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With possession of the family van, it seemed a good money-saving plan to sleep comfortably in the back in between climbing days. Not too familiar with roadside camping in the Los Angeles area, I took a chance that I might be able to pull off the Mt. Baldy road a bit out of the suburbian zone without being bothered. I had no idea of the legality of such overnight camping, checking only to make sure there were no obvious road signs at my choice of spots. I was watching a movie in the back of the van when a flashlight started appearing on the windshield. Rats. A voice identified himself as the highway patrol and I dutifully opened the van for a discussion. Figuring I could speed things up by just admitting my guilt, I started with,
"Guess I'm not allowed to camp here, eh?"
"No, that's OK, I'm just stopped to see what you're doing," was his reply as he shown the light around the inside of the van. A collection of boots, backpacks, snowshoes and other paraphernalia made it apparent.
Turns out he was just surprised not to find a van full of smoke or his other favorite catch, sexual activity. I found it amusing, but I suppose I'd have felt otherwise had I been engaged in naughty behavior. He left me be, and I wasn't bothered the rest of the night.
In the morning I got up at 6a and drove twenty minutes to the Icehouse Canyon TH where I was to meet the others. It was another cold morning, 25F by the thermometer in the van. I had survived the cold the previous day and in a sign of improvement, there wasn't a cloud in the sky. Having carpooled, Ryan Spaulding and Tom Becht were the next to arrive after myself, followed by Rick Graham and then Glenn Gookin. We were engulfed in a swarm of Koreans that filled the parking lot with their vehicles. I had seen this same phenomenon on my previous visit to this trailhead with Matthew, and Rick confirmed that it seems to be a regular meeting place on Saturdays for a large Korean hiking club. Detered not by ice, blizzard, or in this case freezing temperatures, they happily went about setting up chairs, BBQs, and other accoutrements like a picnic.
I have hiked with all four of the others on various Sierra Challenges, but the others had not all met each other. Short introductions were made, packing of gear completed, some minor gear adjustments, and all that was left was to pick a destination. After a short discussion, the others left the choice of routes to myself since I had driven the longest distance to get there. I was interested in Falling Rock Canyon, but unsure how difficult it might be with the fresh layer of snow. Rick seemed unconcerned, so I took that to mean the canyon wasn't that difficult, even with new snow. So off we went shortly after 7a. We were heavily bundled in all sorts of winter clothing, and most of it would stay on for the majority of the day. We were in for an exercise in thermal management.
Rick led the way, a short distance up the Icehouse Canyon Trail, across the stream, then up the canyon. He was right - it wasn't as hard as I had expected. There were only a few places where ice narrowed our choices and we had to travel over what could be described as class 3 rock, but most of it is a fairly easy climb up an interesting gully. In order to tag Sugarloaf Peak, we left the canyon before its end, hiking right up the loose canyon hillside where it was marked with a duck. It took less than an hour and a half to reach the saddle on the ridge between Ontario and Sugarloaf. After a short break we continued west to Sugarloaf, an easy climb from the saddle. Ryan, Glenn, and I misheard Rick when we asked him which of two peaks was the true summit as the three of us headed up to the lower northeast summit. After looking around for a register and not finding one, we espied Tom and Rick heading to the other summit. My assumption is that we misheard him, but it was also possible that Rick deliberately misled us as a joke and we discussed this possibility amongst us. It's hard to tell that about Rick - he doesn't seem like the jokester type, but experience tells me looks can be deceiving. We never did press Rick for an explanation.
At the summit by 8:45a, we took some pictures and had one of us sign us into the register. Most of our fingers were cold inside our gloves, and removing them gave only ten to twenty seconds before they would go numb. Someone checked their thermometer and commented that it was 15F. It was very cold. I had a pair of wool gloves under my down mittens which seemed to be the best method of keeping the fingers warm among all of us. Still, I could only take them off for a very short time before they would go numb, and then it would take another 20 minutes inside the mittens before they thawed again. Thank goodness for the sun, for without it we'd have all beaten a hasty retreat.
