning, which could increase to 45 & 65-mile/hour winds in the evening.
The forecast called for 30-mile/hour winds in the morning, which could increase to 45 & 65-mile/hour winds in the evening.
Andre and I at the trailhead
A big wall climber having a little boot malfunction
One of the things that went wrong right away was that Andre’s mountaineering boots didn’t fit. His boots were a little too big, causing blisters from the heel lift when he walked. This wasn’t Andre’s fault. Andre and I went to the local REI a few days prior to look for the right sized mountaineering boots, but his size wasn’t in stock. We tried nearby REI stores and other climbing stores in San Diego area to no avail. Finally, with Andre determined to go, we tried to layer up on socks to fit his boots. Obviously, this had not worked either, so with the help of some moleskin, band-aid, and tape, he was somehow able to power through all the pain.
Sierra Club Hut
A line of people heading up the South Face/Baldy Bowl, as seen from the Sierra Club Hut
The wind was picking up, and Andre’s feet were hurting, but we were ready to go!
And up we go!
Andre coming up!
Little more to go
This picture goes out to my friends who wear Himalayan expedition parkas and mittens to Mt Baldy!
There is a 45-mile/hour wind blowing, the temperature is about 39 degrees F (4 C), and wind chill of 25 degree F (-4 C).
(Photo Credit: Kyle Daly)
Andre has done many, much more gnarly ascents on technical rock and big walls, but it was great to see him give his best in a new form of climbing, even with high winds and blistered feet. I was also very impressed with Andre’s love for all forms of climbing and not limiting himself to one style and proclaiming it to be the best! On the way down, Andre and I ran into Sam Kim. He asked us which couloir finish we had taken up, and when we told him, he remarked how easy it was and how we should have tried something harder being younger than him! This comment made me laugh. Tragically, this was the last time I saw or heard from Sam. Sam passed away two months later on the same mountain he loved to climb.
Total time car to car: 8 hours
Total Elevation gain and loss: 8,262 ft