The "other" Devil's Backbone, seen in profile from Mt. Baden-Powell. Fron left: Pine Mountain, Dawson Peak, Mount Baldy.
Dawson Peak lies halfway along the great north ridge of Mount Baldy
between Baldy itself, and Pine Mountain
to the north. Standing on its summit you get a good feel for the reason most people stay away from the north side of Baldy. It is loose, steep, and with the exception of the Devil's Backbone trail that runs from where you stand almost directly to the summit of Baldy, trailless. It is a spectacular view nonetheless.
If the name "Dawson" sounds familiar to California climbing history buffs, you're not far off the mark. The Peak was named by surveyor Donald McLain in 1920 after Ernest Dawson, an influential early member of the Sierra Club. Ernest Dawson's son Glen went on to establish some of the hardest rock climbs of the day, including the Mechanics Route at Tahquitz Rock, and the East Face and East Buttress routes on Mount Whitney.
The Devil's Backbone trail (there is another "Devil's Backbone" ascending the east ridge of Baldy) is a wonderful, scenic hike. Starting from Blue Ridge Road, it climbs up and over Pine Mountain, Dawson Peak, and ends on the summit of Baldy. The entire round trip is short (about 8 miles) and strenuous (about 4,900 feet of gain), but hiking even a portion of it is a rewarding experience. If you stop at Dawson Peak, the total is about 5 miles/2,800 feet gain.
The following is from Mike Ostbey's Pine Mountain
page. The northern approaches and routes to Dawson are the same as for Pine Mtn. I find little to improve upon:
"TO THE BLUE RIDGE ROAD TRAILHEAD: From I-15 take State Route 38 west for several miles to the junction with the Angeles Crest Hwy, Hwy 2. Turn left. Take Hwy 2 through the town of Wrightwood. A few miles past the town of Wrightwood is a large parking area on both sides of the road. On the left is the turn-off for the Blue Ridge dirt road towards Prairie Fork and Guffy Campground. Drive aprox. 6 miles to a road junction just past Guffy Campground road. Take the left branch aprox. 1.7 miles. Park in the dirt pull-out (8,310') at the base of Pine Mountain. The trail is obvious as it climbs the ridge directly up Pine Mountain.
"The Blue Ridge Road is closed during ski season. There are several gates that may or may not be locked depending on snow, road conditions or fire season restrictions. Many times the gate is locked at Guffy Campground and you'll have to park and walk to the trailhead.
"An alternate approach from Los Angeles is to drive the Angeles Crest Hwy, Hwy 2, about 50 miles east from La Canada and about 3 miles past Vincent Gap, to the Blue Ridge dirt road. From there follow the directions above.
"TO THE ACORN TRAILHEAD: From Hwy 2 in the town of Wrightwood turn south onto Pine Street. Go aprox. 1 block to Apple Ave. Turn right. Go aprox. 2 blocks to Acorn Drive. Turn left. Follow Acorn Drive for aprox. a mile or so or until you reach a large "private road" sign on the right. You can't miss it. Do not park your car beyond the sign as it will be towed away. The trailhead is another 1/2 mile or so beyond the sign. Walk to the end of the paved road. There is a gate where a dirt road continues. Follow the dirt road until you see the signed trailhead.
"Using the Acorn Trail will add aprox. 2,000 vertical feet and about 4.3 round trip miles to the hike."
Dawson may also be climbed (descended?) from the summit of Baldy. See the Mount Baldy
page for info. From the summit of Baldy, descend the north ridge to the saddle between Baldy and Dawson, then follow the use trail to the top. Reverse your route to get back to your car.
Dawson Peak lies in the Sheep Mountain Wilderness
in the Angeles National Forest
. A National Forest Adventure Pass
or Golden Eagle pass is required to park in the ANF. Annual passes are $30, and day passes are $5. Passes can be purchased at Forest Service offices and virtually any sporting goods store in Southern California. No permits are required for day hiking.
There are two small campgrounds on Blue Ridge Road. These are the most convenient for an ascent of Dawson Peak. For a comprehensive list of campgrounds in the Angeles National Forest, click here
Elev. 8,000'. 8 sites. Open May-Nov. Blue Ridge Road is closed for the winter season, and campground is walk-in only. No piped water. Vault toilets - RV's to 20'. Sites are first come - first served. Adventure Pass required for vehicles parked at this campground. The Pacific Crest Trail runs right beside the camp. Location: From Angeles Crest Highway (Hwy. 2), approx. 5 miles west of Wrightwood, take Blue Ridge Road 3 miles to the campground. Groceries and services available in the community of Wrightwood. Call (661) 296-9710 for current conditions and additional information.
Elev. 8,300'. 6 Sites. Open May-Nov. Blue Ridge Road is closed for the winter, and this campground is walk-in only. Primitive tent camping site overlooking the Sheep Mountain Wilderness Area. No water. Vault toilets. Adventure Pass required for vehicles parked at this campground. Campsites are first come - first served. Location: Located on Blue Ridge Road 6 miles from the intersection of Blue Ridge Rd. and Angeles Crest Highway (the intersection is 1.5 miles west of Big Pines). The road into the campground is a rough dirt road - after the first 5 miles a four-wheel drive is required. Groceries and services available in the community of Wrightwood (approximately 9.5 miles). Call (661) 296-9710 for current conditions and additional information.
When to Climb
Dawson Peak may be climbed year-round. The Blue Ridge Road is closed during the winter season, making the Acorn Trail the only feasible north side route. When snow-covered, snowshoes, ice axe and crampons may be needed--the slopes are quite steep in places, and the San Gabriel climate lends itself to the formation of hard. fast snow conditions. The peak is high enough that it is usually reasonable to hike it during the summer, though late spring and early fall may be more comfortable. There is no water on any of the trails.
The Forest Service office provide current conditions (See "Red Tape" above for a link). Quite frankly, I've found the weather.com is just as good. Query on Wrightwood, and subtract a few degrees.