Account of Events
Prelude: Having hiked up Mount Baldy several times this year from the Baldy Village, via the Ski Hut trail, and along the Devil’s Backbone, I was looking for another route up to one of my favorite peaks in the San Gabriels. After some considerations I’ve decided to take the Register Ridge from Manker’s Flat to the Devil’s Backbone right below Mount Harwood. This route promised to be quite steep with over 4,000 feet elevation gain in less than 4 miles to the summit of Mount Baldy.
Part 1: Having made up my mind I started on a beautifully sunny November day at around 9am from Manker’s Flat (6,170’). I was positively surprised that only very few cars were parked on the trailhead, which usually is crowded already in the early morning hours with dozens of cars. The trail starts on a fire road that leads in over 3 miles to Baldy Notch. After passing the San Antonio Falls the Ski Hut trail leads off north from the fire road after about 0.9 miles. The faint use trail up to the Register Ridge turns off to the east at about 6,700’ shortly after the first prominent switch back after you pass the register box. The trail climbs steeply up the slope to the ridge. After some recent rain storms the faint trail often was washed out and difficult to trace. However, you basically go straight up until you reach the ridge and views to the east towards the Baldy Notch and Thunder Mountain open up. The trail relentlessly and steeply follows the ridge. In short time the Ski Hut comes into view and I noticed how quickly I gained elevation in relatively little distance. Eventually I reached a little plateau area (~8,330’) where I decided to take a short rest. From the start of the Register Ridge trail I have gained about 1,600 feet in almost 1 mile. After the plateau area I quickly encountered some bigger rocks (about 10-15 feet high) that can be bypassed either on the left or right. I decided to climb them directly (easy, not exposed class 3), which was fun. The next portion up to the Devil’s Backbone is steep with 850 feet elevation gain in 0.4 miles (average grade: 46%) through amazing open lodgepole pine forest. At about 9,300’ I reached the Devil’s Backbone trail a little bit east of Mount Harwood. The ascent via the Register Ridge (from the Ski Hut trail to the Devil’s Backbone) totaled about 1.5 miles with ~2,600 feet of elevation gain. Since I have never been on the summit of Mount Harwood I decided to “bag” this mountain on my way to Mount Baldy. After about 200 vertical feet over a barren scree slope I stood atop of Mount Harwood (9,552’) which offered magnificent views north into the desert and west to Mount Baldy. There were pretty strong and cold winds on the summit so I decided to head west over a brief ridge down to Devil’s Backbone. From the saddle between Mount Baldy and Harwood you have to climb another 700 feet to the bare summit area of Mount Baldy (10,064’). Only a few other hikers were on the top that day. From the time I started on Manker’s Flat it took me about 2.5 hours (with stops) to reach the summit, which has been the fastest time for me to the summit on any route. It was very cold with strong winds, so everybody took cover behind the stone shelters on top. After a 15 minute break I decided to go down the Ski Hut trail.
Part 2: I personally absolutely love the Ski Hut trail. After the initial descent from the Baldy summit area I went off the trail a bit to check out the Baldy Bowl from the top. I was thinking of some nice winter climbing directly up the bowl and wanted to find the best chute up. It seemed to me that the further east you go (towards the Backbone) the easier it is. The more western chutes certainly would require some rock climbing. I was standing there for at least 20 minutes as the views down the very steep bowl are simply breathtaking. Eventually I had to leave and continue my way down to the hut. In the little forest before you cross the bowl there were some traces of snow already. I am always amazed by the scenery when you scramble the boulders across the bowl. I did not stop at the hut and continued the trail down towards the trailhead. The views up the steep Register Ridge to the east were great. After leaving the summit I made it back to the trailhead at Manker’s Flat in about 1.5 hours. Overall, the hike totaled about 7.5 miles roundtrip with 4,500 feet of elevation gain. I started at shortly after 9:00 am and returned to the car at about 3:00 pm, which luckily allowed me to beat the traffic back to the Westside.
Disclaimer: The track was recorded on a Garmin GPSmap 60CSx with coordinate savings every 30 seconds. Mileage- and elevation readings were calculated after importing the gpx file into National Geographic’s Topo 4.0 software. Below are some Google Earth Renditions of the described hike.