Ski Mountaineering

Mt. Baden-Powell (9,399')
April 26, 2009

Mark Goebel

Mt. Baden-Powell (BP) has long been a favorite late spring skiing destination of mine. When the snow on Mt. Baldy is long gone, the steep north facing slopes and gullies on BP (all would be considered at least black diamond runs at a major ski area) are still usually snow covered and easily accessible from the Vincent Gap trailhead on Hwy 2, just 5 miles west of Big Pines. The summer trail to the summit switchbacks up about 4 miles with a gain of 2800'. In spring, depending on the snow level, the trail will frequently be lost into the snow within the first 500' of gain. Then it's time to just boot up the slope until the summit is reached (2 1/2 hrs on the most recent trip). Usually we boot up carrying skis since the snow is still firm. It's a good idea to check forecasted weather and temperatures in the area just before a planned ascent. As we read in the Feb/Mar Mugelnoos, BP's north facing slopes can quickly turn icy and extremely dangerous. Aim for a day when the temperature will be well above freezing. Even then, carrying an ice axe can be valuable if you have to down climb steep or frozen snow. In May 2005, an axe would have been helpful when we had to down climb a near vertical section of snow to bypass a raging waterfall just above the Angeles Crest Hwy.

Once on the summit you can enjoy views south to the north side of Mt Baldy, Iron Mtn, and the steep drop down into the Iron Fork drainage. Snow permitting, energetic skiers frequently drop in on the south side for some bonus turns before their run down the north side. Watch for glider planes coming up from the desert area to the north. They frequently glide silently past the summit. For the ski back down to Hwy 2, you have a several choices. Most recently, this reporter and Bahram Manahedgi, starting at 1pm, descended a prominent gully that is just left of the trail when viewed from the parking area at Vincent Gap. From the high point just NE of the summit, we traversed on skis several hundred yards until we could see the gully falling away below us. We continued traversing a short distance further before making turns down among well spaced trees and eventually came into the side of the gully.

The snow for the entire descent had an enjoyable soften surface with a firm base giving us confidence on the steep slopes. There is actually a second gully a little east of the one we descended, and it may be preferred as it avoids a nasty near vertical section in our gully when the two come together. Fortunately we were able to avoid this difficulty with a dicey traversing sideslip into the adjacent gully. We were now only about 600' above the car, but rocks and tree branches falling in from the bare slopes littered the snow finger continuing down the gully. We carefully made our way downward, traversing back and forth among bushes until the snow ended. With our skis off for the first time since the top, it was only a short walk back to the car.

Another popular descent route goes straight north from the summit, down a broad treed bowl that eventually narrows into an obvious avalanche path continuing right down to Hwy 2 about 2/3rd of a mile west of Vincent Gap. The first time I skied this route (it's a little less steep than the eastern gully described above) there was so much snow that we skied right over the waterfall that is only a few hundred feet up from Hwy 2. The second time we had to deal with an exposed climb around the waterfall to avoid a torrent of water flowing back under the snow. One can also ski down following the trail route, but the snow may not continue as far down as it does in the gullies, and the lower section is steeper with tightly spaced trees. Beware, all of the gullies here are avalanche paths, so evaluate carefully the snow conditions before descending. In 2005 avalanches and flooding resulted in severe damage to Hwy 2 west of Vincent Gap. A new bridge has been installed over the washed out section and along with other repairs, the highway through to Islip Saddle may soon reopen. With the aid of a bicycle, one can access additional skiing opportunities on the north slopes of Mts. Burnham, Throop and Hawkins whenever the road is closed. The Crystal Lake, 7.5 minute topo map covers all of this area.

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