Since beginning of this year I have really gotten into night photography and Saturday April 7th was a full moon night so I decided it would be a great idea to camp and spend the night on top of mt baldy.
In hindsight not such a great idea mainly because of freaking winds on summit and late moon rise but nevertheless it was a great learning experience and an adventure which i do not regret one single bit and most likely would do it again or maybe not we shall see.
I setup a Facebook event and was expecting few people to join me but no one did. I was on the fence about doing this as a solo backpacking trip and I have to say it took some courage on my part to get going.
I wanted to take the bear canyon trail which is only 6 miles but you gain 6000ft of elevation so it wasn’t going to be easy. Initially i had company if I left early, a friend of mine was planning on doing it as a day hike but after we found that a meetup group had the same hike planned n were leaving earlier I decided to fall back to the original plan of leaving late and it turned out to be a good thing.
My car tire pressure was getting low for a while now and it happened again so as I was leaving I decided to get it checked out. Sure enough there was a nail in there and I was glad that I got it fixed before hitting the freeway.
I reached baldy village at around 10.45 and after asking about permit and conditions at the ranger station I decided not to carry my shovel. I didn’t need a permit but I was warned about the cold, the rangers forgot to mention the wind.
As soon as I started my hike around 11, I was sure that with a 53lbs backpack it would be a challenge. I wasn’t sure at this point if I would be able to make it to the summit and did think about returning but I told myself lets just get to bear flats and take it from there.
It also takes me a while to get into rhythm while hiking so I just hiked at my own steady pace. I got to bear flats in an hour which was pleasantly surprising so I just decided to continue and I knew one step at a time I would make it to the summit.
I continued on after a brief break and decided that i would take small breaks on the trail instead of a big one after an hour. It also helped that i was carrying my camelback so water access was easy.
Met couple of hikers on their way down and they told me the snow levels were pretty high around 9000 ft so that was my marker to put on the crampons. I also intended to reach the summit before sunset since the moon rise was around 9 and it made sense to setup camp before dark.
It was a slow trek up and i wanted to stop couple of times to take pictures but didn’t feel like it, i thought i would take them on the way down but that didn’t happen either so lesson learnt.
I was getting closer to the main ridge and couple of guys on their way down warned me about couple of feet of snow further up, i wasn’t too worried since i had my crampons and gaiters.
It turned out that there wasn’t as much snow as those guys told me and i didn’t feel the need to put on my crampons. i completed the traverse to get on the final section to get to summit and took a break for the final push.
As i was going along, i thought all this while to myself that the conditions are summer like. I lugged all this gear for no reason, i could have used my 3 season tent, didn’t need any crampons or gaiters but later i found out how wrong i was.
As i got closer to the summit, it was getting little tricky staying on the right path. I was following some footsteps but they went little higher up and the route goes little lower and merges with the manker flats route before ending at the top.
After little bit of scrambling and looking around i managed to find the summit and decided to pitch my tent immediately. It took me 7 grueling hours to get there, i would have liked to do it in 6 but i was happy with the time considering that i doubts very early on. Luckily it wasn’t windy so pitching the tent was pretty easy but at the same time i made sure that i made dead mans with the snow stakes. At one time i did consider not putting on the rainfly which would have been a very very bad decision.
I took some pictures of the sunset and between the time moon would rise i was planning on cooking dinner. I wasn’t expecting any company but a lone hiker showed up around sunset, he wasn’t carrying camping gear just wanted to do a night hike. After a brief chat, he left and i was left all alone again.
As i was making dinner the wind picked up quite a bit, initially i didn’t think too much about it and went about my merry way eating dinner and heating water. I would have liked to have some hot chocolate but i forgot to bring any but i certainly was looking forward to having chai tea in the morning.
I was happy taking some night pics while waiting moon to rise but it was definitely testing my patience. I was done trying to figure out what else to take pics of and the wind wasn’t helping either.
I was almost about to call it a night but i saw a fiery red thing on the horizon, i got really excited and indeed it was the moon rising. It rose pretty quickly but the red glow around it was really amazing. All this effort was totally worth it for that couple of minutes.
I didn’t want to spend too much time outside anymore and immediately crashed in my tent. The sound of the wind felt like rain drops falling and it was little weird. I didn’t try to think too much about it and tried to go to sleep.
My sleeping bag really kept me comfortable throughout the night but whenever i woke up i could hear the wind howling outside and i was like, glad i didn’t bring my 3 season tent and decided to really bury those snow stakes.
I woke up at 6 am and the wind was really ripping, i wasn’t sure if the tent would hold or not at certain times but at the same time before going to bed I did put some extra rocks on top of every stake just to be safe.
I was hoping that the wind would die down and give me some time to make my breakfast and tea. I waited patiently for an hour but no respite, tried to go back to sleep but couldn’t and finally at around 8.15 i had enough of it.
I didn’t have motivation to fight the wind to make some tea and breakfast and had 2 liters of water from last night which would be enough for the hike down so i decided to shake off my laziness and start packing.
It was going to interesting with the wind trying to take down the tent and i had to come up with a strategy to make sure it didn’t go flying down the hill. I decided to take down the tarp first as it was obvious but didn’t take everything out of the tent and made sure it was weighted. The poles came in next and finally the tent, it wasn’t as bad as i thought but i still had to be careful.
On my way down since the snow was little firm i decided to use my crampons for a bit, i also met couple of guys who were planning on climbing denali this year. One of them wanted to hike in ladakh and it was nice to talk to him about it.
The crampons didn’t last too long and i decided to take them off since the snow was getting softer and there were footsteps for me to follow in. I had blisters on my heels from the hike up and they were starting to bother me.
Getting to the ridge was easy and I did manage to do it at a decent pace but then blisters were happening on my toes as well which wasn’t a good thing. I had moleskin on me but it usually doesn’t do anything at all, I forgot to tape my feet before the hike and was paying the price for it.
My target was to get down in 4 hours but with the blisters and barely anything had come out of my pack so it weighed almost the same it was baby steps on the way down. I was expecting couple of people who passed on their way up, pass me on their way down as well and indeed it happened. I was painfully slow and taking my own sweet time.
Finally after 5 hrs i was out of misery and managed to get to the car. The blisters were killing me and when i got back home just the thought of looking at my feet made my head hurt.
Overall, it was an interesting trip and it definitely gave me the confidence and courage to go backpacking by myself. In past when i haven’t had any company to go for a hike, i have been skeptical about going alone and ended up staying at home but not anymore.
Surely i would have loved to enjoy the trip little more with some company, could have done without the wind, would have loved to stay out longer in the moonlight, enjoy the morning tea without the wind or not have gotten blisters but its all part of the sport. You never know what to expect when you are at high altitude and that is why you have to respect the mountain and be prepared but even that won’t be enough sometimes.
More Pics are here.
The mountains are calling and i must go – John Muir
Success lies in Courage – Nehru Institute of Mountaineering, India.