Saturday, September 10, 2011

Three Tees Hike - September 10, 2011

Timber Mt. / Telegraph Peak / Thunder Mt.

view south toward Telegraph PeakSee Timber Mt. hike description and Telegraph Peak/Thunder Mt. hike description at Dan's Hiking Pages

What an incredible hike! Cucamonga Wilderness offers spectacular scenery and some of the finest hiking in the San Gabriels. And today I finally got to conquer the Three Tees: Timber Mt. (8303’), Telegraph Peak (8985’), and Thunder Mt. (8587’).

The Three Tees have been calling me for years. Previously I’ve hiked Thunder Mt. and Telegraph Peak from Baldy Notch, and Timber Mt. from Icehouse Canyon. But I’ve not had the opportunity to hike all three summits in one hike. One of the hitches is that it requires a car shuttle. A few years ago a couple friends and I had planned to do the hike and had our cars in place, but ended up hiking to Baldy instead because one friend decided he was not up to the Three Tees.

In the last number of weeks I’ve gotten into a groove of hiking an average of about 9 miles a hike with meaningful elevation gain. In the middle of that an opportunity came up to join a group in hiking to Baldy via Bear Flat on Sept. 17...6,000 feet in 6 miles. So I figured that Three Tees would be a great final conditioning hike with more than 5,000 feet in elevation gain. And heck with the car shuttle! I’ll just try to hitch a ride from somebody at my destination.

View south from Icehouse Canyon Trail5:15 AM - Begin my hike at Icehouse Canyon trailhead (4960’). It is almost a repeat of my hike two weeks ago, only now it is darker and cooler. Stars shine through patches of clouds. My pace is earnest but guarded since I know I have long hike ahead of me. Dawn arrive as I’m in the upper canyon. There is an amazing beauty to the stillness of a new day emerging. I fill a bottle at Columbine Spring.

7:14 - Arrive at Icehouse Saddle (7580’). I had total solitude the whole way. A strong, chilly breeze blows from the east. I pause only briefly as I see other hikers coming up the trail. I head north toward Timber Mt. The expanding views are stunning. As I walk it’s almost like I’m on sacred ground. There is such a special quality about this amazing forest. I look across the canyon toward Bighorn Peak to reflect on my adventure two weeks ago. On the second switchback as I approach the ascending ridge, I look up and there is a magnificent bighorn sheep ram standing majestically on the ridge about 150 feet away. I gasped in unbelief. This is my very first bighorn sighting in all my years of hiking. What a wonderful encounter! Read about my bighorn experience here. Shortly I reach the broad west ridge of Timber Mt. and turn right (east) on the signed junction and climb the .25 miles to the summit.

View west from Timber Mt.8:04 - Timber Mountain (8303’), the first of my Three Tees, achieving the first 3,400 feet of my climb for the day. It’s been 7 years since I’ve been here. It’s cool and cloudy. There is an incredible peacefulness. I sit on some rocks on the north edge of the summit, eat, and study the massive southern flank of Telegraph Mt. The maps show the trial going straight up the ridge, but I don’t see any semblance of possibility of any such route. I leave the peak at 8:55 as others have arrived.

Back at the trail junction I turn right (northwest) to begin my 560-foot decent to a saddle. This is my first time on this portion of Three Tees Trail. Telegraph Peak looms ahead. I am thoroughly enjoying the incredible scenery. This truly is a wilderness with virtually no human trappings. The narrow path makes the lightest of impact. Carpets of manzanita cover the slopes and tall pines and firs reach to the sky.

View west from the approach to Timber/Telegraph saddle9:26 - Timber/Telegraph saddle (7740’). Amazing beauty! Windy. Views east and west. I review the map and psych up for the 1,245-foot climb ahead of me. Still can’t see any semblance of trial up the steep ridge. I continue up the trail as it climbs northwest past knob 8023’. The manzanita needs trimming along the trail here. Great view down into Telegraph Wash. I reach another small saddle and decide to walk the 100 yards or so south to the top of knob 8023’. Most rewarding. Back at the saddle I hear voices coming up the trail.

View north up the ridge on the south side of Telegraph RidgeAt 10:16 I begin to climb the steep ridge to Telegraph Peak. This route had been a mystery to me, but now I see, contrary to the maps, it does not go straight up the ridge. The trail climbs at a reasonable rate using a number of switchbacks as it zigzags up the east flank of the ridge. At several places the switchbacks meet the ridge and provide spectacular views west and down. At one of these points I scramble off trail 30 feet to a rugged outcropping and linger for a bit, enjoy great views, and let the noisy voices of two male hikers pass. I continue up. I’m so enjoying the amazing landscape and thankful for the cool weather.

The trail reaches a wide hip on the ridge below high point 8921’. I pause to soak in the views. A passerby asks for directions. Others are coming up the trail. I run into Andrew with SGV Hikers. He is leading a group of about 20. I met Andrew at Fish Canyon a while back. From here the trail climbs straightway to the gentle saddle between Telegraph Peak and high point 8921’. Just before reaching that saddle, I turn left and take the 5-minute walk to the high point, which stands at the southern edge of Telegraph Ridge.

View southwest from summit 892111:24 - Summit 8921’. Wow! For an unnamed summit that is mostly ignored, this is one the finest peaks in the San Gabriels! The scenery is stunning. I sit on a comfortable rock out of the cold wind, have some lunch, study the maps, and soak in the incredible landscape. There are remarkable places of solitude in the San Gabriels. Nearby thunder prompts me to move my poncho from my pack to my pants pocket. As I leave the summit I decide to explore the dominate ridge that juts west. As usual, it is a most rewarding jaunt. Now off to Telegraph Peak.

