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.
Type of trail: Loop.
Composition: sand, decomposed granite, scree.
Distance as hiked: 11.2 miles
Approximate elevation: Trailhead-6,000ft., Top of summit- 10,094 ft.
Temps: 58-70 deg
Located just north of the town of Upland is Mt. Baldy, one of several 10,000 ft. plus peaks in southern California. Part of the Angeles Forest and San Gabriel Mountains, the views all around this area are nothing short of phenomenal. I actually took a day off work to hike up here with my favorite hiking partner (my wife). Fall and early winter are good times to hike in the San Gabriel and San Bernardino Mountains, especially before there is significant snow. Milder temps, no thunderstorms and gentle cool breezes are the norm. Of course, the weather can turn sour anytime up here, some come prepared.
We started at the Baldy Bowl Trailhead near Manker Flats Campground and quickly discovered that hiking in the middle of the week up here is so much better than the weekends. This trail is probably one of the most popular in the San Gabriel chain. The trail starts out as a paved road with a decent incline and makes a sharp right where you have a view of San Antonio Falls. This time of the year the water volume is near its’ lowest, but still streaming down. The road changes to a dirt/gravel fire road and proceeds up Manker Canyon. The trail sneaks up on your left with a small trail marker. About 50 ft. up the path is a metal box with a trail journal – nice.
The trail wastes no time ascending the 4,000 ft. you will need to gain to reach the summit. It is a well established and maintained trail that is mostly single track. The flora is an interesting mix of chaparral and pines at the lower levels. Huffing our way up 2,200 ft with a few rest breaks, we noticed the Ski Hut.
There is also a privy nearby in case you prefer to not do what the bears do. We had the area all to ourselves and had lunch on a picnic table complete with stools made of cut logs. We returned to the trail, crossed the spring that supplies most of the flow for the falls and transitioned into an area with plenty of talus from a major slide. This area is directly under Baldy Bowl and marked with cairns left by previous hikers.
After some minor bouldering, the terrain changes again with switchbacks in a sub-alpine setting. The trail begins to get steep between 8,400 and 9,000 ft is a mix of talus and sand. It is a calf and quad burning extravaganza. Hiking poles make the climb much easier as you dig them in and push your way up.
Chipmunks and ground squirrels were busy gathering food for winter as the woodpeckers were chattering overhead. We broke out into the open as our heading turned north. The craggy outcroppings at the top of Baldy Bowl loomed ahead. I ventured off the path and was rewarded with an awe-inspiring view to the south.
As we neared the summit, the trees thinned out and the sky seemed even more blue. The top of the mountain seems like the moon, barren and rocky. The panoramic views are stunning. San Gorgonio and San Jacinto to the east/ southeast, the Mojave Desert to the north and Angeles Forest to the west. There are circular rock walls built to protect against the common stiff winds up here. We ran into the only other hiker, a 74-year-old Korean immigrant who was very friendly and quite chatty. Seeking solitude we decided to head down Devil’s Backbone, a ridge on the eastern side of the peak. The angled switchbacks within a large talus field are a bit precarious and require focus. We quickly descended 700 ft. and followed the single track which at times would drop off on both sides. For two miles, the trail is an interesting and challenging trek with views of the high desert to the left and Manker Canyon to the right.
Nearing Mt. Baldy Notch, there is a small ski lift that runs during the winter. Today, it was idle and reminded me of a carnival ride. Making our way down a wide service path, we broke out at the ski resort. The access and fire road is between the ski school and rental building. It is a 2.7 mile road carved out of the mountain. The sun was fading quickly and we picked up the pace to make it back to the car by dark. We broke out the headlamps just in case darkness snuck up on us. We passed the Baldy Bowl trailhead and completed the loop. Reaching the blacktop, the crickets began their serenade. Man, that was a great 11.2 mile hike.
As my fellow blogger extraordinaire “hikingangelesforest.com” can attest to, the experience of hiking in the Angeles and San Bernardino National Forests is amazing. To escape the rat-race of LA and Orange County, retreat into the hills that surround this area. As an avid day hiker in southern California, I find myself venturing out farther to hike. Often, I’ll try out a new trail solo and bring my wife back to explore with me.
