by Bailey Porter
photography by Reina Santa Cruz
It is cold in Mt. Baldy at this time of year. The kind of cold that makes your nose run and your hands wish you had not forgotten your gloves. But hiking up to the San Antonio Falls soon makes you forget that, and the cold air becomes a refreshing tonic like a splash of cold water on a hot day. Silvery green yuccas abundantly dot the mountainsides. They will grow like this for 10 years before a stalk shoots out of their centers, and they bloom. It is a postcard moment. Like any dedicated biologist, when Harvey Good, professor of biology at the University of La Verne, goes hiking, he focuses on the flora and fauna. He names the stellar jays calling to each other, hidden from view among the yuccas.
Good likes how different yuccas can look once they have grown their stalks. He equates them with differences in humans’ facial expressions. Even now, hundreds of dried yuccas stand out. Some are erect and proud. Others are bent or crooked. A grey squirrel darts into the semi-paved road that leads to the falls. This road is blocked to through traffic except for residents who live in homes tucked away from the trail. But today it is pretty quiet, and the squirrel successfully snatches an acorn that has fallen from one of the Live Oak trees that makes its home with cedars, Jeffrey Pines, Sugar Pines and big-cone Douglas Firs in Mt. Baldy.
Fog moves in and out of the canyon. It is so thick that in seconds it can envelop a hiker in billowing white. But the view is only offended for a moment as the fog exhales again, revealing San Antonio Falls at 6,400 ft. elevation. Three prominent tiers pour rushing water into pools until the water slows and makes its way approximately 12 miles down the mountain to San Antonio Dam.
At the edge of the trail facing the falls, a girl wrapped in a bright red, yellow and blue quilt sits next to a pile of pizza boxes and watches her friends’ antics down at the base of the falls. This is prime “hang out” territory for young people looking to relax and nature lovers taking in the sights.
Beyond the falls is Baldy Bowl where Good has spent many winters training search and rescue personnel. Over that mountain is a canyon. In 1978 and 1980, fires ravished the box canyon, and Good spent many days fighting the fires and navigating through burning trees and glowing red hot debris that rolled down to the canyon bottom. “Pretty soon guys on the sheriff’s team and our department started calling it ‘Good Canyon,’” he says. “I felt pretty good about that,” he says, shrugging his shoulders as the former fire chief chuckles at his joke.
Mt. Baldy, or Mount San Antonio, is the highest peak in the San Gabriel Mountain range. Ten minutes from the University of La Verne, off Mills Avenue in Claremont, Mt. Baldy Road winds through chaparral, which, for the first mile, is now a housing development zone. The city of Claremont gained the land from the Garner family. Claremont developed some of the land along Mt. Baldy Road and put the remainder in a protective wildlife trust. Seven miles up Mt. Baldy Road, past San Antonio Dam, built high on the hillside following a 1938 flood, Mt. Baldy village holds a visitor center, with its nature center and bountiful trail head information. This is the starting point for the serious enthusiast.
Hiking With Paul Alvarez
Where the hills meet the mountain, hiking experiences await says Paul Alvarez, clinical supervisor for the Athletic Training Education Program at ULV. Alvarez, at home on the athletic fields with ULV athletes, has been passing on his trekking passion since he began his ULV teaching in the 1980s. Many may not realize that there are trails spreading out like fingers throughout the hills of La Verne and surrounding cities, he says. “I’m intrigued about hiking because for La Verne students and members of the community, there’s a lot of places to go.”
And, as Alvarez explains, anyone can take advantage of the local trails. One of his favorite trail areas is Marshall Canyon in La Verne. There, you are out in the middle of nowhere, a lush escape, he says. “You are millions of miles away but right here in La Verne. You can contemplate a supreme being or nothing at all. Just getting out and walking in that environment is a positive thing.”
Hiking is a family affair for Alvarez, who often takes his two children, Matthew and Daniel, 10 and 7. His interest in hiking transferred to his oldest son. Alvarez explains that Matthew wants to hike one of the most scenic landscapes possible, the Grand Canyon. Hearing Alvarez talk about the Grand Canyon, it is understandable why his son would be motivated to experience the same hike. Summer 1986, Alvarez started taking CAPA students on wilderness experience directed study courses to the “eighth wonder of the world.” There, on some of the less traveled trails deep in the Canyon, Alvarez says he could really hear the “sound of silence.”
