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Baldy-Iron-Baldy Boomerang

June 4, 2011

By: Ignacia M. Doggett

Leaders: Ignacia Doggett, Peter Doggett, Matthew Hengst, Bill Simpson

It was almost a whisper. "We did it," Amin said in his quiet, modest way as we stopped back atop Baldy. We (Amin Faraday, John Slagle, Jennifer Blackie, Mathew Hengst, and I) had just completed the Baldy-to-Iron-to-Baldy boomerang traverse. Peter Doggett and Janice Boyd had completed the Baldy to Iron traverse with us and then hiked down to Heaton Flat. They would be waiting for us back at Manker Flats.

Everyone finished safely. Peter and Janice's original intention had been to do the traverse and then go down to Heaton Flat. Fortunately, Mat's enthusiasm and persuasive powers had convinced Leader Kim Bruel and Laurent, one of Mat's WTC students, to come up from Heaton Flat. So, Peter and Janice benefited from the willingness of those two to also do a tough hike. Laurent and Kim provided the ride back to Manker Flat.

Mat was not only our M leader, but his expertise and leadership skills were critical to the success of our modest HPS group. We never needed to use a rope, but Mat carried one. I had told him Ron Hudson had suggested it might be a good idea for safety's sake. Thank you, Mat, for carrying that additional weight through the entire hike. Thank you, Ron, for always being willing to share your expertise and experience with others.

The descent west from Baldy to bump 7758' is relatively safe, following mostly the ridgeline of San Antonio Ridge. Between saddle 7772' and bump 7758' there were a few stretches where a sometimes discernible path veers right to avoid thick buckthorn. In a few short stretches, the buckthorn could not be avoided and we advised caution. As one looks west from bump 7758', Big Iron announces itself with its almost foreboding dark vertical cliffs. It is a calling card to be respected.

We climbed with our hands and feet, no manmade equipment. But they were not enough. Climbing intelligence and nerve went hand in hand, or hand and foot as it were. Some of us mid-fiftiers had to summon a little extra heart. In addition to the chute alluded to in Bill T. Russell's 1990 report, there are several exposed vertical cliffs to be climbed (and downclimbed on the return). The chute, too, has a degree of exposure, though some elite hikers might simply climb around it; and use of the chute scrapes it and brushes it smooth. It was easier to use 21 years ago.

Russell referred to a 60' pitch as being 3rd class and easier than it looks. I believe this is true for the truly strong hikers who keep their skills and tolerance for such climbing fresh by seeking it out, not avoiding it. What might be just 3rd class to some, might be 3rd class with exposure (or class 4) to others. From my experience with HPS, the average HPSer (not the advanced) usually avoids even lesser degrees of exposure, and therefore should not attempt this traverse west beyond bump 7758'.

On this day, June 4 2011, something was in the air for M leaders and elite hikers! There was actual congestion on our last push to Iron. Two groups of elite hikers caught us as they also approached Iron via the San Antonio Ridge. Three groups traversing to Iron at the same time!

One group included Joe Munaretto, Snow Creek Steve, and two other men whose names I didn't get. Joe's group did a loop that I think went like this: Heaton Flat/Allison Saddle/Ridge between Eagle Mine & Gold Dollar Mine/East Notch/San Antonio Ridge/Big Iron/Heaton Flat.

The other group consisted of Rick Kent, Rick Graham and Mike (GigaMike ?). Rick's group was also doing a boomerang back to Baldy like we were.

By the way, our group also had its elite hikers: Mat, Jen, John and Amin. Peter's elite hiking history is a little less current. He did his first Iron traverse, the Galena-Birch traverse, and the 18-hour Big 4 more than 20 years ago. He has slowed down a little.

We arrived at Big Iron at 12:45. We ate lunch, enjoyed the panoramic views and shared with others stories of other hikes through the surrounding canyons to Iron and Ross.

Kim Bruel and Laurent arrived from Heaton Flat just as we were finishing lunch. Kim said that Ron Hudson passed them on his way up and down from Iron. We had arrived too late to see him.

On the other end of the ridge, Don Croley was running into Bill Simpson as Don climbed Baldy in the morning. Bill's foot condition had flared up and when we left the ski hut around 6 AM, after our first break, he was still resting. We had to leave without our friend, and we were then down to one person with more current experience of the full traverse. John had done the traverse with Bill two years before. Peter had done it with Bill T. Russell on May 12, 1990 for his 100th HPS peak. I, Peter, Janice and Amin had scouted one week ago, but we had not done the full traverse.

At 1:40, we said our goodbyes and while most headed back to Heaton Flat, our group of 5 and Rick's group of 3 headed back to Baldy. It took about 8 hours to get to Iron, and 7.5 hours to return from Iron to Manker Flats, but the last push up to Baldy was tough. After returning to bump 7903', we had 7300' gain and the energy depleting rockclimbing behind us. We had done several prehikes to acclimatize to the altitude at Mt. San Antonio, and to prepare for the steep 2000' awaiting us. But on this day, the heights of Baldy still struck 3 of us like kryptonite. That last stretch was slow going. At 9000', there was snow on the north side of the ridge. I don't remember a scoopful ever tasting so good!

The weather had been almost perfect. Of the 3 liters I had stashed on the scouting hike, and 3 liters I had carried up on hike day, I only needed to drink 2. Now back at Baldy at 6:45 PM, the cold wind and high altitude urged us to hurry down. We had started at 4:40 AM and returned to Manker Flats at 9:05 PM, doing about 20 miles and 9350' of gain. We ended up needing to use our headlamps just before we arrived at the register by Register Ridge.

Peter was waiting for us at Manker Flats. We then joined Janice for dinner at the Mt. Baldy Lodge restaurant. The food was good, but the music -- well, it was loud. We were sitting right under one of the speakers. Because of that conversation was not easy.

In conversation after a hike, Peter likes to ask "Which peak, or which part of the hike, did you like best?" We agreed that the hike to 7903' is BEAUTIFUL! In addition to the San Gorgonio Ridge itself, and having Baldy to the east and Iron to the west, one has amazing views of the deep and wild canyons on either side and a multitude of recognizable points -- Dawson, Pine, Blue Ridge, Wildview Pk, Pine Mtn Ridge, Ross, Baden Powell, Glendora Ridge Rd, Sunset Peak and Sunset Point among them.

Thank you to the many Sierra Club leaders who have invested the time and money it takes to train and gain the expertise and experience that was passed on to us to make this trip a wonderful success. And thank you to all the participants who prepared themselves so that they had the skill (discipline and focus included), strength, stamina, spirit, and heart to join us on this trip.

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