12:26 - Telegraph Peak junction (8800’). I’m back at the point where I was with my buddy Drew 8 years ago. Boy, has it been that long?! The scene is familiar because I have a photo of it on my Inspiration page. As I’m walking up the trial to Telegraph I run into Andrew again and with him is Letty, who I met at Fish Canyon awhile back. Nice to see her and meet Jennifer, who is a fan of Dan’s Hiking Pages. The trail gets steep in the final pitch to the summit. The sun is warm now and I’m ready to shed the long sleeves.

View east atop Telegraph Peak12:47 - Telegraph Peak (8985’), the second of my Three Tees for today and 4,000 feet above the trailhead. This is wonderful peak with slopes steeply dropping a thousand feet. Three young men are leaving. The peak register is in stainless steal strongbox chained to a rock. Peaks in view include Timber, Bighorn, and Cucamonga to the south and Thunder, Dawson, Harwood, Badly, and West Baldy to the north. The Cajon Pass, the Mojave Desert, and the San Bernardino Mountains are to the east. Distant views are obscured by clouds and haze. The view west is dominated by the west end of the ridge where I was earlier (8921'). The clouds create fascinating shadows and lighting on the surrounding mountains.

Approching the Telegraph/Thunder SaddleLeave Telegraph peak at 1:20 and retrace my steps to the junction (9 minutes). Turn right (north) and begin the 620-foot descent to the Telegraph/Thunder saddle. Several long switchback legs negotiate the steep slope. I’m loving the majestic scenery of Cucamonga Wilderness.

2:02 - Telegraph/Thunder saddle (8180’). Windy. Stunning imagery looking back toward the “Baldy-Bowl-like” northern slope of Telegraph Peak (photo at top). A lush carpet of manzanita graces the view down into Cedar Canyon to the west. I begin my final 400 feet of climbing for the day as the trail ascends the southern slope of Thunder Mt. At 2:22 I reach the end of Three Tees Trail at the wilderness boundary on the west ridge of Thunder Mt. I bend right on the wide ski-slope swath and walk the final 0.1 mile to the summit.

View north from Thunder Mt.2:33 - Thunder Mt. (8587’), the third of my Three Tees for today and the culmination of 5,100 feet in elevation gain. The bulldozed summit, ski lift machinery, fences, and other miscellaneous junk makes this peak a homely visit and an anticlimactic final peak to an otherwise fantastic hike. I make the best of it as I sit on the ski lift foundation, enjoy a snack, and reflect on the accomplishment of getting here. The billowing white clouds adorn the sky. Leave summit at 2:55. At the junction I turn right (east) and begin the 1.5-mile descent to Badly Notch. I ponder the possibility of building a handsome trail from the notch to bypass this unappealing dirt road. Almost to the notch, a 4-way signed junction, “Desert View,” provides a glimpse of the desert through the V-shaped canyon to the northeast, but it's nothing compared to the real desert views found on the peaks.

View back toward Baldy Notch Lodge from the chair lift3:42 - Baldy Notch (7840’). I’m done, kind of. Wander around a little more and take navigational notes for hike descriptions. I walk over to the chair lift on the far south and study the north slopes of Thunder Mt. looking for ways to bypass the dirt road. At the lodge I pay my $10 fare for the 15-minute ski lift ride down.

4:32 - Arrive at ski lift parking lot. Now to find a ride. Thankfully, the first people I asked were graciously willing to give me a ride to Icehouse. They are hikers new to the area and were scouting out trails. I arrive back to my car at 4:48.

Epilog - What a fulfilling day of hiking! The spectacular beauty along Three Tees Trail revivals anything that Baldy has to offer. I enjoyed considerable solitude and fascinating weather. Running into hikers I’ve met previously is always nice and I value the positive affirmation I receive from users of Dan’s Hiking Pages. Not being struck by lighting is a good thing. Encountering a bighorn sheep for the first time is an experience I shall savor. Ten miles and 5,100 feet in total elevation gain is good preparation for next week’s hike to Baldy via Bear Flat Trail. I am humbly ready to challenge The Mountain. icon

See Timber Mt. hike description and Telegraph Peak/Thunder Mt. hike description at Dan's Hiking Pages

CameraSee the photo album for this hike - Featuring 88 photos with captions


  1. Nice, dramatic picture of you on Telegraph, what with the clouds forming a semi-circle around your head.

    The one time I went to Telegraph, I considered making it a "Three T" day, but, looking way down towards Thunder, it seemed like it would be such a downer (and a long climb back up to return to Icehouse) that I just turned around at Telegraph. Did Thunder from the other side, when I had less time.

  2. Mr. Simpson,
    Could you describe Columbine Spring?

    Yesterday I hiked though sleet and snow hitting me at gust of 20mph, with some of my friends kids, with a cold that has been effecting my mussels. I got past the thing that says "2" I'm thinking the 2mi marker and went up a little ways. Then there was a decent sized spring that was below/under the trail that one could walk to because it was flat and not so steep. Is that the Spring you were talking about? If so that is as far as I got before my dad wanted to head back to the car so the roads wouldn't be icy.


  3. Yes, Joseph, that sounds like Columbine Springs.