See Introducing Mt. Baldy and Mt. Baldy hike description at Dan's Hiking Pages
Unequivocally, this was one of my very best hike experiences in the San Gabriels. An amazing day of hiking! I’ve been hearing about the Register Ridge route for years, but its purported difficulty has had me avoiding it. But two weeks ago while hiking to Mt. Baldy, I met a man who had just hiked it that morning. So based on his first-hand report, I decided it was time to tackle the notorious Register Ridge. The route begins on Ski Hut Trail just past the sign-in register, climbs 2,600 in about 1.6 miles, and intersects Devils Backbone Trail on the south face of Mt. Harwood. My plan was to hike the ridge and continue onto Harwood. Then if I felt up to it, I could continue on to Baldy or descend via the Backbone.
I psyched myself up the whole week, read some hike descriptions, studied maps and aerials, and got my gear together. And the weather forecast was for mild temps. I arose at 5:00 Sunday morning and headed off to Manker Flats.
6:25 AM - Begin hike (6160') on Falls Road. I was here two weeks ago but this morning there is an excitement in my step. The ragged ramparts of Baldy Bowl catch the morning’s first rays of sun 3,900 feet above. I transition onto Ski Hut Trail, sign the register, round the bend and arrive at the junction for the Register Ridge route. I take 5 minutes and do some stretching exercises.
6:55 - Begin climbing Register Ridge. The well-worn path zigzags up the steep slope. The footing is loose and I’m thankful I brought a walking poll. At 7:07 I step into the sun. It’s bright. Shortly the trail gets less steep. A gentle breeze feels good. I’m loving the expanding views in all directions. Baldy Bowl in all its glory rises high above while a marine layer blankets the valleys below. I’m seeing the area from a perspective I’ve not experienced before. I love the smell of pine. Sugar pine, Jeffery pine, and white fir decorate the ridge. The path is easy to follow for the most part. At one point I find my own route scampering over some rocks. There are great views down both sides of the ridge. The climb is steep but I’m really enjoying the trail. There is a real sense of climbing a mountain. And I have it all to myself! The grand scenery is breathtaking while the micro features such as pine cones, stumps, dead branches, and delicate flowers add a unique beauty. At times the ridge gets narrow with steep drop-offs.
8:36 - Reach a high spot on the ridge which drops slightly to a small saddle. The ridge broadens out and the climb gets steeper. A huge outcropping greets me and I pass easily to its left. Scrambling up scree now. Stopping to catch my breath affords me ample time to soak in the majestic vistas. I am thoroughly enjoying an exhilarating climb. Gentle breezes and pleasant temps are so welcome.
9:29 - Arrive at a splendid outcropping which provides an ideal place to sit, rest, eat, and savor the awesome scenery. I don’t feel guilty for lingering a half hour since this setting rivals just about any peak in the San Gabriels. I call my wife, upload a photo to Facebook (technology...gotta love it!) and enjoy perfect solitude...until I hear the clicking of trekking poles. A woman and man pass me climbing to the top. Finally I leave this delightful spot at l0:05. Manzanita and gnarled pines dominate the landscape of the now-broad mountainside. Suddenly I’m caught by surprise as I see a runner moving laterally just ahead. Wow, I’m almost there!
10:12 - Arrive at Devils Backbone Trail. Maybe I was over psyched for climb, but it was not nearly as tough as I thought it would be. Perhaps the shire beauty of the route outweighed its difficulty. Or maybe 5 weeks of noteworthy conditioning helped. I’m reluctant to even mention Register Ridge for concern of increasing its traffic. But it is indeed a serious climb and its demand for experienced hikers in good hiking condition will always weed out the multitudes. Word to the wise: Don’t even consider this route unless you can handily climb Ski Hut Trail to Baldy.
10:18 - I feel great so I fix my gaze to the north and begin ascending Mt. Harwood. There is no established route--I just climb straight up the crushed-rock-covered barren mass. The scenery is breathtakingly expansive. I’m having such an enjoyable hike!
10:29 - Mt. Harwood (9552’). Wow, this is an awesome summit! The vistas are simply stunning. It’s curious to me that peaks often have their identity based on the relationship to other peaks. If Old Baldy wasn’t looming above it by 500 feet, this would certainly be one of the most popular peaks in the San Gabriels. The wind is blowing briskly and I strap on my hat. The view northwest toward Dawson Peak and Pine Mt. reinforces my desire to hike them this season. I leave the summit at 10:44 and head west toward Baldy. In 100 yards I pass a spacecraft-looking device that seems at home on this moonscape (It’s actually an EarthScope GPS monitoring station). I pass a couple outcroppings and descend to the saddle as I eyeball the steep pitch to Baldy with hikers looking like ants sprinkled along the route.