“You could literally hear the wind in the raven’s feathers,” he says. The two wilderness experience students had never been very active outdoors, he says, but when they finished the hike, they felt a thrilling sense of accomplishment. He says that anyone can hike. Even if it is just a half hour or hour long hike, hiking is a physical challenge that can be tackled by people from all fitness levels.
Since, Alvarez has hiked with students through interterm classes and outdoor education classes. His January Interterm class was offered at ULV for four years. Students met once a week for four hours, with plenty of time given for safety training and actual hikes.
Hikers are not the only ones enjoying the outdoors. Horseback riders and bicyclists also share the trails. Some hikers and cyclists squabble just as some skiers and snowboarders argue on the slopes. Alvarez even calls the bikers “Johnny-come-latelies” to the hiking scene. But maybe nature itself calms its many visitors. Because in the end, the right-of-way goes to the pedestrian and most people respect the need to keep a harmonious balance when they are out on the trails. Alvarez recently invested in a mountain bike, he says, but he is staying true to hiking. “I like to believe all people are spiritual. Whatever spirit you believe in, hiking gives you a greater appreciation. It’s pretty uncomplicated,” he says. With hiking, you just need a backpack with your essential tools like basic first aid, water, snacks, a cell phone and a jacket, and you are ready to go, he says. No gym membership or extra equipment is required here.
Michael Frantz: Growing Up on the Trails
On the east side, Claremont Hills Wilderness Park is just one-half mile above Baseline Road, at Mills Avenue’s end. This is one of Michael Frantz’s favorite hiking trails. He has hiked the trail round trip several times, about seven miles, once with his 11-year-old yellow lab named Duke. “In theory, it’s a local trail since you could walk from La Verne,” he says of the trail that offers many variations for hikers. Trekking west across the canyon will lead hikers to Marshall Canyon. “There’s another trail that goes north [starting at the north end of the gated Golden Hills housing complex] into the foothills, and you’re able to go all the way up to Sunset Peak,” says Frantz, who has been known to cut across country and look for his own paths. The Sunset Peak trail also leads north to Cow Canyon Saddle.
Frantz has been blazing new trails since he was 7. “Even as a kid, my mom always worried about me because I was up ahead by myself. She always said I scampered up like a mountain goat,” he says, slipping into memories of his childhood when his family left their Des Moines, Iowa home every summer for a camping trip to Aspen, Colorado. “I don’t know where I got that from. Maybe it’s in my genes,” Frantz wonders of his Swiss ancestry.
His first taste of hiking came when his sister invited him on a hike in Aspen, he says referring to a photograph of a grinning 15-year-old boy that he displays on the wall-to-wall office bookshelf. It was a six-day backpacking trip, roughly 50 miles, and Frantz was hooked. “That was cool. I really liked that. That was my introduction.”
“Hiking used to get me into trouble,” Frantz admits good naturedly, reveling in this chance to talk about his favorite subject besides math, which he teaches at the University of La Verne. During a spring break when he was a La Verne College student, he hiked Mt. Baldy. The March terrain was still icy and snow capped. He was attempting to cross a precarious trail near Devil’s Backbone. He had to cross a steep face that goes down an avalanche shoot covered in snow and ice.
“I got about half way across, and there was this boulder sticking up out of the snow, and I stepped up on it to rest a little bit. And then when I stepped off, I violated one of the most basic rules; that is you always test to make sure that your steps are going to be OK. And I just put my foot down and instead of digging in an inch or two with my boot it just—Whoosh—and next thing I know, I’m on my back sliding down this shoot.” He somersaults and his pack comes off his back as he tries clawing his way upright to stop falling.
“Eventually I come to a stop, and I look over, and I am about this far from the drop-off 150 feet below,” he says holding up his hands indicating he landed stomach-droppingly close to the edge. “I look over, and my backpack goes over the edge,” he continues, almost amused, as if he is still amazed at the close call. “Somewhere up there is still a backpack.”Although he still hikes alone, Frantz is more careful since the fall. “There is some of that that comes along with grey hair,” he laughs.