From Sugarloaf we followed the long ridge to the east up towards Ontario Peak. Though trail-less, it was easy navigating and an enjoyable hike up to the higher main ridge at 8,200ft. We found a set of tracks in the snow once at the main ridge, someone apparently beating us to the summit of Ontario earlier in the morning. The person had come up from Icehouse Saddle, then continued on past Ontario down the ridge to the southeast - it looked like an interesting route, perhaps for some future outing. It was 10:30a when we reached the summit of Ontario, Ryan being the first to climb the tricky summit block a short distance west of the summit register. I wasn't even sure the block was the highpoint, but when Rick suggested "some people say that's the summit," of course I had to take my turn. It was easier than it looked, and after someone got a photo of me at the top, Rick took his obligatory turn at it. Tom and Glenn, more concerned about keeping their fingers from frostbite, declined. While taking pictures of Rick, I bobbled my new camera, dropped it, and watched it bounce off a rock as the lid popped open and the batteries flew out. The others were kind enough to help me retrieve the batteries from where they buried themselves in the snow and I managed to put it back together. The clasp that holds it closed no longer worked properly, but the camera still appeared functional. Dumbass.
Next was an enjoyable traverse east along the ridge to Bighorn Peak. Enroute we passed over False Ontario (where there was yet another summit register) as well as all the other little bumps along the way. Several were unnecessary, but they offered a little excitement on their snow-covered summit rocks for an otherwise straightforward hike. Though the sun had been out all day, none of the snow had begun to melt. It was just too cold. The snow was a soft, light layer of some of the driest snow I'd ever encountered, and it was just the right depth to make romping through it great fun. It was noon when we reached the summit of Bighorn as we stopped to take the longest break of the day. A sandwich came out one backpack, granola bars from others. Rick had a cold bottle of Coke he'd packed special for the lunch break and despite the sub-freezing temperatures, we envied him that bit of luxury. The cold air had disrupted some of our hydration systems. The tube from Ryan's Camelback had frozen up within the first half hour of the day and never stood a chance to unfreeze. Tom had the optional insulating package for his Camelback, but the air was easily cold enough to freeze his too. Even the big-mouthed water bottles had to have a layer of ice chipped off to sip the water found underneath. My chocolate milk was more of a slush than liquid. I don't know that I ever broke a sweat the whole day because of the chill, and as a result I ended up only drinking 16oz for the entire outing.
Having never been to the surrounding peaks, I was gung-ho to hit up Cucamonga Peak next, but only Rick showed any enthusiasm. We all trotted down to the Bighorn-Cucamonga Saddle, but from there the other three decided to head back to Icehouse Saddle and call it a day. No one had yet been to the saddle in the last two days, so they would have to break the trail on the traverse around Bighorn's east side. Rick and I bid them farewell and started up the untracked trail to Cucamonga on the northwest side. It was somewhat awkward and we regularly slipped as we tried to sidehill our way along the first switchback. Too painful for my liking. We switched to crampons, but it was still awkward with the ankles bent so, a more unpleasant condition the more I age. Before we were halfway across that first switchback I said to heck with it and started straight up the slope. The crampons bit well and upward progress was swift. But it was very tiring being on the toes all the time, so there were periodic rest breaks. At Rick's suggestion we moved left when we found the trail again, following it around to the north side of the mountain where we moved into a gully that heads straight for the summit. It was a great idea. The climbing was straightforward enough, but quite steep and challenging. The slope didn't roll off until we had met up with the trail again a short ways from the summit, and we continued through the sparse trees to the summit from there.
It was just past 1:30p when we reached the top with more fine views. We didn't find a register at the snowy cairn we found there, but didn't really spend any time looking for it. None of the registers in the area go back more than a few years, and it seems more of a pointless effort to put your name to something whose lifetime is so short. Besides, it was still quite cold.