Today, I would make the short 100 mile drive to Mt. San Antonio or “Mt. Baldy” as it’s more commonly known. It is quite possibly the most popular day hiking destination in SoCal. The shortest of the “Three Sisters” – Mt Gorgornio, Mt San Jacinto and Mt San Antonio, it still peaks out at approx. 10,069 ft. and offers challenging trails for the serious day hiker. In what may become a tradition for Saturday hikes, a stop at Chik-Fil-A for one of their chicken biscuits provided me with some carbs and protein to tackle this hill. At least that’s what I’m telling myself.
Be forewarned, your biggest challenge on Mt. Baldy may be finding a parking spot on Saturday morning. It was a beautiful day with the OC’ers and Los Angelenos were out in force. After “trolling” for a spot, I found one within 50 ft. of the trailhead and Manker Flats campground. The trail starts out as a paved road with a locked gate for cars. After a half mile the road makes a hairpin curve and you can see the waterfall . Shortly after, it changes over to a dirt road. If you are going to take Baldy Bowl or “Ski Hut” trail, it sneaks up on the left after another .3 miles. The trail is easy to miss and its steep ascent is an indicator of things to come.
It was a warm 75 degrees. I know, that’s almost the perfect temp for many things – but with hiking, the cooler the better. The views of the San Antonio Canyon are great, even with the haze. You continue to hear and catch occasional glimpses of the falls as you gain elevation at an average rate of 900-1,000 ft. per mile. The mostly single track trail is well-traveled, so there is little chance of getting off the trail. Saturday is probably the busiest day, and I estimated over 300 people. I don’t like crowds, but my goal was bagging this peak. With this many people, most forget that the uphill hiker has the right of way. The two boy scout troops I came across knew this well and were polite.
The Ski Hut comes up after a couple of miles and has a porta-potty nearby. It is rented out to hikers and offers a good respite from the dusty trail. A stream flows nearby and the alpine scenery is enjoyable. This is a good place to take a break.
The trail passes through a wooded area and begins a tough ascent over loose dirt and scree. After a few minutes, my calves remind me that I don’t do this enough. Up ahead, a cloud of dust appears as a group of boy scouts make their way down. Now I see why many people are wearing bandannas over their faces; the dust is stifling when large groups pass by. Passing 8,500 ft. it flattens out for a bit and the views to the west open up. The chipmunks are abundant here. Leaving your backpack on the ground is an open invitation for the little scoundrels to steal your food.
Coming out of the trees, the terrain opens up and the path less obvious. Taking a side route, the trail was steep with scree and sand. The going was slow but the view was getting better. After 30 minutes of winding up the canyon, I stumbled on some wreckage. I knew it was some kind of aircraft wreckage, but didn’t know it was one of two Marine Corps F6F Hellcats that crashed here during a snowstorm in 1949.
Like any summit worth reaching, the last leg is the toughest. The trees really thin out and the peak looks like the surface of Mars. The wind is usually stiff up here, there are several piles of rocks forming windbreaks. People huddle behind them like GI’s in a foxhole. A beat up looking plaque is my record of making the trek.
The panoramic view is one of the best. Angeles Forest to the west, desert to the east and Gorgonio and San Jacinto to the southeast. The clouds and mist hug the nearby peaks creating a mystical surrounding.
The path down the Devil’s Backbone is a nice way to come down from the top. The first 1/4 mile is steep with talus and switchbacks galore, and is fun to watch people in front of you.
The trail gets narrow in places and falls off steeply on both sides. This is not one to hike when there is snow or ice!
The trail makes its way down past the ski lifts to Baldy Notch where the lift runs on weekends. I looked around for the dirt road that I would take and intersect the original trailhead. It’s tucked behind an equipment hut and is a nice, if not long walk down. The road crosses under the ski lift where I watch the last of the riders. As the sun sinks below the horizon, the shadows envelop the hills. Turning my headlamp on, I listen to the sound of crickets, enjoying the peacefulness as an awesome hike comes to an end.