See Icehouse Canyon Hike Description at Dan’s Hiking Pages
Summer is a great time for hiking in the San Gabriels high country, and Icehouse Canyon offers some of the grandest scenery in our mountains. I decided to do an overnighter to test out a new backpack. It’s a Camelbak that I got for Christmas and is bigger than my regular day pack but smaller than my regular backpacking pack. A night at Cedar Glen trail camp seemed ideal, 2.5 miles up the trail.
Leave the house about 5:00 p.m. and arrive at the Icehouse Canyon parking lot in about 40 minutes. There are many of cars but I find a parking place near the front.
5:45 p.m. - Start the hike. It’s 85 degrees but there is some shade and the sun is at my back. Lots of people on the trail, which is usual on a weekend. The creek runs briskly and provides a relaxing soundtrack. I love the beauty of this canyon.
6:13 - Chapman Trial junction. This is my route. The trail has a nice grade as it utilizes a number of switchbacks to climb a tributary canyon on the north. I was here in October 2009 with the San Gabriel Mountain Trailbuilders doing trail maintenance. The expanding views of the canyon and surrounding peaks and ridges are breathtaking. I can see Icehouse Saddle in the distant east, my destination for tomorrow morning. The narrow trail is in good condition. I leave the tall trees and traverse through a thick blanket of shrubs. I can see the bench where Cedar Glen trail camp sits high on the slope in front of me. I cross the creek and encounter a man hiking down from Timber Mountain—my first human contact on this trail.
7:08 - Arrive at Cedar Glen trail camp. There is one lone tent. I immediately climb to the high spot along the west edge of the camp. Have a line-of-sight view to Baldy Village, but no cell reception. I was hoping to see the sunset from here, but the sun has disappeared beyond the massive ridge that defines the north side of Icehouse Canyon. I wander down to the campsite and have nice visit with a man and his eight-year-old daughter who are camping for the night. I set up my camp at the south end of the site. No tent—traveling light. Lot of mosquitoes. Dinner: PB&J. The warm, orange glow of the late-day sun sits on Ontario Ridge. Back to the high spot, through the narrow gap in the mountains, I watch dusk turn to night over the distant urban sprawl many miles and a world away. Bats flitter around. A near full moon rises. Gentle breeze feels good. Quite solitude. It doesn’t get any better than this! Retire at about 9:30.
5:30 a.m., Sunday, July 25 - Arise. Breakfast: PB&J. Pack camp and hit trail at 6:05. The warm, orange glow of sunrise sits on Ontario Ridge. I’ve not been on this section of trail before. Amazing scenery and gets better as I hike. Light not good for pictures yet. In about 12 minutes the trails rounds a hip and emerges high on the north slope of Icehouse Canyon. A sign marks the entrance to Cucamonga Wilderness. Icehouse Saddle is in view about a mile and a half mile away as the crow flies, but about two and a half miles of hiking. The pristine, rugged beauty of this canyon is stunning. Shire drop-offs may cause someone with acrophobia to have some anxiety. These sun-drenched slopes would get hot on a sunny day. I traverse through three large, rock-strewn washes draining the south slopes of Telegraph Peak. This trail far exceeds my expectationshas to be one of the finest trails in the San Gabriels. I get glimpses of Icehouse Canyon Trail hundreds of feet below. Encounter two men coming down the trail training for Whitney.
7:40 - Trail junction with Icehouse Canyon Trail. Now back on familiar tread. Sign indicates 0.6 mile to the saddle. I pick up my pace. The topography gets more gentle and park-like. Sun now beaming through trees and landing in spots around me.
7:58 - Arrive at Icehouse Saddle (7580’). This is a beautiful setting. I’ve been here several times before and it is always a splendid destination. A young man and two young ladies are packing up their campsite, having stayed there last night. I take pictures of the trial signs heading in multiple directions. More hikers pass through the saddle. Explore around looking for an off-trail route up the north ridge of Bighorn Peak. A bee flirts with me.
8:15 - Leave Icehouse Saddle with the goal to cover the 3.6 miles in two hours. Start with quick pace. Lot of hikers on the trail. Lighting better for pictures. This is amazing high country. Pass Chapman Trail junction at 8:34. I let a group of 10 backpackers pass as they are coming down from Kellys Camp. I chat with Frank and learn they are from an Orange County hiking club. I enjoy hearing about their outings. Reach Columbine Springs at 8:56. Meet Mitch with the OC group; he expressed appreciation for my hiking web pages. Linger for about 10 minutes and leave ahead of the group. Stream of hikers continues up the trail. When the trail reaches Telegraph Wash, it cuts left across the rocky bottom of Icehouse Canyon. The rocky trial impedes a good pace. In fact, the uneven trail surface riddled with rocks for much of the route to the trailhead makes for a tedious walk.
9:30 - Reach Cucamonga Wilderness boundary. Eight minutes later cross the creek to north bank. High, patchy clouds help keep the temps down and soften the lighting for pictures. Rustic cabins add some charm to the lower end of the canyon. So many hikers on the trail. Slipped on a rock step; Ouch!! Reach the Chapman Trail junction at 9:52. Ankle slowing me up some. Would be nice to back off the pace and enjoy a casual saunter in this special place, but it’s another Sunday where I need to have the car home for the wife at an appointed time. Nearing the trailhead, I stop to snap a pic of the conspicuous pointed peak that rises to the east of Bear Flat. I failed to reach it three weeks ago but have been on Google Earth since then scouting the topography. One of these day I shall prevail.
10:20 - Done, and on time. Get a wilderness permit (retroactive). I had called the Mt. Baldy Visitors Center the day before at about 3:35 to ask them to issue me a permit and pin it to the board, but I found they closed at 3:30. The passes are an important way for the Forest Service to track wilderness use.
Epilog: Another thoroughly enjoyable hike. My new pack performed well. Great weather. Lots of solitude on the Chapman Trial. A peaceful night under the stars and bright moon. Spectacular scenery. And a total of 8.6 miles with 2620 feet in elevation gain. So thankful for a healthy body, good feet and legs, safety, and the opportunity to experience such awesome high country.
See Icehouse Canyon Hike Description at Dan’s Hiking Pages