Mt. San Antonio P5K HPS
Mt. Harwood HPS
Devils Backbone
Thunder Mountain HPS
Telegraph Peak P1K HPS

Mon, Dec 21, 2009
Etymology
Mt. San Antonio
Mt. Harwood
Thunder Mountain
Telegraph Peak
Story Photos / Slideshow Map Profile
Mt. San Antonio previously climbed Mon, Aug 5, 2002

Continued...

Tom had gone back to home and work and left me to myself once again. I still had a few days in the mountains of Southern California before it was time to head home myself. The weather forcast was calling for overcast skies to be followed by precipitation in the evening with snow at the higher elevations. I decided it would be better to climb Mt. Baldy today rather than wait until tomorrow when there could be a dangerous layer of fresh snow over the icy-hard old layer. I had already climbed Mt. Baldy seven years earlier, but it had been in summer conditions, not winter. More importantly, there were three other HPS peaks nearby that I had neglected to consider on that first outing, and it was those three that I was here to collect today.

Mine was one of only two cars at the Manker Flat parking area when I arrived shortly after 6am. It was just below freezing and overcast. I started off with a headlamp at 6:15a going past the locked gate and up the road, though it would be light out soon enough. The waterfall was quiet in this early hour at the bend in the road, either dry or frozen by the cold overnight temperatures. I had no trouble finding the unsigned junction for the Ski Hut Trail, though I was oblivious to it the first time I traveled up this road. Once the trail makes its way steeply up the road cut, it enters the forest where a TH register is located. Not until this moment had I realized the etymology for Register Ridge route that starts just behind this location. Tom had suggested this route to me the day before, but I had never been to the ski hut and wanted to check it out along with Baldy Bowl.

Not long after leaving the register, the trail turned mostly to snow. With a well-beaten track from the weekend visitors, it was easy to walk in just boots. I reached the hut at 7:30a where I found another hiker named Brian along with his well-mannered and friendly dog. They had started out shortly before me and were taking a break when I arrived. I went to check out the cabin but found it locked, not surprising I suppose, given it's location along a popular trail. There was a decent view of Baldy Bowl from near the hut where I also paused to put on my snowshoes.

Brian took off just ahead of me, following the trail around to the left side of the bowl. I was following shortly behind them until I was at the base of the bowl where I paused to survey the scene. This had been the site of RJ Secor's ill-fated glissade that had resulted in a serious head injury a few years ago. It was steep with hard snow at the moment and glissading would be impossible. To the right the bowl was steepest and led up to rocky sections more in line with the summit. It looked a little dicey in that direction. The angle was not quite so steep on the left side of the bowl and I was drawn to ascend up this rather than follow the safer trail even further left.

The angle did not likely exceed 30 degrees, but of course it felt much steeper as I ascended with snowshoes and axe. Near the top it was necessary to use the pick end of the axe to get any purchase at all in the icy snow. The hardpack provided excellent traction for my snowshoes, fortuitously fitted with steel teeth that held nearly as well as crampons would in the same conditions. When I topped out onto the South Ridge of Baldy I looked around and saw no sign of Brian or his dog. Some 20 minutes later I spied them a few hundred yards down the ridge, making their way up. The rest of the route up to Baldy is fairly easy at a lower gradient and by 8:45a I had reached the top.

There were snowcapped Mtns in most directions, Baden-Powell to the west, Pine and Dawson to the north, Harwood and Telegraph to the east, Cucamonga and Ontario to the southeast. I traversed across the rather flat-topped summit on my way to the east side of the peak where I started my descent in the direction of Mt. Harwood. Harwood was the reason for my return to Mt. Baldy, a small side trip on the way that I had neglected on my first visit. I followed the ridgeline to the saddle connecting the two, then up the gentle West Ridge of Harwood to its summit around 9:15a.

After a short survey of the ski area to the east, I continued down in that direction along the Devils Backbone. The trail was buried under snow and mostly impossible to follow as it makes its way through this steep, unforgiving part of the ridgeline. I gingerly stepped down and around the icy, craggy sections, taking my snowshoes off for a short 10-foot section along the way. As I finished the hardest of the ridgeline, Brian and pooch appeared behind me again. While I carried on I continued to look back until the two were safely through the roughest patches (the dog was an amazing climber, sans boots, crampons, axe or anything else save what he was born with), before picking up the pace down to the ski area. It was the last I saw of them for the day.

