While the 8,006′ summit of Iron Mountain, aka Big Iron, is far lower in elevation than other Southern California summits, it is an extremely strenuous hike. The trail follows a series of high mountain ridges to the summit, gaining 7,300′ of elevation. The trail gains 3.500′ in the last two miles alone!
My friend Robert and I thought we were getting an early start on Iron Mountain, but unfortunately, we went to the wrong trailhead. We ended up hiking about a mile and a half before we realized we were completely off route. After backtracking and driving down the road a bit further, we got to the real trailhead – which starts at the same place as the Bridge to Nowhere trail does.
We started up some pretty gentle switchbacks that lead to a long ridgeline with amazing views. We could clearly see the snow on the north side of Mount Baldy and on Iron Mountain on our left as we approached. At four miles in, we descended steeply down a series of switchbacks about 500′ of elevation, crossed a small ridge that then ascended steeply 3,500′ feet toward the summit.
As we gained elevation on the summit ridge, the views are incredible. Unfortunately, Robert had a commitment and he had to be off the mountain by 3:00 pm, and route finding issues in the morning meant that he had to turn back short of the summit.
I passed another hiker coming down and he said it was another hour to get to the summit. It only ended up being about 20 minutes for me. After 7,300′ of elevation gain getting to the summit was pure bliss. It was absolutely beautiful.
Coming down was sketchy. There were huge man-eating Yucca plants protruding into the trail. If you slip, you could fall on one and literally puncture your hands and arms, and maybe even your chest cavity. The trail is so steep that it’s almost impossible not to flail and slide down the first 3,500′ of elevation loss.
I was about a mile from the car when it got pretty mind-numbing. I had descended 7,000′ and at that point, I wasn’t paying much attention and I almost stepped directly on a rattlesnake that was lying across the trail warming himself. When I stepped, my foot actually touched him. I jumped back but he didn’t move.
I was really looking forward to getting to the car and I was not paying attention as well as I should have been. I just about stepped on a small two and a half foot rattlesnake that had spanned the trail.
For a minute, I thought he was dead, but I think he was just cold because he was in the shade. I gently poked him a few times and he slowly slithered away. He really wasn’t in a hurry or aggressive, but I think he would have gotten aggressive had I stepped directly on him!
I think the next time I go up that trail, I am not going to come down the same way. I’m just going to go across the San Antonio Ridge and summit Mount Baldy, then go down the other side. I’m looking forward to that one. It’s a little more of an elevation gain, but I think it’ll be a lot more fun. And it might even be a little safer.