For most hikers, the trip up to Mt. Baden-Powell involves a relatively straight-forward switchbacking route up from Vincent Gap. This popular 4 mile stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail marches crookedly up the northeast side of the peak, and on any given weekend, a fairly steady steady stream of dayhikers and backpackers can be found making their laborious ways to the summit.
If you’re looking for a touch more solitude and an entirely different way to experience Mt. Baden-Powell, consider this longer route: follow the combined PCT/Silver Mocassin Trail east from Islip Saddle, past Little Jimmy trail camp, along a ridge with side trips to Mt. Hawkins, Throop Peak, and Mt. Burnham, before finally reaching the summit.
While this route is twice as long, it only gains about 400 more feet of elevation gain than the Vincent Gap route, making for a much more gradual ascent. Additionally, this route mostly sticks to a high ridge looking both north over the Mojave Desert and south over the L.A. Basin, providing consistently good views from start to finish. Ambitious hikers can attempt to bag the aforementioned peaks in addition to nearby Mt. Islip. Backpackers can stay at Little Jimmy trail camp to turn this trip into a two-night affair.
From the staging area on the north side of Angeles Crest Highway, cross the road and pick up the PCT tread heading south (technically, east). The trail makes an initial climb out of the saddle to gain a ridge. Once on the ridge, the trail will wrap around the forested north side of Mt. Islip. Along this first two miles, you’ll be treated to views across the broad expanse of the Mojave Desert. This view is especially rewarding on cool, clear mornings when visibility is at its highest.
At around two miles, the PCT reaches Little Jimmy trail camp, which is a fine places to set up shop for a more extended exploration. No permits are required to camp at Little Jimmy, and there are a number of shady campsites. Water can be found (at least when we’re not in a crippling drought) at nearby Little Jimmy Spring about a quarter of a mile east of the campground. From Little Jimmy, you can also pick up a trail that backtracks west along Mt. Islip’s eastern slope to tack on an additional peak.
At 2.4 miles, the trail reaches Windy Gap, with the Windy Gap Trail branching off on the right to descend the west side of the Mt. Hawkins ridge to a fire road ultimately leading to Crystal Lake. You’ll get your first taste of the views to the south, which may either be completely socked in with marine layer, a vague haze that obscures the fine details in the scenery, or crystal clear following a storm or during Santa Ana conditions.
Beyond Windy Gap, the trail meanders along the north side of the Mt. Hawkins ridge while passing through burnt forest. At 3.7 miles, keep your eyes peeled for a user-created trail branching off on the right toward Mt. Hawkins. Ambitious hikers might continue along this ridge toward South Mt. Hawkins. Continue east and then northeast to wind around the southeast side of Throop Peak (another possible side trip) at 5 miles. Just past Throop Peak, the PCT will connect with the Dawson Saddle Trail climbing out of Dawson Saddle about 1,000′ below to the northwest.
Beyond Dawson Saddle, the next 2.6 miles faithfully follow the northeast trending ridge leading to Mt. Baden-Powell. By this point, not only will Baden-Powell be in site, but views south over the eastern half of the L.A. Basin and views north toward Victorville will be regular companions for the remainder of the hike. Mt. Baldy pokes its head over Baden-Powell’s southern ridge, and big, bad Iron Mountain stands aloof in the heart of the Sheep Mountain Wilderness. The only drag on this otherwise inspired segment is that you’re gonna have to take a demoralizing 300 foot descent from just above Throop Peak before recommencing the final 1,000′ climb. This being an out-and-back means you get to do it again on the return. Oh boy!
The final segment of the ascent follows the ridgeline with a few switchbacks and dips along with a close approach to Mt. Burnham at 7.1 miles. At 7.6 miles, the PCT reaches the junction with the summit trail where you’ll find a gnarled limber pine estimated to be around 1,500 years old. Turn right at this junction, and after one final .2 mile climb, you’ll find yourself standing atop the mostly barren, rounded summit of Baden-Powell.
The monument to Lord Baden-Powell, founder of the Boy Scouts, is conspicuous at the top, but you’re likely to find the views far more compelling. This inclusive Southern California panorama is interrupted only by the Mt. Baldy massif, which dominate the landscape to the east. See if you pick out certain geographic landmarks, including the Mt. Wilson Observatory or, if it’s clear, Long Beach Harbor, the Santa Ana Mountains, Palos Verdes, and any number of other ranges and civic features.
This is the end of the line unless you’ve hiked with a friend and stationed a car at the Vincent Gap Trailhead to make this a point-to-point hike. Depending on your exit strategy, you either have a 7.7 mile return journey back the way you came, or a fast 4 mile descent down to Vincent Gap.