While driving to the store in Reedley I was overcome by the view to the east. The exceptionally clear weather we were having enabled me to see the peaks of Sequoia with clarity that I'd never witnessed before. For once Alta Peak resembled a mountain instead of white spot in the smog. Below Alta was a mountain that I'd never seen before except from the summit of Mt. Silliman: Little Baldy. I was soon at home filling my pack with as much weight as possible. A hike up Little Baldy isn't exactly demanding physically but I could still make a serious workout of it by taking along a few cubes of Pepsi.
Usually when I drive into Sequoia it is at some ghastly pre-dawn hour but today I was experiencing first hand "the tourists." Normally it takes me 40 minutes to reach the entrance gate, but today it was at least double that! Waiting at the gate was a string of cars that made Yosemite look tame. The wait seemed like forever but it was probably about 15 minutes.
Soon I arrived at Little Baldy Saddle where I parked my car in the shade of some giant fir trees. After strapping on my overweight pack I hit the trail, which was excellently graded. I had the silly idea that I should be able to hike the 4 miles to the top and back in an hour so I walked as fast as I possibly could without running. As the trail steepened I began to feel (painfully) my 70 pound pack but I pressed on. The map shows only two large switchbacks but there are some shorter ones between them.
Twenty nine minutes into the hike I passed over a small hill (false dome?) and crossed over to the east side of the ridge. Through the trees I could see Alta, Silliman and the Twin Peaks with amazing detail. Usually these peaks are waivering mirages in the San Joaquin smog, never really quite there. The trail then crossed back over to the west side of the ridge and again became hidden in a dense forest.
Seemingly out of nowhere the trail became brutally steep. My grand idea of getting some exercise was now comming back to haunt me. Just as soon as it came it was all over. I was on top after only 36 minutes, which put me at a near 4 mph pace with a 70 pound pack and over 1000 feet of gain. The guide book mentioned that the summit was somewhat exposed but I found a very large elongated flat on top with 360 degree views. Murphys law was just as visible as the universal law of gravitation. In only 7 minutes every peak in the Table Lands had become obscured by a bank of clouds perfectly poised to prevent me from getting a decent photograph. I've never been able to get a decent picture of the area. The day I summited Silliman was even clearer than this day, but of course my camera was left at home that day. How strange it was that the instant I escaped from the forest canopy that the clouds rolled in. I was fortunate enough to see the western side of Castle Rocks and Paradise Peak which are so low that they are usually completely obscured by the smog.
After a quick snack I headed back to the car. When I reached the false dome I could once again see the peaks, which really pissed me off. The only 10 minutes of the day that there were clouds in the sky were the 10 that I tried to take pictures in! Along the way I met a "tourist" from Indiana who was totally delighted by everything he saw. It was actually really cool to see someone enjoy the are so much as he. I paused quickly to enquire as to how he was doing, which turned into a 15 minute conversation. Although somewhat dissappointed when he learned that Mt. Silliman wasn't Mt. Whitney (they really need to change the map they hand out at the toll booth...) he was thrilled when I told him about Lone Pine. I returned to the car after 1 hour and 13 minutes.
Although Little Baldy isn't exactly one of the Kaweahs, its still a great destination for a hike, and the view (even when cloudy!) isn't to be missed.
Photo of Twin Peaks and cloud shrouded Silliman and Alta as seen from Little Baldy.
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