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It was supposed to be a fairly ambitious day, sweeping up six or seven HPS peaks around the Icehouse Canyon area in the Angeles National Forest. The storm that had threatened the previous day had arrived overnight, dropping 3-4 inches of fresh snow, some of it down to the 3,000-foot level. The storm was further expected to linger the entire weekend and it certainly looked like it was doing just that as I drove up Mt. Baldy Road early Saturday morning to meet Matthew. I was a bit late getting to Icehouse Canyon, made later when I couldn't manage to get the van up the last 100 yards of the road. A truck had stalled in front of me on the uphill, and when I stopped likewise I was no longer able to get any traction going forward. As I tried, the car slipped backwards and sideways, threatening to do some damage to my car and making me look foolish at the same time. To avoid both, I back down to a No Parking zone and put the chains on - good thing I had brought them. By the time I pulled in next to Matthew's car I was about 30 minutes late.
Matthew was sitting quietly in his car reading a book about China - he planned to go there for a few months for work and was looking for places to go hiking while there. He'd slept in his car at the TH for a few hours after driving from a Sisters of Mercy concert in San Diego. He looked comfortable enough, but I'm sure I'd have been freezing my ass off if I'd been sitting in the car that long with temps hovering around 25F. It was darn cold. As we chatted briefly, I noticed a spent condom wrapper in the snow outside his car door. Then I noticed the spent condom. It was a bit comical. Looking around a bit more, there was another condom, another spent wrapper of the same brand, and the empty box as well - somebody had been busy here recently. Neither of us had been to Icehouse Canyon before, but it was becoming apparent that it was popular for more than just hiking and climbing. Sort of gives a new meaning to "Adventure Pass" which incidently, neither of us were sporting on our vehicles though it was required.
While it was fairly early, the parking lot was abuzz with activity. About a dozen folks, all asian, were busy preparing to venture up the trail, which they did well before we were ready ourselves. We weren't even sure we wanted to head out at first. The clouds covered all the peaks to about 5,000ft and didn't make things look very inviting. We discussed other options including a drive to Santa Barbara, but in the end we decided to give it a go since we'd already gone to this much trouble. We scaled back our expectations and decided we'd be lucky if we got to even one summit today.
We started out shortly before 8a, following the tracks of the groups before us. The first group we passed was a party of three that had started out with crampons on from the parking lot. This seemed like overkill since there wasn't likely to be any hard snow or ice from previous storms until we were near the summit ridge - maybe they just liked walking in crampons. Shortly after passing this party and another two individuals, we came to the Chapman Trail junction. We read the sign which indicated Icehouse Saddle some 4 miles up the trail. We didn't realize the trail split here, though it should have been evident since all the bootprints went the route following the creek. Without really thinking it through, we took the untracked Chapman Trail. With the murky clouds all about, we couldn't tell all that well just where we were going, but it seemed to be heading more up the canyon's north walls rather than following the creek. It wasn't until almost an hour later that we realized there had been a trail junction (our 7.5' map didn't show the Chapman Trail).
Halfway up this nicely graded, newer trail, we came to an icy section that we discovered while nearly slipping off the trail. Lying covertly under the newer snow, the older stuff was too hard to kick steps, and it was with some difficultly that we got across a 50-foot section. We soon discovered there were more sections, so rather than do something really foolish, we paused to put on our crampons. In another half hour we came to the second junction where our trail rejoins the Icehouse Canyon Trail, and shortly thereafter we removed the crampons. There was another party of six or eight just below us at the junction, and another party of two ahead of us that we soon passed. So far, every person on the trail this morning was asian with the exception of Matthew and myself. Whether they were Korean, or Chinese, or Japanese we couldn't tell. On the way back we passed dozens upon dozens more, and only a couple weren't asian. It seemed quite odd.
As we reached Icehouse Saddle, there were only two persons still ahead of us judging by the prints in the snow. The prints seemed to vanish at the saddle, though we didn't look around too much to see where they went. Not to Timber Mtn, to be sure. There were no more tracks as we made the final ascent up to our peak. The summit was marked by a wooden sign, a register, and a cairn. The views were non-existent and it was not only cold, but windy too. We stayed only a short time.
The descent was far more enjoyable than the ascent, and not just because it was downhill. We decided to jog most of it, and the few inches of snow made for a nice cushion under the feet to pad the pounding on the knees. It took only an hour for us to reach the TH, less than that for Matthew who maintained a quicker pace than myself on the return. As it was only 12:30p, we had a quick pow-wow to decide what to do next. Mostly we wanted to find a peak that wasn't in the clouds, and finally settled on finding some of the lesser HPS peaks. On our way down through the town of Mt. Baldy, I spotted a side road, Glendora Ridge Road that seemed to head uphill and west. The gate was open and I pulled over and so we could peruse our maps. Sunset Peak was just above, about a half mile ahead at Cow Canyon Saddle. That would do.
The climb of Sunset Peak was no big deal - one simply follows a gated dirt road (closed to vehicles) to the summit. A steeper, but short route could be followed by following the old firebreak up from the saddle. We followed the road for most of the way, then the firebreak for the last 300 feet or so. Five or six person plus a dog) had left prints in the snow already this morning, but only two persons appeared to have made it to the summit (we had run into the father and son on the way back as we had started out). It took less than an hour to reach the summit, and we were lucky to find we were just under the floor of the cloud layer. The higher peaks to the north and east were still buried in clouds, but we could just make out portions of the Los Angeles Metropolitan area to the southeast and west. In fact it was even possible to make out Catlina Island off the coast, hazy but discernable under the clouds. We made an easy adventure of the hike by continuing southwest to Pt. 5,595ft, then northwest along the ridge back down to the road, making a loop of our hike. This was was the most enjoyable part of an otherwise non-exciting day. Back down on Glendora Ridge Road, we tried unsuccessfully to thumb a ride back to our cars. There were plenty of cars going by (many with kids to play in the new snow), but none stopped. No big deal as it took but an hour to walk the three miles back to the car.
And thus the day ended. Our plans for the next day would have to change as well, as the new snow was going to make it impossible for us to do the Iron - Baldy traverse we had envisioned. We would have to find some lower peaks to salvage the last day of the weekend. Sigh. But I guess they can't all be great weekends in the mountain. :-)
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Timber Mountain - Sunset Peak
This page last updated: Sat Apr 7 17:05:07 2007
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