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Biannual Baldy/Iron Boomerang Becomes Traverse

June 1, 2013

By: Ignacia M. Doggett


"Accidents in the mountains," John Muir wrote, "are less common than in the lowlands, and these mountain mansions are decent, delightful, even divine, places to die in, compared with the doleful chambers of civilization. Few places in this world are more dangerous than home. Fear not, therefore, to try the mountain passes. They will kill care, save you from deadly apathy, set you free, and call forth every faculty into vigorous, enthusiastic action." Muir was not promoting reckless adventure; he loved to explore and study nature and "wonder, exhilaration and learning were the rewards".

On June 1, in the dark of 4:35 AM, I set out from the lowlands of Manker Flats to climb to the mountain passes of San Antonio Ridge. Crossing from Mount San Antonio to Big Iron Mountain entails traversing a few places considered dangerous, more so if done with improvidence. Though it was not an official Sierra Club hike, I nevertheless felt entrusted with the safety and care of my three fellow explorers (Christine Soskins, Marit Lauterbach and Jose Muralles). I had, therefore, tried to be disciplined in planning and preparation.

Unlike June of 2011, when we led the Baldy-Iron-Baldy Boomerang, my husband Peter was not with me. This giant, whose recovery from a major stroke in 2012 has been nothing short of a miracle, was felled by a recent minor injury. Discipline dictated that we change what was to be the Biannual Boomerang, a repeat of 2011, to a one way traverse (Manker Flats-Baldy-Iron-Heaton Flat). The group training hike, a week before our hike, went as far as the gun sight (specifically, the bottom of the East Notch chute). The return up was expectedly difficult; but the weather, though it was not cool/cold/lip freezing as in 2011, was not a problem. However, the weather forecast for our 2013 June 1 boomerang was not looking good. Peter and I deliberated and waited until late Wednesday night hoping the forecast would improve. It did not, and discretion being the better part of valor, we made the call that attempting a boomerang back to Baldy would be unwise. Climbing back up 3300' plus to high elevation (the last 2300' being especially steep) in the heat of the day, the body already being stressed by fatigue and altitude, could have dangerously multiplied any complications. A one way traverse, though, meant Peter would have to bow out. Healing from and guarding an injury to his little toe, Peter had continued to train and could have done the boomerang's gain (9350') and less steep descents. But he knew his little toe was not well enough to sustain the 10,000 feet of its steep descents that the traverse entailed.

My three fellow adventurers on the traverse were strong and accomplished. Christine just finished completing the HPS list on May 18, doing substantial parts of it via longer routes and by leading private hikes. Christine became a Sierra Club leader in April and, fittingly, led an official hike to her list finish on Chief. Marit is a triathlete, among her several talents and accomplishments, and placed 25th in the world doing the Ironman Triathlon in Hawaii. Jose is a strong mountaineer who, among other things, is working on summiting Iron from four different directions. Exceedingly kind and extremely modest, he rarely talks about himself.

We took three 15 minute breaks from Manker Flats to the East Notch chute: First, arrived at ski hut at 5:40 AM and filled 5 to 6 liters of water (Having stashed 2 liters on the previous week's training hike, I only needed to fill 3.5 liters.); second, arrived at Baldy summit at 6:55 AM and donned a light jacket for the first time (divested shortly after West Baldy.); third, arrived at bump 7903'(San Antonio Ridge on USGS topo) at 8:52 AM and advised nourishment in preparation for the gain and the 3rd (or 4th) class climbing that awaited us. At 9:09 we continued on and at 10:10 we arrived short of the edge of the East Notch (On a boomerang hike, we would have stashed hiking poles here, for they interfere at several points. Also, during the traverse of the notches, I could not take notes. The times are from memory.). We made a southwestern descent and contour towards the chute; we finished pulling ourselves up the difficult chute, squeezing through a dead gnarled tree, and negotiating the tall vertical rock structure immediately above at 10:44 AM. Back atop the ridge, we stepped with care. Though not a knifeblade, the ridge is very narrow with drop- offs to both sides. We then crossed the West Notch, no chute but otherwise similar to the east notch (southwest descent and contour, gnarled tree squeeze, tall vertical rock structure climb), and were back on the narrow ridge at

11:13 AM. There are a few more adventurous sections, though not as extended as the two notches. We continued scrambling up boulders and trees and the ridge eventually widened. I was able to set a consistent pace, as temperatures were not yet too warm. On my trip plan chart, I had anticipated arriving at Big Iron at 12:30 PM. We arrived at 12:22.

As we were signing in, a young man arrived. It was his first visit to Big Iron. He and his friend, who was lagging behind suffering from leg cramps, had come up from Heaton Flat. As we went down to have lunch in a spot of shade, we met the second young man. He had left his pack down somewhere on the trail (we saw it later on our descent) and was carrying only water. Marit gave him several energy/electrolyte gels.

At 1:00 we started our descent to Heaton Flat and temperatures began to rise. Beautifully tall yuccas bloomed impressively here and there. We benefitted from the shade on the ridge above 5500', so we took a 10 minute break in a cool shady spot. I knew there would be no shade at Allison Saddle. We continued on and I soon found the water bottles in my outside pockets too warm to drink (Fortunately, I had a 16 and 20 ounce bottle inside my pack.). In such warm weather, imagine my surprise when around 3:00 PM we ran into Sam, Seuk Doo Kim, on his ascent to Iron!

Shortly before his stroke on June 29 of 2012, Peter had met Sam once while hiking to Baldy. Peter's description of the 2011 boomerang inspired Sam to do it. Peter's strokes impeded his ability to advice Sam or follow his progress, but Sam went on to do the traverse twice last year. Sam is 75 years old and his enthusiasm and cheer are quite contagious. He has done Baldy 300 times and has done Iron numerous times. Recently, he took his 9 year-old grandson to Iron.

After about 15 minutes of conversation and taking pictures, we bade farewell. Sam continued his ascent (He e-mailed early next morning, sending pictures and letting us know he had returned safely late at night.). Invigorated by Sam's gusto, we reached the trail that splits off the ridge at 4:00 PM (105 degrees) and arrived at Heaton Flat at 4:44 PM (112 degrees). Unfortunately, assuming heat and fatigue, I had set my rendezvous time with Peter for 6:00 or 6:30. What a thrill it was to see Peter already waiting for us with Gatorade bottles in one hand, keys to an air conditioned Honda in the other!

One need not traverse the gunsight to experience the beauty of San Antonio Ridge (bump 7903'), among the most gorgeous ridge hikes in Southern California, and be at once rendered speechless and inspired by the rugged foreboding fašade of the East Notch. Along the ridge, there is a feeling of moving Muirlike with unbounded freedom among the divine; and I had to restrain myself from frequently pointing out 360 degree views of dramatic steep canyons, tree lined creeks, and numerous connecting ridges and highpoints. I delighted in the wonder and exhilaration of my hiking companions as they were stirred to utter the words "epic hike".

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