Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Pine Mountain via Pine Mountain Ridge - 6/22/13

(We did this hike in June 2013. No idea what the conditions are like right now.)

If you’ve ever hiked the North Backbone trail, you know how tough it is to get to Pine Mountain, but if that’s just not challenging enough for you, you could always give Pine Mountain Ridge a shot.

Pine Mountain Ridge
I’d recommend staying as far away from this incomprehensibly absurd ridge as possible, but if I can’t convince you and you go for it anyway, just be prepared to experience a lot of pain. But unless something goes horribly wrong, the pain is only temporary.

We started our hike at a crowded Vincent Gap at around 8:00am. The trailhead is at the same spot as Baden-Powell’s, but you’ll head left toward Mine Gulch instead of right toward BP.

You’ll lose a lot of elevation here as you climb down into a canyon that looks a lot more like the front range San Gabriel canyons, complete with alders and an impressively big stream for summer in an abnormally dry year.

You’ll reach Mine Gulch fast and finish up the first 5 miles with some fun stream crossings back and forth until you finally reach the start of the ridge. This is your last chance to turn back.

Prairie Fork of the San Gabriel River
Not only is there no trail here, there’s not even really a path—definitely not a path for humans, and bears probably don’t enjoy trying to squeeze through this section either. It’s extremely steep and slippery and it’s entirely covered with tall whitethorn plants that will completely fuck up your arms and legs and any other skin that you’ve left exposed. Fortunately, this is the worst of the whitethorn and this section only lasts for around a ½ mile. 


From this point, you have about 6 more miles and 6000’ more feet of ridge to climb to get to the peak. There is a trail in spots, but for the most part, you just have to pick the route that will do the least amount of damage to the skin on your legs, and kill as few wildflowers as possible. Don’t bother trying to rush through this section; you’ll be hiking in the dark at some point no matter what you do, so you might as well turn around every once in a while and enjoy the scenery.

Mt. Baden-Powell behind us
We averaged only 1 mile per hour in the first 12 miles of the hike from Vincent Gap, over Pine Mountain, and back to the North Backbone trailhead. I’m sure we were going at least 3 miles per hour during the downhill stretches, so there were definitely some sections where we were really crawling. You gain more than 5500’ over the 5 miles from the bottom of the ridge to the peak of Pine.

This was harder than it looks. And it looks pretty damn hard.

Mt. Baldy looking colossal

The only part that was really dangerous was this short knife edge section of unstable slabs of rock that probably should have scared me more than it actually did.

We made it to Pine with about an hour of daylight left. I was a bit worried about a few steep section on the North Backbone Trail with loose rock and huge drops on either side of the trail, but they ended up being less scary than I remembered.

North Backbone Trail
This turned out to be the perfect time to be finishing up the North Backbone Trail; we had the sun setting to our left and the supermoon rising to our right.

Once you’re at the North Backbone trailhead, the rest of the walk back to Vincent Gap is flat and easy (probably even easier if you take the road instead of the PCT like we did). But it’s still another 10 miles to go.

Mt. Baden-Powell
Lucky for us, we had the full moon lighting the way for us and made it back to our car without any lion or bear encounters and only around 16 hours after we started.

The scariest creatures we encountered

I’d say the most dangerous part of the hike was the long drive back home at 1:00am on only a few hours of sleep. Do anything you can to avoid that situation. Having a car waiting for you at the north Backbone Trailhead would cut off the last 10 miles, but that 10 mile walk on Blue Ridge Road and along the empty highway was one of my favorite parts of the hike. Another option would be to have your camping gear in your car at Vincent Gap and spend the night somewhere in that area and save the drive until morning.

This is what Mt. Baden-Powell looks like in the middle of the night