Revenge of the Girly Man — Page 2

Mount Harwood and the Devil's Backbone

The Devil's Backbone

From the top of Chair 4, you seem to be in an ideal position for a quick assault of Mount San Antonio. Two obstacles lie in your way, however: Mount Harwood and the Devil's Backbone Ridge.

I believe Mount Harwood's east face is the most challenging line in the entire San Gabriel range. It is big, steep, discontinuous, plagued by poor snow and rockfall, and generally just plain menacing. To get to Harwood, you must traverse the Devil's Backbone—a classic knife-edge ridge separating the steep gullies of the southern flank from the even steeper chutes and cliff bands to the north.

Mount Baldy Ski Resort - Chair 4 Mount Harwood's East Face Devil's Backbone Crux Devil's Backbone Ridge Manker Flat: North Chutes

Traversing beneath the ridgeline is impossible; the terrain is either too steep or too rocky. If there's snow on top of the ridge (there may or may not be), it's usually possible to ascend atop the ridge on skins, being careful not to fall off in either direction.

To the north is a very un-flat series of steeps and gullies known as Stockton Flats.

Mount Baldy Ski Area has been talking about expanding into Stockton Flats for years, but for now the only way in is to hike.

Just as it's beginning to seem as if the Devil's Backbone won't be so bad after all, you come to the crux of the route: a nasty little step, ala Everest's Hillary, which forces you to make a choice.

You can attempt to remain on the ridgeline, which means climbing up a steep, exposed rock spine that will likely be corniced, or you can traverse onto the rocky south face, where you will have to cross a very loose talus run over a steep gully and cliff band.

Either choice is lousy enough to make you think there must be a better way. There isn't.

Today, however, the snow is soft and deep over the southern option, and after a short talus scramble, I'm able to revert to skins and traverse over the cliff section with good security.

The smart choice at this point is to simply climb Mount Harwood. That entails giving back elevation once you've summited, to drop down into Mount Baldy's southeast bowl.

The alternative, however, is a withering traverse across the countless scree-lined gullies that cut across the mountain's broad south flank. Ordinarily I'd huff it up Harwood, but since I'm heading to the Girly Man Chute, I figure—wrongly—the traverse might be the easier option.

It's funny how often we make things vastly more difficult by trying to make them easier. This will become the theme of today's excursion, though I don't know it yet.

In fact, as I work my way across the soggy snow, traversing around and around Mount Harwood's broad south face, I have no idea of the self-inflicted ordeal to come.

Rounding Mount Hardwood gives me an excellent opportunity to survey the southeastern San Gabriel Range. Among the range's more interesting features are two classic north chutes over the Manker Flat region.

These two highly-aesthetic lines drop 1500 vertical feet from an unnamed ridge over the Big Butch Wash. Both offer some of the steepest skiing in the San Gabriels, with sustained 45-degree pitches. To ski them in their entirety, you must rappel in, though it is also possible to enter lower, via a careful traverse, or simply climb up from the Manker Flat parking area.

I enjoyed a memorable descent of the left chute following a Pacific storm that dumped seven feet of snow on Mount Baldy in 24 hours. I've also skied the same chute in late spring, when icy conditions made for a far more alarming descent. Returning to the present, I notice that my water-soaked skins are beginning to stick to the ultra-soggy Southern California snow. Coincidentally, I've got a block of Glop-Stopper wax on order from Black Diamond. UPS hasn't delivered it yet, and so my skins are a-stick'n.

The traverse is beginning to seem like a bad idea. Trees, stumps, and rocks interrupt the snow cover, forcing me to scamper across, skis and all, or else click out of my bindings and walk. More problematic are the gullies, however. This side of the mountain is cut with deep gashes that must be crossed, one by one. As snow begins to clump against my skins, their weight increases, and my legs soon protest.

next: A Long Traverse

About SierraDescents

When there is snow, SierraDescents is Andy Lewicky's California backcountry skiing and mountaineering website. Without snow, sierradescents becomes an ill-tempered hiking and climbing blog.

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