U.S.D.A. Identifier: Icehouse Canyon
Type of trail: As hiked – a modified loop
Distance as hiked: 7.5 miles
Approximate elevation: Trailhead-5,400 ft., Top of trail-7,234 ft.
Temps: 75-85 degrees
Trail Composition: dirt, rock, scree
Fees: Day use fee or Adventure Pass
Due to recent fire in San Jacinto area, we ventured back to the Mt. Baldy area. We haven’t been there since last summer and there are tons of trails to explore. Today, we picked Icehouse Canyon. My blogging buddy “Hiking Angeles Forest” knows this area well and has written extensively on the San Gabriels.
Be sure to pick up your permit at the Visitor Center in Baldy Village. The volunteer on duty was friendly and we were on our way in minutes. The trailhead is approximately 1.5 miles up the road with a well marked sign on the right. The parking lot for the trail is large, mainly because this is a busy trail. Too busy for my liking, but it is a summer weekend and there is water near the trail.
The path is well marked as you navigate your way around boulders. Going up, a canyon wall is on the left and there are old cabins along the trail next to a creek. This creek appears to run year-round with several nice cascades. We would take the Chapman Trail on the left around the one mile mark. Most of the people were continuing on Icehouse Canyon. Actually most of the lowlanders were hanging around the creek. The Chapman trail was less crowded and provided decent solitude – even for a Saturday afternoon.
We stopped for lunch at Cedar Glen Camp, a relatively flat area with – you guessed it – cedars. It was a bit buggy for this late July day, the gnats were annoying, but at least they weren’t mosquitos. After lunch, we began a gradual climb, emerged from the woods and entered an area of chaparral. You could see where parts of the area burned and the new growth appeared to be between 7-10 years old.
The trail broke out as we hiked through talus and slides. We trekked along a cliff with drop offs that were 500 ft. or more. If you are afraid of heights, this is not the trail for you. Heck, if you are afraid of heights, you probably shouldn’t be hiking. It was exciting and the views to the west were great.
Hitting the junction to Icehouse Canyon Saddle, we took a right and began a quick descent. I can imagine that this would be a fun climb in the winter and envisioned what it was like to snowshoe up here. Haven’t done that yet, but we are planning to try out some snowshoe day hikes this winter. The Chapman trail would actually be sketchy in the winter unless you had some crampons and an ice axe.
The path from the Chapman Trail junction down would wind its’ way along a mostly dry creek and would criss-cross the canyon several times. We were keeping our eye on a helicopter that was flying circles about 3-4 miles to our west toward Mt. Baldy. Soon, we saw smoke near the helicopter’s path. We picked up the pace a bit just in case. We still had two miles to go. I took the opportunity to discuss how we would handle a fire if it breached the hill. Canyons are not the best place to be in a fire as they tend to concentrate the flames. I pointed out areas of scree and talus on the slopes to the east where there was less fuel. Not ideal, but our choices would be limited. We could also soak our neckerchiefs with water and place them over our mouths/noses if needed.
After 20-30 minutes, the smoke diminished so whatever it was appeared to be under control. Hike with us and you are assured to have an adventure. Nearing the trailhead, we laughed at the sign warning the fishermen.
All in all, Icehouse Canyon – Chapman Trail is a nice hike. Best done during the week or late on the weekend. It was good to review some wilderness skills like wildfire procedures. I’ve learned so much by reading other blogs and resources on the Internet. If you are old fashioned like me and enjoy the feel of a book, then The Backpacker’s Field Manual, Revised and Updated: A Comprehensive Guide to Mastering Backcountry Skills by Rick Curtis is an excellent resource. Enjoy your hike friends, and take someone with you to enjoy the beauty of this great land.
Wherever we go in the mountains, or indeed in any of God’s wild fields, we find more than we seek.