Rick asked if I was going to continue on to Etiwanda, about a mile or so to the east. I was surprised he would ask the question, thinking the answer would be obvious - of course. Rick had had enough by this time and planned to head back to the trailhead. Leaving him at the summit, I headed down along the ridgeline to Etiwanda. It was another enjoyable romp, though I found deeper snow than any we had so far encountered. Without snowshoes on my pack, I was fortunate that it never grew deep enough to need them. It was about 2:30p when I reached the summit, only to find my camera was no longer functional. The problem was not due to the bounce it took earlier, but rather dead batteries. Though I had put fresh ones in before we left in the morning, the cold temps had sapped the battery life about three times faster than usual. Oh well, I could live without photos.
At the summit I looked around for the register, finding it out of reach under a shrub. Someone had replaced it carelessly and it would require some finesse and some trampling of the shrub to retrieve it, neither of which I felt the like bothering with. So I left it as an exercise for the next visitor.
I retraced much of my route until I was close to Cucamonga again, then started traversing around the north side of the peak in search of the ascent gully. I found myself on some pretty steep slopes looking down other gullies that led far down the east side of Icehouse Saddle - not where I wanted to end up. So I kept sidehilling and traversing for much longer than I thought I should have until I eventually found our tracks in the original gully. The descent down the gully was rather fun, and I was soon at the Cucamonga-Bighorn saddle. Returning to Icehouse Saddle was easy at this point, thanks to at least four other sets of tracks that had packed the trail ahead of me.
There was no one left around Icehouse Saddle when I got there, but dozens and dozens of visitors had packed down the snow quite well. It Looked like the Korean group had paid the saddle a visit earlier in the day. I decided to take the longer Chapman Trail on the way back rather than the standard trail that follows the creek. The trail traverses around the north side of the canyon, winding in and out of the many side canyons leading up to Telegraph and Timber peaks. There were only two sets of prints on that trail as I started down, compared to dozens on the shorter main trail. I got to the same section Matthew and I struggled on in a previous season and started across very gingerly. I lost my footing and started down the 45 degree slope (there was ice under the thin layer of new snow). I slid about 30ft right into a rock. The thin snow layer kept me from gaining any real speed and I was able to easily cushion the stop with my legs. Looking around at the bottom of the gully, I saw footprints all over. Looking back up, I saw more than half a dozen slide marks left on the ice that I hadn't noticed earlier. I was just the latest to take the slide that day. The rest all took the slide going the other direction and the snow on the trail was packed down heavily after that - apparently a number of other groups had started up the trail and turned around when their leader took the fall. Fortunately my crampons were dry and safe in my pack and didn't get scratched at all.
At a campsite lower down I came across a couple of hikers taking a break. They asked me where I'd come from were surprised to learn I had been on the trail from Icehouse Saddle.
"Really? We followed some prints down that way (pointing), but they ran into the brush and went nowhere."
I was a bit puzzled, but not as much as they when I pointed back to where a sign was planted not 30 yards from us and said, "There's a sign right there for the trail." That got a laugh from all of us.
There were more people further down, and then families with children out to play in the snow as I neared the trailhead. The sun had set on Telegraph Peak behind me (my camera's batteries had a bit more life after warming them in my jacket) before I reached the end, but I managed to get back around 5:30p, shortly before needing the headlamp.
I had dinner by myself at a Denny's off the 210 Freeway on my way to San Gabriel Canyon where I planned to meet Tom Becht and two others for a climb of Iron Mtn the following day. Like the previous evening, I slept in the van off the side of SR39 in the canyon, though this time no one stopped by to disturb me. It was a good thing too - it had been a rather full day and I needed the sleep a great deal.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Sugarloaf Peak - Ontario Peak - Bighorn Peak - Cucamonga Peak - Etiwanda Peak
This page last updated: Sat Apr 7 17:05:07 2007
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