Stranded In The Southland

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Hiking in the Snow to Near the Top of Mt. Waterman

A couple of weeks ago, I set out to do a quick hike up the the Ski Hut on Mt. Baldy. A month ago, there were great gouts of snow falling on there, but I'd somehow decided that it had all melted from the south-facing bits of the mountain.

Not so much. I'd left behind my gaiters (which wrap around my ankles to keep the snow out of my boots) and my snow shoes and most of my hardcore gear. I had to turn around about a half mile from the Ski Hut when I was postholing in snow up to my knees, and the sun was headed down. Oh, well.

Last weekend, I was determined to be stopped by nothing. I packed up all my gear, up to and including my amazingly thick fleece balaclava that would be too uncomfortable to wear if the temperature was above zero, and headed out to get to the top of Mt. Waterman, an HPS peak that topped out at around 8,000 feet.

I naively assumed that some of the snow had melted there, too, but as it used to be a ski area, I was prepared for some pretty good snow. After a pleasant drive through the mountains, I arrived to find foot-deep snow that was hard and fairly supportive without being slippery or icy.

I either started at the wrong spot, or the usual trail up to Mt. Waterman was totally unused. I figured that discretion was the better part of valor, and headed up following a fair number of boot and snowshoe prints.

After hitting a road, I wound up hiking that road all the way up to the ski area, Waterman Village, and then up to a what looked like the summit, complete with a small radio hut. It was fantastically beautiful, with bright sun shining down, clouds wreathing other mountains, and mostly untrammelled snow all around.

Despite the deep snow, it was nice and warm out, and I was perfectly comfortable in my light nylon hiking pants and t-shirt, nylon shirt, and shell. It was wonderful to realize that I'd woken up that morning to see folks in shorts playing basketball outside my front window, and here I was on top of a snow-covered mountain, all alone, sinking in up to my knees.

I donned my snowshoes after just a bit of the postholing and headed back down. There were some spots on the dirt road where the snow disappeared (whether due to wind or sunshine I couldn't say), but it was a fine trip back, and then the usual somewhat aggravating drive back down through the great twisties, following some idiot who couldn't bother to get up to the speed limit.

Honestly, it'd take folks 10 seconds to pull off at one of the millions of wide turnouts that line Angeles Crest Highway. I have no idea why, but some folks just never, ever, manage to figure out that I'd be delighted to get past 'em. I'm sure it's just ignorance, but I wish it would stop.

Anyway, it was a great day, and all the slow driving convinced me to drop the top on the Miata and lean back and enjoy the scenery, so even that wasn't a disaster. Woo hoo -- I'm happy that I live less than an hour from snow-covered peaks!