John Muir – My First Summer in the Sierra
The last day was bittersweet. Ready to finish our week on the trail, we broke camp after a light breakfast. We filtered water at the creek last night and the flow was just a trickle, full of water bugs. The mosquitoes were relentless at the creek and we were glad that we didn’t camp near there. Generally, it’s not a great idea to pitch your tent near calm or stagnant water. 🙂
The John Muir trail guide was very helpful as it listed plenty of campsites – all were spot on. Today, as we made our way toward the Half Dome spur we met a large group on their way back to their base camp. Seems that the area we stayed in is often used by those who climb the dome. This group must have left camp around 4 in the morning to climb the rock. I’m sure Half Dome is a neat experience, it just wasn’t on our itinerary. Remember, as they say on the A.T. – “hike your own hike”.
As we passed the spur trail to Half Dome, we started seeing a lot of people. Alas, the splendor and solitude of the JMT started to fade. Within the next 30-45 minutes, we would come across more people than we had seen all week. It’s probably the main reason we don’t do the main attractions, too many people.
Continuing through Little Yosemite Valley, it seemed like a decent place to camp, but looked crowded. We have enjoyed the ability to pick out our own campsite on the JMT. The Merced River came up beside the trail and the smell of jasmine filled the air. Well, I thought it was jasmine, but they were probably fragrant mountain dogwoods with beautiful white flowers.
The Merced at this point was leveling out prior to the leap over Nevada Fall, and it was deceitfully calm. Clear with a slight green tint, this water has traveled many miles from its’ snowy origin. We passed the junction to Vernal Falls and the Mist Trail and emerged on solid granite. Dropping our packs, we removed our shoes and dipped our feet in the cool waters. Some adventurous souls were wading out into the river. We were probably two hundred yards from the precipice, but it still unnerved me to see people in the water. Almost every year, someone gets too close and is swept over the edge. On the other side of the Merced River, a foreign tourist had climbed down and was within 6 feet of the edge. This was surely a Darwin Award candidate so I took his picture.
We filtered some more water as the day hikers watched. One gentleman asked me if it was safe to drink. I explained that if it was filtered, yes. After a while, my brother and I ventured over and took some pics. The whirling cascade just puts you in awe of the power. John Muir captured this with eloquence:
The Nevada is white from its first appearance as it leaps out into the freedom of the air. At the head it presents a twisted appearance, by an overfolding of the current from striking on the side of its channel just before the first free out-bounding leap is made. About two thirds of the way down, the hurrying throng of comet-shaped masses glance on an inclined part of the face of the precipice and are beaten into yet whiter foam, greatly expanded, and sent bounding outward, making an indescribably glorious show, especially when the afternoon sunshine is pouring into it.
Ready to complete our journey, we got back on the trail and began the longest stretch to the valley floor below. I’m not sure why it seemed long, maybe because we were mentally finished. The stretch from Nevada to the valley was tough on our tired feet.
The scene at Vernal Fall bridge was chaotic. People, like ants milled about seemingly without direction. At least ants have a purpose. We just wanted to get through the throngs of people so we trudged on. I am sure that we looked haggard after a week on the trail, but it felt good to be near the end.
The asphalt sidewalk on the Mist Trail was another reminder that we were back in civilization. It felt awkward to walk on it with our poles clacking about. “Move over people, make a hole, real hikers coming through!” I wanted to say that, but my subconscious did not prevail.
At the end, the sign that lists the various trails was our last photo-op. While the sign showed 211 miles for the JMT, we actually only did our 68 mile section. It still felt good and I was proud of my wife and brother for completing it.
The shuttle ride from Happy Isles to the Visitor Center was tough. Throngs of people made their way on the shuttle and we were separated from my brother. We eventually found each other and enjoyed a good sandwich from the deli. The YARTS bus stop is across from the Visitor Center. In the summer, it leaves once daily at 5 p.m. from the valley and makes multiple stops on the way to Mammoth Lakes. For $18, it was a wonderful ride, comfortable with amazing scenery. Google YARTS and you will find the various schedules.
For the next few weeks, the memories of the trip would resurface and we would laugh about things that happened. It was an amazing journey and one that created great memories. I did push my brother and wife hard on this trip, but they persevered and made it through. It doesn’t take an athlete to do backcountry hiking. It takes a desire to explore and the ability to push yourself a bit beyond your limits.
YouTube slide show of our trip: