A lengthy, steep hike up one of the tallest peaks in the San Gabriels. You’ll get a great workout, and amazing views off the peak’s nearly-sheer face — a small promontory that reveals the great L.A. Sprawl before you.

My friend Will and I had planned on exploring some of the Los Padres National Forest this morning, but he got a call from a cross-country-road-tripping-friend who’d be in L.A. in the afternoon and had to cancel. So instead, I took the chance to bag another peak … because really, I couldn’t close out 2006 without hitting 12. I packed up my gear and drove east to Mount Baldy.

One of the greatest things about hiking on Sunday mornings — or really, doing anything on Sunday mornings — is that you’re really one of only a handful of people in Los Angeles County who’s awake. The 210 was a breeze, and while I was stopped at the off-ramp, I caught the first glimpse of my destination – Cucamonga Peak, on the right.

I rolled down my windows and drove through the winding canyon to Mount Baldy Village, stopping off at the Baldy Ranger Station to pick up a Wilderness Permit. ‘Cause I like to keep it official. Side note – the Mount Baldy Ranger Station / Visitor’s Center is beautiful. I may stop by again later just to poke around.

I parked at Icehouse Canyon again, this time dressing in the necessary hiking layers instead of the usual t-shirt. It was around 40 degrees when I started, and the massive mountain formations on either side of the canyon block out most of the warming sunlight until later in the day. The water was still flowing through the canyon stream, which provided a great white noise-backdrop as I passed slow hikers in overstuffed backpacks on the way up.

I got nothin’ against slow hikers. Most of the time when I’m hiking with Will or his friends, I’m the slow hiker in the group. But the Icehouse Canyon trail is absolutely littered with people hauling fully-crammed overnight packs for an 8 mile round-trip. Hike light! You don’t need all that crap!

All that said, the trail in the morning is pretty lightly trafficked, and it’s still one of my favorites in the San Gabriels. As it was my third time up the trail, though, I didn’t stop to sightsee much. Except for when I came upon Columbine Spring.

Columbine Spring is the primary source of the picturesque stream that runs down Icehouse Canyon, and the spring itself lies almost directly beneath the trail to Icehouse Saddle. Last time I wanted to snap a picture, it was surrounded by a group of loud teenagers. This time, it looked like I had the place to myself, so I kneeled down to peek in.
Almost immediately, I heard a loud, “Oh! What’s down there?” as two middle-aged men stepped down to join me.

“This is Columbine Spring,” I said. “It’s the source for the stream in the canyon.” One of them perked up.

“Oh, is this the drinking water? Someone said there was drinking water here.”

I looked down at the water seeping from between the rocks. “Well, you could drink it. But you probably shouldn’t unless you treat it first.”

I am so responsible.

The man looked at his hiking partner. “This must be the drinking water!”

Fine. I stepped aside as the man reached in and filled up a water bottle and took a swig. He said it tasted great, and asked where I was headed to today. I tried to explain, but he didn’t seem to understand. Turns out, it was his first time hiking. I waited for the men to leave before dipping my hands into the spring in the Shinto style and continuing on my way. I didn’t stop much on the rest of the way up, except to carefully walk my way around some of the first trail snow and ice of the season. I made it up to the Saddle in about an hour and 40 minutes, 20 minutes faster than the last time I scrambled there. Let’s hear it for the gym!

Immediately after leaving the Icehouse Saddle, the trail to Cucamonga Peak got rugged, unkempt, and solitary – just the way I like ‘em. Unlike the steady switchbacks of the Icehouse Canyon trail, this one teetered dangerously on the edges of cliffs, had hairpin turns and boulder scrambles. Good clean fun.

Looking out at the long ridge of Cucamonga Peak, all I could hear were the birds chirping around me. That same wonderful silence that permeated the San Gorgonio Wilderness was everywhere here. Which was weird, because I could see cars on the 15 just to the left of this scene. Oh well. I’m not gonna complain.

A little further down the trail, I came upon two medium-sized holes in the side of a steep incline. There was some rusted steel cable strewn about the ground, so I assumed the holes were the result of an old mining operation. But unlike the other mines I’d been to, I didn’t see any other evidence. There was certainly no way for anyone to easily get anything out of this mining area. The trail in was much too narrow for machinery, and the only other routes were straight down the side of the mountain.