I stayed above the ski area at Baldy Notch, following a service road up from there. The road ended at a junction with a ski run coming off Thunder Mtn and the chairlift that services the summit. I stuck to the edge of the groomed ski run until I reached a small saddle 50yds up that overlooked Telegraph Peak to the southeast. I continued along the ridgeline heading up to Thunder Mtn through the trees where I could, at the edge of the ski run where I couldn't. At the top I unstrapped my snowshoes and waved a greeting to the ski patroler at the shed there before hiking up to the deck for a look around. Summits crowned by ski lifts generally lose most of their appeal as places of interest, and this was no exception. I had been warned that the ski area frowned on backcountry visitors, but from the friendly reception I received I found that hard to believe. In our brief chat, I picked up some helpful beta on the ascent of Telegraph Peak, the last summit on my list for the day.

After strapping the snowshoes back to my feet, I headed southeast for the direct, albeit somewhat steep descent down to the saddle with Telegraph. From the saddle I headed up the NW Ridge as suggested by the ski patrol. I had thought I might be able to follow the Three T's Trail switchbacking up the west side of the peak, but this was hopelessly buried in snow. The ridgeline made for a fine climb. The snow conditions were icier than I had expected for a northwest-facing slope and I was quite thankful I didn't have my older snowshoes with much poorer traction. I had expected that the summit would be mildly popular in the wintertime, but I saw no other tracks in the snow on my way up or down the peak. The ski patroler had mentioned it was a popular backcountry ski run, but I imagine they save such efforts for better snow conditions than I found today.

It took about 45 minutes to go from Thunder to Telegraph. The highpoint is located at the northeast edge of the summit ridge. A benchmark and register were located there. The last entry was about a month earlier. I snapped a handful of photos, but it was cold and windy at the top and my fingers froze quickly. Time to beat a retreat. I followed the ridge southwest to a saddle before dropping down on the west side of the mountain. I hoped for better snow in the trees found there, but it was just as icy as I had found on the NW Ridge. Nervous, I faced into the mountain and used an axe to assist me in descending the first several hundred yards. Step, pick, step, pick, I repeated the steady rhythm for some ten minutes before the slope eased and my confidence returned enough to allow me to face down the mountain and continue the descent at a faster clip.

It was 12:40p by the time I had returned to Thunder Mtn. From there I headed west along the edge of the ski area, dropping down through a closed area to something labeled Big Butch Wash on my topo map. Once I reached the wash, I could have hiked north out to the ski area and then followed the road through the ski area back to Manker Flat. But the more interesting route looked to be the route down Big Butch which dropped directly to Manker Flat. I knew nothing about whether this route worked or not, and guessed there was some non-zero chance it might cliff-out at a waterfall. But since it was still early in the afternoon I figured I had plenty of time to crawl back up the wash if that should prove necessary. Happily it worked quite nicely. There was a modest amount of water flowing down the center, the snow cover breaking up and eventually I had to put the snowshoes away. There was a short bit of fun class 3 scrambling down the creek and a bit of bushwhacking before the wash opened up to an easier but tedious boulder field with just enough snow to keep me on my toes. Near the bottom of this rubble pile I came across half a dozen groups of folks making their way up. Not of the mountaineering persuasion, they looked to have been families that drove up to Manker Flat to play in the snow and had started up the boulder field in search of enough snow to have a snowball fight with. Some persevered to the bigger snow patches while others gave up in frustration over the uneven, slippery ground and headed back.

It was 2p when I returned to my van at Manker Flat. Thinking I had time for an LPC peak or two, I headed down the road trying to recall the summits I had viewed online the night before. I had no maps or definite recall, so much of my effort was guesswork. I pulled over at a gated side road on the west side of Mt. Baldy Rd that I was hoping led up to Potato Mtn. It started off promising enough, following the road past some beehives, turning to trail, but then abruptly ending about 20 minutes from the car while still on the side of the hill. I pressed on, heading cross-country up the steepening slope (thankfully free of snow) following game trails that criss-crossed the hillside. By now I had guessed that I was heading up to nowhere in particular, but it was fun anyway and I didn't mind. Later I learned I was on some lower ridgelines SE of Sunset Peak. I got a view of Potato Mtn several miles further southwest with some rugged terrain intervening. I would have to save it for another day. Back down I went.

That night I planned to park at the locked gate off Sierra Rd for San Sevine and Buck Point on the east side of the San Gabriels not far off Interstate 15. When I got to the the gate later that evening at 7:30p, I was surprised to find the gate open. This fortunate happenstance could save me a good deal of walking that I had expected for the next morning, almost eight miles in each direction. I very cautiously drove up the road, stopping a dozen times to move large rocks out of the way, wishing I'd done so several more times as I winced whenever one of them banged against the undercarraige. After more than an hour's effort I had managed to drive all the way to the junction with the route to San Sevine. I found a nice flat spot off the road to park and settled into the back of the van for a good sleep. The long effort to reach these two HPS peaks was going to be made much easier and I went to bed smuggly happy with my good fortune.

Continued...


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