11:02 - Badly/Harwood saddle (9360’). With the solitude behind me, I now join the masses in scaling the 700 vertical feet to Baldy’s summit. The scenery is still stunning and the temps still pleasant. A stiff wind to my back at times helps propel me uphill. After 18 minutes I reach a junction where the route splits. To the right the trial is less steep as it passes through a draw. I veer left on the steeper trail with the intent to explore the rim of Baldy Bowl. I wander off the trail in several spots to view the spectacular scene. Massive scree slopes, topped by jagged rocks, drop a 1,000 feet.
11:33 - I reach a recessed area. I continue to bear left staying close to the rim. I climb a knoll and am drawn downward toward a small outcropping and then down to a large one. What an incredible vantage point as I sit perched on the very rim of Baldy Bowl. I’d love to be sitting at the ski hut and see me sitting up here! I’ve long been one who strays off the path to find interesting things, and this ranks as a real treasure. I linger, snack, soak in the beauty, and feel no need to rush off to a crowded, bald summit. At 12:02 I leave my sweet spot and head toward the peak. It’s fun creating my own route. I reach the main trail at 12:27 and take the final steps to the top.
12:29 - Mt. Baldy summit (10,064’)! It’s a great peak but I’m not as wowed today after having experienced the amazing scenery on Register Ridge, Mt. Harwood, and Baldy Bowl rim. I count 14 people here. I still feel great so decide to make it a triple crown day! I manage to accomplish what I wasn’t able to two weeks ago: I stay briefly! At 12:39 I leave the summit and head toward West Baldy. I follow the path that traverses directly down the board, gentle ridge. Wispy white clouds in the deep blue sky add beauty to the day. I reach the saddle in 10 minutes and begin the climb to my third summit for the day.
12:56 - West Baldy (9988') - I meet Cindy, Lindella, and Tony, who climbed here via the long route on Bear Flat Trail from the village. We chat and I’m amazed and inspired by their hiking exploits. There is a lot less haze today than two weeks ago when I made my first visit to this peak. Leave the summit at 1:42 and retrace my steps to Baldy.
2:02 - Mt. Baldy summit, the second time. Count 18 people. Linger for a while, have a snack, chat with few people, and enjoy the beauty of this grand, bald summit.
Leave the peak at 2:25 to begin my 3.2 mile trek to Baldy Notch. I’m glad the sun is to my back. Hikers are still coming up the trail. My pace is casual as I enjoy the scenery and take pictures. Reach the Baldy/Harwood saddle at 3:01. It’s nice to finally be on a decent trail. At 3:13 I pass the junction of Register Ridge route. I smile with satisfaction. I continue along Devils Backbone Trail. I’m surprised to run into my friend Dave Dorman, who’s coming up the trail. I chuckle because over the years we have crossed paths while hiking on 5 or 6 occasions. I guess we’re on the same wavelength in trial selection. A few minutes later I meet a young man named Drew who recognized me from my hiking website. He’s working on a personal best time up Baldy. I take a short snack break sitting on a log. I still have ice in my Gatorade...so refreshing!
4:06 - Reach the backbone section. It’s pretty short in contrast to its notoriety. I walk it in 10 minutes. Always breathtaking scenery. My pace is casual as I walk along the ski lift service road. My body is starting to feel the effects of a long day of hiking. I resist the temptation to drop down one of the ski runs, although, they do make good shortcuts.
4:51 - Baldy Notch (7800’). I’m so done. Ten bucks for a one-way ski lift ticket is a good value right now. I’ve never ridden the lift going up but I can justify going down after a long hike. I enjoy the 15-minute ride down the 1,500 vertical feet and arrive at the bottom at 5:22. Now walk the half mile back to the car.
5:40 - Done, indeed!
Epilog - What an amazing day of hiking! The weather was perfect. The Baldy high country is stunning. Connecting with other hikers, experiencing a new route, exploring Baldy Bowl rim, and hitting all three peaks was greatly rewarding. I am always eternally grateful for these wonderful mountains in my back yard and for the gift of being able to hike.
See Introducing Mt. Baldy and Mt. Baldy hike description at Dan's Hiking Pages
See Mt. Baldy Hike photo album (8-21-11)