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Mt. Baldy: Claremont’s nearby winter escape

For a crisp mountain retreat this holiday season, locals can look to their own backyard. The sunny weather may cling to Claremont but in Mt. Baldy, a convenient 10 minutes from city limits, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

Several thousand feet above the City of Trees, the quaint mountain community calls, providing a welcome seasonal escape without the hassle of holiday travel. Trails, lodging, great food and community are just a stone’s throw away.

Such a short jaunt may not seem like much of a vacation with the range such a short distance away, but there is something profound in a brief hiatus to the bluffs of Baldy.

“It’s a place where you can stay for a night and feel like you’ve gotten away,” said Mt. Baldy local Missy Ellingson.

Hilltop travelers find solace in traversing the mountain trails, Ice House Canyon being a popular, albeit rocky climb. San Antonio Falls, on the other hand, offers a tempting reward at trail’s end—a glistening waterfall retreat.

Those less inclined to get their hike on can see the sights from overhead at the Mt. Baldy ski lift, a popular tourist destination. For $12-$25 round trip, adventure-seekers can tour the mountain from the skies. Warm drinks and meals await at the top, courtesy of The Notch restaurant. Or, for further thrills when snow season is in session, rent a pair of skis and take the quick route to the bottom.

Others enjoy trying their luck at the local Trout Pools, fed by regional streams and teeming with trout. Though decidedly manmade, the pools provide a welcome bridge to the great outdoors.

Mt. Baldy is full of one-day affairs, but the stay doesn’t have to be so short. While the trails and the Trout Pools certainly give heart to this peak, many mountain dwellers would say it’s the Mt. Baldy Lodge that gives the mountain its heartbeat. Located in the center of the Mt. Baldy Village, the longtime local mainstay is more of a district living room than a lodge. It’s a central place where all are welcome to grab a bite and go, or stay awhile in a private cabin.

“The food here is great...and the people here are really friendly,” said loyal patron, Pavel Dvorak. So loyal, in fact, that the lodge’s outdoor patio is honorarily named “Pavel’s Porch.”

“I can see my house [from the patio], so I can keep an eye on my kids,” he joked.

The great outdoors and a need for nature called Mr. Dvorak home to Baldy 15 years ago. In addition to the off-trail hikes and fresh air, the lodge’s low-carb lunch—two beef patties or chicken breasts with melted Swiss, Ortega chili and salsa—lends him an additional reason for staying hillside.

Ms. Ellingson, the lodge’s co-innkeeper, prides herself on bringing the comforts of home to her customers. Every morning she can be found working away in the kitchen, crafting local favorites like pepper steak and barbecue chicken with homemade barbecue sauce, a menu item waitress Tammy Taylor swears by.

“I’m not called ‘chicken girl’ just because of my legs,” Ms. Taylor quipped.

In all seriousness, the lodge is about more than just employment for Ms. Taylor. It’s home.

“Yes, it’s true, everyone knows your business, but I don’t know if I would have been able to raise my son without everyone here to help me,” she said. “I love the community spirit.”

Open 365 days a year, the Mt. Baldy Lodge is a place locals know they can count on in times of need. Many did rely on the neighborhood lodge during the firestorm of 2003. While many evacuated, Ms. Ellingson and her crew remained behind, feeding firefighters and running extension cords from the inn’s generator to help provide power to the houses nearby.

That sense of camaraderie extends to all aspects of the Mt. Baldy community, shared lodge employee Correna Smith. Ms. Smith was making the regular drive up to Baldy back when she first landed her job at the lodge several years ago. After a car accident left her stranded, Ms. Smith remembers no less than five locals offering her the use of their car.

“And it wasn’t on a temporary basis. It was for as long as I needed it,” she recalled. “People are just not like that everywhere.”

The mountains aren’t immune to the troubles faced down below. The economic downturn caused its fair amount of strife in Baldy, among its casualties the Snow Crest Lodge. Although Ms. Ellingson admits it hasn’t always been easy, she is happy to see business at the Mt. Baldy Lodge is still chugging, and she doesn’t have any plans to change that. Whether feeding daytime travelers or helping guests cozy in for a much-needed night away, the Mt. Baldy Lodge is open and ready for business.

“It’s a completely different world up here, and sometimes that’s what people need, to get away,” Ms. Ellingson said. “By the time you hit the Mt. Baldy sign, it no longer counts as driving.”

The six cabins of the Mt. Baldy Lodge start at $109 a night or $79 if you book four nights or more. Three are single-cabins while the others offer one bedroom and a living room. A volleyball court and pool are also a part of the landscape. The lodge restaurant is open at 11 a.m. Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, and 9 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday for breakfast. For more information, contact 982-1115 or visit www.mtbaldylodge.com.

—Beth Hartnett

news@claremont-courier.com

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