Mt. Baldy-er: Getting Dirty to the Ski Lodge

Is CiclaValley getting too full of himself?

Mt. Baldy is an iconic climb, so much so that when I came up with my “Most Essential Climbs in LA” list, it came out on top.

It has everything.

Great views, challenging segments, Tour of California pedigree, shifting scenery, history and so on.

If you do the full 12.7 mile length from Mills Road, it’s almost a mile of vertical.

Even if you start from the Village, you still have 2,000 feet of climbing through those memorable switchbacks.

Either way, ending up 6,400 feet of elevation at the ski lifts parking lot is pretty significant and puts you well above many other well known climbs like Mount Wilson.

Still….. there’s something about wanting to climb but still being at the bottom of something.

At this point, the top of Baldy is still two-thirds of a mile above this point. so in a way I’ve felt like Icarus.

This last winter, I wanted to take my daughter to play in some snow for the first time, so we drove out early to ride a ride up the ski lifts.

Any ride like this feels perilous as your rickety chair swings from side to side while you try to ignore this is earthquake country.

I bided my time by doing anything but look directly below while instilling an “All is Well” attitude in front of my daughter.

Looking into the snow blanketed slopes, I started to notice a winding horizontal cut that made its way to the top of the lifts.



Is that a road?


Under these winter conditions, the road wasn’t ridable as you needed an extreme fat tire bike to make it up, but it did look wide enough and not excessively steep to climb whenever the snow thawed.

It took a couple of seasons to pass, but I finally got the chance to climb on a recent August afternoon.

Instead of starting near the bottom of Mt. Baldy Road, I drove to the Village area to buy a pass and park nearby since I had already done a group ride in the morning.

It was 90F outside making the iconic switchbacks enough of a warm-up, if not a way to deplete my energy to start.

Thinking I would be saved from climbing the last steep portion on this road to the lifts, I incorrectly turned into the driveway right after the closed Snow Crest Lodge.



 You only have to climb part of the “wall” before turning off.


Unfortunately, you have to suffer up the first half of extreme vert turning left right after the road splits which is not fun if you’ve already prepped your tire pressure to off road mode.

The gated entrance is nearby and unless it’s been recently opened you’ll have to dismount to make it around the rocks.



 Start here…


For the first third of a mile, the road is decently paved and carries a solid 9% which is on the border of what I consider “work”.

On this segment, you’ll see a number of hikers heading for the nearby waterfalls which was still flowing heavily and can clearly be seen ahead.

As tempting as it may be to dip in, the road then switchbacks at this point where you’ll say goodbye to concrete for the rest of the climb.



 A lot more water than you’d think in summer…


Riding on nobby 37s, the road felt a little sandy, but never enough to spin out.

I even felt like I could ride faster once I made the transition from pavement to dirt.

If riding the main road didn’t feel like an escape enough, there was something more tranquil about riding closer to the trees.

Along the way, I would pass the occasional hiker or mountain biker who seemed to be carrying more goods than for just a typical out and back jaunt.

After a couple of turns, I was surprised to see that I was already looking down on the ski lifts parking lot.

Now if you’re looking to do the minimal amount of off-roading as the crow flies, you’ll see there is a dirt road coming off the top of the lot, but don’t be tempted.



 The spec on the lower right made it only to the shaded part an hour later.


It looks friendly from above, but the word on the street is that it has a grade that reaches 25% and is nearly impossible to climb.

Illustrating the difficulty, I could see a couple pulling a wagon of camping goods literally making inches of progress at a time.

By the time I came down an hour later, they had only moved 200 feet.



Dry, but beautiful.


Resuming my ride, it’s easy to keep tempo as the pitch stays a steady 8% – 9% never putting me into the red.

Still, I was a bit tired from my earlier ride and I had second thoughts about turning around being out of sight from the ski lifts for so long.

Fortunately, at that time of self doubt, I came up to the turn where not only can you see the lodge, but you’re close enough to the passing chairs that someone could throw you their phone.

The lodge still looked far, but knowing the vertical difference from the lifts was 1,300 feet and I was closer to the top than the bottom, gave me the motivation to continue on.



Some great views back.


One detail I’ve failed to notice on prior rides is the large presence of rock sediment that slopes the hillsides, especially to the east of the cables.

I don’t know if this is due to slides or blasting, but it seems like the integrity of the road could be compromised easily with an earthquake or rockslide.

With a 1km left of climbing, the road goes under the cables for the only time as you look get your best look back to where you’ve ridden.



The road cuts like a knife.


While you can’t see the valley past the parking lot, you do get a few glimpses of the dirt you’ve just climbed which looks far more tranquil from this angle.

It’s a short distance before your final switchback, but there is a decision to make.

There are three other directions you can choose at this point, a direct and steep u-turn to the lodge, a left turn to a flatter option or straight ahead to I don’t know where.

I chose the rational option not just for the ease factor, but also to expose me to other views.

From here I could see small pond to my left and Thunder Mountain with its ski lifts to my right.



Almost there….


This segment felt like it took longer than it should have, but being this close to the finish and taking it in probably had something to do with that.

You peak at a little above the lodge among the snow plowing equipment to an area that still feels like a playground in the middle of summer.

There’s a strong presence of hikers and campers abound giving the feel of a college campus quad.



A look at where you came from.


It was 2:30 on a Friday afternoon and a band was playing fervently outside as a small crowd was building.

Inside the lodge, I refilled my water bottles up while being tempted to grab a celebratory beer.



Rocky Top


I know the dream would be to continue to the top of Mt. Baldy, but it gets problematic to climb on a gravel bike from here.

Going to the northern part of the area, Mt. Baldy Road does continue down towards the Wrightwood area, but that’s an adventure for another day.

You do get a great view of the Mojave Valley looking at I-15 sweep through Cajon Junction where Route 66 used to rule.



 Apple Valley and Cajon Junction


This ride may not have covered a lot of ground, but it’s one I know that I’ll return to again and again.

…as long as there’s no snow.


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