While hiking can be an exhilarating experience, especially if you are taking more advanced trails, like Frantz, caution is always important. And hikers should know when the trail is too much for them. Frantz remembers trying to find his own trail to Sunset Peak last summer. It was a 105-degree afternoon, and heat exhaustion was taking its toll on Frantz as he tried to break through the thick brush on his way to the peak. “It was like, maybe I can keep going a little further, and I might make it, but I might not. I might end up having to use my cell phone and saying, ‘Come get me,’” he admits. He decided to save the Sunset Peak experience for later.
Although Frantz has hiked in Europe and other national parks, he also appreciates local walks, even if the trails are really paved city streets. “The best thing to do sometimes is just to go for a five-mile walk. It’ll take you an hour and a half. And by the time you’re done with that, it’s cleared your head and given you a chance to think.” Frantz often takes his own advice, seeking companionship with the solitary night air on late walks on Thompson Creek Trail in Claremont. He literally steps out his front door and starts walking. “I think it’s supposed to be closed, but who cares.” But to Frantz, the best trails lead him into the clouds. “I like a view. I like to get up high. Once I get up there, I just sit for a long time and just look. A lot of times, I might take like a paperback with me when I go hiking—I almost never take it out and look at it. I’m entranced by the view. I like to stay up as high as I can and look out over everything,” he says as a cuckoo clock sounds on the wall over his shoulder. His office reflects his love for the outdoors. Five potted plants line the narrow window sill that looks out onto Fasnacht Court. More green vines almost hide his computer monitor situated next to Rubik’s Cubes and origami swans. Photographs of hiking trips to the Cascade Mountains in Washington and Wheeler Peak, the highest mountain in New Mexico peak out from bookshelves and the filing cabinet top. One picture shows a small tent pitched on powdery white landscape. Majestic mountain ranges jut up behind smiling hikers. “I usually go alone. You don’t have to arrange schedules with other people. And also sometimes I just need to get away from everybody and just recharge,” he says. But going on a hike, or even a walk with someone can be a good thing, too, he says. “If you ever need to have a deep conversation with someone, go on a hike with them.
“If it’s a long enough hike, your feet hurt,” he says smiling. On a more serious note, Frantz says hiking can give you a different perspective on life. “You’re reminded of the fact that 10,000 years from now these mountains are going to be here looking pretty much the way they do right now. The trees will be different, and the rocks will be here and,” he pauses, “We won’t be.
“It teaches you patience. Those mountains, they sit there and, if you can anthropomorphize, they watch a lot of things. And I’m not a big believer that every pebble has a soul, but,” he trails off lost in thought as he tries to put into words the significance hiking has had on his life.
“There are some things that happen in life that we really don’t understand why or how they can happen, but they do, and if you want to call that a miracle, fine. I can’t help but think when I almost lost my life up there on the mountain—this is gonna sound weird —there’s some connection to when I was much younger in Colorado on Buckskin Path. I was with my brother and sister, and we were rolling rocks over the edge into this big glacial bowl. So, I dunno. Some time after the fall I was thinking, ‘You know the rocks finally got back at me.’ So I have never thrown a rock since,” vows this “math major grounded in the sciences.” “There’s something about those rocks. I wouldn’t go so far as to say they have a soul, but there’s some kind of awareness or consciousness. You have to be in tune with nature, in harmony. OK, I’m starting to sound way too heavy, way too philosophical,” he jokes. It is just hiking after all—or is it?
Finding the Road Less Traveled
Locating local hikes in and around La Verne is like following a recipe for a three-layered cake with plenty of gooey goodness in between the layers to stimulate the experienced hiker and to inspire the newcomer. The first layer is Marshall Canyon trail. Several entrance trails lead to the main trail. The best entrance is trail center point off Esperanza Road, just before it meets with Golden Hills Road. There is no parking on the street, but there is residential parking nearby. Continuing north on the trail leads hikers to Claremont Hills Wilderness Park and its E.V. Canyon terminus at Mt. Baldy Road. Overlooking Marshall Canyon is the second layer of the cake, Sunset Peak. This trail never links to the Marshall Canyon trail but does go north to Glendora Mountain Road. The La Verne entrance to Sunset Peak is through the Golden Hills gated community. The topping on the cake is Mt. Baldy which can be reached from Mills or Padua avenues.