Friday, April 26, 2013

Mt. Harwood, Thunder Mountain, Register Ridge

Hiked: 4/26/2013
Distance: 9.4 miles round trip on dirt road, trail, and cross country
Summit Elevation: 9552' (Mt. Harwood), 8587' (Thunder Mountain)
Prominence: 152' (Mt. Harwood), 387' (Thunder Mountain)
Elevation Gain: 4120' (combined)
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 3.29
Round trip time: 5 hours 20 minutes
Recommended water: 128 oz.
Parking/Fees: Adventure Pass
Difficulty: Strenuous

This was intended to be a standard training hike for Mt. Whitney with a group going in July, but when the group didn't show up, I improvised. Instead of doing the Ski Hut Trail and Devil's Backbone loop, I decided to tackle Register Ridge, a lesser known use trail that heads straight up to Mt. Harwood. Parking was near the Manker Flat Campground. It was 49F at the trail head, but it warmed up as the day unfolded.

Harwood was my main target today, along with Register Ridge and the Devil's Backbone, which were all new experiences for me. The gain on Register Ridge is less than the Ski Hut trail because it doesn't go all the way to Mt. Baldy. However, it has fewer switchbacks and no level sections. It is up, then up, and more up. I saw the Ski Hut from the Ridge a few times and had perfect views of the Baldy Bowl. Once it intersected with the Devil's Backbone, I continued straight up the summit of Mt. Harwood across the rocky talus. There was no vegetation on top of Harwood, just rocks. There was zero snow anywhere on the trail. I saw one snow patch on the north side of Harwood, but it didn't look like it was going to last long.

Next, I proceeded down the Devil's Backbone trail toward the ski areas. I passed some idle lifts and had enough energy left that I decided to tag Thunder Mountain. When I got to Mt. Baldy Road, I continued up the road and followed it all the way to Thunder. The final climb to Thunder was over another rock field, but not as pleasant as Harwood. Then came my questionable call of the day: to head down Emile's black diamond ski run. It was covered in loose rocks and dirt, the decent angles were uncomfortable, and I ended up "skiing" down scree in many places, sometimes managing a 10 foot slide before taking the next step. I lost 1000' of elevation in about 1/2 a mile. It was slow and miserable, and when I got to the bottom, both boots were filled with pebbles.

The return on the road was uneventful, except for one shortcut below the one running ski lift. I waved at two sets of riders on their way up. They were probably watching to see if I had any mishap navigating the use trail below the lift, but I didn't. I saw no one on Register Ridge, and no one on Thunder Mountain either. I met a few hikers and dogs on the road on the way down.

Start of the Register Ridge Trail, just past the first switchback on the Ski Hut trail

Climbing Register Ridge

Baldy Bowl from Register Ridge

Mt. Baldy from Mt. Harwood summit

Looking down the giant rock field that makes up Mt. Harwood.

Descending the Devil's Backbone trail

Top of the ski lift on Thunder Mountain

Thunder Mountain summit sign

Baldy, Harwood, and Dawson from Thunder Mountain summit. This appears to be the top of Emile's diamond ski run that I descended from Thunder.


  1. Nice trip report - thanks for posting it.

    Time-wise, can you tell me how a Mt. Harwood ascent via Register Ridge compares to an ascent of Baldy via Ski Hut/Baldy Bowl Trail?

    1. 66NovaWagon,

      I think it is faster than Ski Hut, my guess is 45 minutes less, partly because it goes directly up the ridge to Harwood, and partly because it is 500' less gain than Baldy. It is still probably faster even if you went to Baldy since it is more direct, but not much. Glad you got something out of the report.

    2. Thank you for the quick reply. I want to try this on Saturday, but have to be finished by 11. I'm trying to guestimate how long it will take me. I would plan to take R/R up to Harwood, then take Devil's Backbone back to Mankers Flats. It seem I should be able to do that in 5 hrs or so.

      Thanks for the help!

    3. Sounds fun. Have a good time!