I tried to peer into the lower cave, but couldn’t see anything of interest. I wanted to climb up the ridge to get to the upper cave, but I also wanted to get to the peak and back before nightfall. And I didn’t want to climb all the way up there just to see an angry mountain lion. That’s for damn sure.

I soon reached Cucamonga Saddle and started up the trail toward the peak, mercilessly switchbacking the entire way. This round wasn’t too bad, as far as switchbacks go, as the trail swapped from north to west sides of the mountain, offering alternating bits of cool shade and warm sun. I also got some nice views of one of my favorite majestic mountain groups – the Baldy Bowl. You can clearly see Mount Baldy in the left-of-center. Harwood and Pine Mountain are to the right, and you can make out the bump of Timber Mountain and the sharp peak of Telegraph in the center-right.

After a bit more trudging (and stopping to eat a CLIF bar or two), I came within sight of the fire-battered ‘Finish Line Ahead’ sign, marking the Peak, and pretty much just sprinted up the rest of the way.

I leapt onto the small rock formation that marked the peak, threw off my CamelBak and looked out at the smoggy suburban sprawl below me. Visibility was much lower than it was the last few times I was in the Baldy region, but it didn’t completely destroy the views … and of course, I was above the smog, so I got full sun and clear blue skies.

I met two younger guys who were nearly passed out near the peak. We chatted for a bit, and I found out they backpacked and hiked in overnight for their first hiking trip ever. A 3800′ elevation gain with a full pack is definitely one way to try out a new hobby. But despite being very tired, they were in good spirits, and asked me – the Sage Hikemaster who’s almost been hiking for a year now – if there were any good trails in the area.

I gave them directions to a few much-lower-intensity hikes in the eastern San Gabriels, as well as a good plug for LocalHikes. Hopefully they’ll keep it up. I took a few pictures for them, and they repaid me in kind:

After the new hikers headed back down, I stretched out on the rocks, took off my boots and had a delicious protein bar and apple lunch. And I discovered that my old friends the Heel Blisters were starting to make a comeback.

I used to get blisters on my heels all the time, until I bought a pair of right-fitting hiking boots and started wearing SmartWool socks. Hopefully, this relapse can be cured with new socks, and not new boots. ‘Cause I can’t afford me no new boots right now.

I’ll spare you the foot picture, which is, admittedly not that bad. But inquiring eyeballs can find it, along with other photographic wonders, on Flickr.

After the summit, a no-nonsense, fast-paced hike got me back down to the trailhead by 4:10PM. Just about six hours – including a very lengthy lunch – for the whole trip. Not bad. And one more peak crossed off my list.

*Originally hiked on December 3, 2006.

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Casey Schreiner

Founder and Editor-in-Chief at Modern Hiker
Since founding Modern Hiker in 2006, Casey's writing has appeared in Backpacker, the REI Blog, Adventure Journal, and Sierra Trading Post's Social Hub. He was in Columbia Sportswear's inaugural #OmniTen program and was featured prominently in their documentary "I Am #OmniTen."

His stories for Modern Hiker have brought regional and national attention, and have been featured on Good Morning America, NPR, and the Associated Press.

Casey is also an award-winning television writer-producer, and was Series Producer of pivot's TakePart Live and Head Writer of G4's Attack of the Show.
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This post was written by Casey Schreiner on January 3, 2007

23 Comments

  • Richard says:

    I hiked this yesterday.

    Well worth it. The views on this clear day were absolutely stunning. A part of the Icehouse Canyon trail is washed out as a result of the recent flash floods but you’ll have no issues finding yourself back to the trail. As Casey stated in his write up. It’s kind of a busy trail up until the Saddle area and then it’s mostly just you and nature.

    Be safe out there.

  • Craig says:

    I conquered Cucamonga Peak on Friday, 8/23/13 on my third shot at it. It took me 9 hours. My thighs burned on the way up and my toes and knees ached on the way down. Ok enough complaining. The views are fantastic and I was lucky because it was a clear day. I stopped for a break at Cucamonga Saddle and the wind blowing through was so cooling and refreshing. The views from the saddle are great and from the peak I could see Catalina and dowtown LA. Being from this area it was cool to perch myself on a comfortable rock and take in the area from this view. I’ve heard said that God makes it so women will not remember the pain of giving birth so they will have more kids. I think God has done the same with hiking. I’m ready to go again. (well after my toes heal) Thanks Modern Hiker use

  • Mike P says:

    Thanks as always modern hiker, i called and they said the trail should be clear and they were right – kind of. Did this hike on 10/8 and did come across some snow on the final leg up Cucamonga. The trail wraps around on the north facing side of the peak and a lot of sections were covered in snow, nothing too hectic.

