Undoubtedly one of the best peak climbs in Southern California. Mt Baden Powell is a very prominent, pyramid-shaped peak that can be approached from several points. We chose to hike from the Vincent Gap trailhead, which is found a few miles north of the Grassy Hollow Visitors Center on the Angeles Crest Highway (Route 2). The nearest gas or shopping is found in Wrightwood, near the Mountain High Ski Resort, further south from Grassy Hollow. The peak is named for Lord Baden Powell, a British general and founder of the modern scouting movement. There is a cement monument on the peak with a brass plaque dedicated to his achievements, which were more significant than climbing the mountain named for him.
The trailhead was marked as Vincent Gap on our map and on the web, but the signpost on the Angeles Crest Highway said “Vincent Gulch.” It turned out to be one and the same. The start was clearly marked and there was ample parking on either side of the highway. There was a choice of trails at the northwest corner of the parking lot on the west side of the highway, and the trail you want is the one that goes directly ahead of you, not the one to the left.
The hike started in great pine forest cover and only after a few minutes, had great views of the Mojave Desert to the northeast. There were many switchbacks (rumor has it at 47) ahead before the trail eventually broke out onto a ridge that approached the summit from the east. The trail showed some signs of the heavy snowpack from the winter, as there were places where small rock avalanches narrowed the trail, but in general, it was great footing everywhere.
Just after the ridge started and below the summit, the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) broke off to the northwest. From here, you could continue to the summit or head along the PCT toward Dawson Saddle 4 km (2.5 miles), Windy Gap 8.3 km (5.2 miles) or Islip Saddle 11.5 km (7.2 miles). To the south, the ridge dropped sharply down into a deep canyon that we were told was Mine Gulch. The prominence of Mt Baden Powell was even more obvious from this vantage point.
What was most impressive, however, was the incredible view of Mt Baldy (Mt San Antonio) to the south. We’ve climbed Mt Baldy from the Baldy ski lifts and it was great to think we’d been there already, looking to where we were today. We could also see the upper reaches of the East Fork of the San Gabriel River, where we’ve hiked to the Bridge to Nowhere and have ridden motorcycles in the OHV area just above the highest dam. In the far distance, we could just make out San Gorgonio Mountain 3709 m (11,499 ft), the highest peak in Southern California and a tough climb that we’ve vowed to accomplish in the coming months.
The views from the top of Mt Baden Powell were truly fantastic. It is a true 360 degree panorama of desert to the east, mountains to the north and south, and the many antennas of Mt Wilson to the east. We could see where Los Angeles should have been but it was shrouded in summer haze. The weather couldn’t have been more perfect at the peak with a gentle breeze, cool but not cold temperatures, and a brilliantly sunny sky from horizon to horizon. We spent time talking with people enjoying like we were, and then headed back down the mountain.
Pee Pee Razzi
It was thrilling to see a glider pass so close by the mountain that we could see the pilot’s face. The second time it passed, we realized that both incidents coincided with Jeanne taking a bio break nearby, leading us to believe the glider’s timing was not accidental and he was probably trying to take pictures. We decided the pilot was part of the pee-pee-razzi. It seemed funny in the moment. Before you think we had a unique experience, check out Dan Simpson’s account of his Mt Baden Powell hike where he talks about gliders coming out of nowhere and circling the peak closely enough to wave at the pilots.
When Gwenn hikes, she does so with all of the vigor and energy that she does everything, causing her to sometimes develop foam around her mouth. She also loves to ‘greet’ other dogs we meet on the trail and today, she managed to leave a significant amount of saliva on the other dog. The owner seemed to take it in stride, so I didn’t feel too glib telling him, “spit happens.” It also seemed very funny in the moment.
This is truly great hike on a single track trail that is very well maintained. There was no poison oak to be found, but we were warned about a “poodle dog bush” that supposedly has similar effects. The trail is only 12.8 km (8 miles) but it covers a healthy 904 m (2803 ft.) and at a higher altitude than you’ll find on the western side of the San Gabriels with the exception of Mt Baldy. Because we were on the northeast slopes, there was less sun, less dryness, and far more trees. Most of the hike was in the shade, in fact. Remember to bring plenty of water if you choose to take this track, as there is none at the trailhead and only one spring along the way that we didn’t stop to verify.