Bear Canyon to Baldy (Return Via Devil’s Backbone)

Trailhead: 6778 Mt Baldy Rd, Mt Baldy, CA, 91759, USA
Length: 6 miles to the peak, another 3ish to the notch and then take the ski lift down because if you have to walk another step you might die.
Elevation Gain: 5740 ft. You will climb all of this in 6  miles. It will make you tired and sad.
Difficulty: So hard you will cry like a baby.
Total time: 8 hours
Dogs: Don’t do this to your poor dog. I don’t care if he IS a “really good climber.”
Parking: Adventure pass required, as is a shuttle. Have someone park at Manker Flats, and another drive you to the ranger station where you will start the trek.

To get to the trail head, walk up Bear Canyon road (across the street from Mt. Baldy Lodge) until you get to the trail head. Getting there is a little tricky, so I recommend you check out Hikingguy.com‘s turn by turn directions.  Actually, you should just check out his site for any hiking instructions. I don’t know why you’re even here.

Anyway, I’ve done this trail twice because apparently I didn’t learn the first time. Both times we started this trek at about 6:30 a.m. in the semi-dark.

The beginning part of the trail does not go gentle on you and you climb pretty fast, pretty quick. There are some short breaks with flat terrain, but just remember you’re climbing an average of about 1k feet/mile and it’s going to be like that for a long, long time.

We made it to Bear Flats just in time to see the sun rising over the mountains by the time we were half way up the unrelenting switchbacks. Take your time on this section. You’ve got a lot of mountain to climb.

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After you finish the switchbacks, the next big landmark is a place called “Split Rock” which is a rock… that is split in two. It’s a good place for a quick break before you head up the next grueling passage.

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This part is the hardest climb of the trail because your legs are tired and it’s super steep.

After 17.5 years of climbing, you’ll reach the traverse. Take heart because it’s kinda, almost, not really at all close to being over. You’ll have something like two more miles to go, but the elevation gain is more mellow.

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For us, the traverse where it started getting windy and cold. Like SUPER windy and cold. What made it even better was the fact that I’m a head sweater and my hair was sopping wet (I mean, I can wring it out kind of wet) which felt way awesome with the cold wind blowing on it.

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After the traverse you’ll head up into the trees. The trees protected us a bit from the wind, but had the added bonus of snow. At this point to distract myself from the slog, I started making up new lyrics to the Fugee’s version of Killing Me Softly. It goes like this:

I got up at 4:30
Put on my boots to hike

I hopped into my Hyundai
And drove it for awhilllle.

And there it was, this mountain
About to claim my sooooul.

Cold, numbing pain in my fingers
Wind blasted face, legs that hurt.

Killing me slowly with this hike,
Killing me slowly…with this hike.

Taking my whole life… with each step.
Killing me slowly… With this hiiiiiiiiike

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The composition of this soon-to-be-chart-topper kept me busy enough to get to the top where winds were blowing about 45 miles per hour. My fingers were so cold that it took a while to take a picture, as my phone didn’t recognize them as belonging to a human anymore. It also came out blurry, so it was well worth the effort.

Someone else had a camera and decided to take, perhaps, the most unflattering photo of me in the history of my existence. Here I am, in the middle looking like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Woman under my three layers of clothing.

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I also had to borrow a face scarf from my friend Mike which I returned to him filled with snot and spit. Thanks, buddy!

At this point, there is a choice. You can either go back down the way you came which probably sucks just a little less than it did going up, or you can take the 3.5 mile down the Devil’s backbone down to the Notch and take the fire road or the ski lift down to Manker Flats.

Remember how I said to arrange a shuttle? That’s why. I hope you listened when I said that, because otherwise you’re going back down Bear Canyon to the ranger station.

I stayed up at the top for about 95 seconds and made my way down to the Notch Restaurant, just in time to see the storm rolling in.

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After eating the vegetarian lunch I brought because last time when I ordered a “Black Bean Burger” from the restaurant I got an actual meat burger with black beans on it (WHO WOULD WANT TO EAT THAT?), I paid the $12 to take the ski lift down, which was totally worth it, even if it was hailing on the way down and I kept getting pelted in the face with tiny, high speed ice balls.

And there you have it. This is arguably the hardest trail up to Baldy. I say “arguably” because there’s also Register Ridge and that one is also horrible.

This is actually a great training hike if you plan to do Cactus to Clouds, which makes this one look like a hike for toddlers. This won’t be the last time I do Bear Canyon, as I do need to train for the next and last time I ever to C2C (I made a promise to a friend), but I think it’ll be awhile before I climb it again.

4 thoughts on “Bear Canyon to Baldy (Return Via Devil’s Backbone)

  1. Thanks for the mention, glad the guide was helpful! I love this hike, but man, it’s tough, and right out of the gate. Props to you for doing it in the winter—that adds a whole other level of effort to the hike.

    I did the same loop a few years ago, coming down the Devil’s Backbone. I was actually dumb enough to think I would walk back down to Baldy Village, but luckily every other car driving down offered me a ride and I finally swallowed my pride and accepted.

    I enjoy the blog and Insta account, keep up the good hikes!

    Like

    1. Thank you for the kind words! I literally always check out your site if I haven’t done a hike before… I’ve taken screen caps of your step by step directions, haha! And I can’t imagine hiking down from Manker flats to Baldy Village on that crazy road. I don’t blame you for taking the ride.

      Like

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