    If you want a great hike that gets in some elevation and puts your legs to the test, this is the one for you. Icehouse canyon is beautiful and everything past the saddle is fairly empty. We felt like we had the trail to ourselves until we reached the peak.

    This is one of the best peaks around LA as you have 360 views and lots of cool rocks to climb around on. Plus you’ll be so happy that your legs dot have to hike uphill much further. top 5 hikes in LA for me.

  • hayley says:

    Hi,
    Can you advise if Dogs are allowed/suitable on this hike? We took our two on the bridge to nowhere and it was great.

    Thank you!
    Hayley

  • mike p says:

    Anyone know if this trail has any snow on it? I’m thinking about tackling this bad boy on Sat – May 7th but am not equipped with crampons, ice axe etc.

    any advise would be appreciated.

    Mike

    • Modern Hiker says:

      @mike p – if you don’t hear anything here, consider calling the Mt Baldy Rangers’ Station at (909) 982-2829. They’ll have the most accurate, up-to-date trail conditions for the area.

  • sam says:

    Have you ever gone down the old mine that is on the way from the saddle to the base of Cucamonga? it was so creepy and awesome!!

  • Sansarang Ahn says:

    I suggest you to get the wilderness permit if you would like to hike the Ice House Canyon from now on. I believe the RANGERS are going to close monitor the trails from now on. Please do not get caught on NON-PERMIT attemps!! You would have to go the court and pay fines. You can get wilderness permit at Baldy Information Center. They open at 7:00 a.m.

    My friends and I hiked to Cucamonga Peak on August 29, 2010.
    The marine layer and today’s weather helped me and my friends to climbed to the summit at ease. Going up to the Ice House Canyon Saddle was very crowed but from the saddle to the Cucamonga Peak was very quite and peaceful.
    The trail is well maintained and it was well worth hike. The views are the spectacular and BREATHTAKING from the summit rock. We took some pictures from the masif rock(I called it) with the white clouds beneath our feet. It was a great and peaceful hike with the nice and cool day. I highly recommend it to you all ! ! !

  • tbonemyers says:

    Hiked to Cucamonga Peak yesterday – June 19th. Great but real tough hike. Started at 7am and made it back around 2pm with a good lunch break at the top. Great scenery on the way up and awesome view at the top. Perfect training hike for Half dome and Mt. Whitney. Watch out for a 1 yr old bear at the parking lot begging for food

  • Robert says:

    Hiked to Cucamonga Peak with two friends on Saturday, June 12th and the trail was clear all the way to the top. A few patches of snow along the way, but none on the trail itself. Studding view from the peak. A tough climb, but well worth the effort!

  • Rob V. says:

    Tried this today, had to turn back about 300 yards or so from the top. It is solid snow/ice still, and WINDY. This is the second week in a row that I attempted this hike, this time with boots and poles. I spoke with a couple of fellows that had made it to the top, they had been able to scramble up the north face off the trail. I thought about it but being alone I wasn’t feeling that adventuresome. Overall, great hike, even making it to where I did seemed like an accomplishment. On the way down I took the Chapman Trail as an alternate, and, while the elevation change wasn’t as abrupt, I found it to be a more strenuous trail, but very fun. A couple of fallen trees and scree slides added to the adventure, and the views from that trail were much better.

  • Charles says:

    Did this on May 31st. Parking area fills quickly so start early and enjoy the shade getting up to Icehouse Saddle. This is a challenging hike, but the payoff is worth it. Great to put in the training regimen if you are planning to do Whitney. This is a wonderful hike. Trails are clearly marked. Highly recommended.

  • Bud says:

    Please tell me you 15 favorite trails in Southern Calif. (Angeles Crest, San Bernadino, and San Jacinto) with some data regarding length, elevation gain, difficulty regarding how strenous the climb is and technical difficulty, descritpion of scenery (trees etc)and directions to trail head.

    Thanks

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