A long, tall hike down one of the most beautiful canyons in the Angeles National Forest. Probably the easiest way to reach Timber Mountain, the southernmost of the ‘Three Tees.’ Icehouse Saddle – just a short distance before Timber Mountain – is also a convenient gateway to several other peaks in the area.
- Distance: 9.39 miles (with occasional off-trail stops)
- Elevation Gain: apx. 3400 feet
- Time: About 5 hours this time, although we were greatly slowed by ice.
- Trail Condition: Excellent. Well marked through Icehouse Canyon and up to Timber Mountain. The final sections of both trails is very strenuous.
- How to Get There: From the 210, take the Mount Baldy exit and travel north. Go through the tiny Mount Baldy Village and take a right at the fork in the road toward Icehouse Canyon. Park â€˜nâ€™ Hike.
- Map It!
- Year-round babbling brook at Icehouse Canyon.
- Opportunities for many side-trails.
- Views of the north sides of Cucamonga and Ontario Peaks, Baldy Bowl, Telegraph Peak, and the deserts.
Extending Your Stay:
- Icehouse Saddle is the starting point for many hikes, including Bear Canyon, Cucamonga Peak, Ontario Peak, and Bighorn Peak. If you go on to Timber Mountain, you can continue the Three Tees Trail to Telegraph Peak and Thunder Mountain, if you’ve got a lot of energy in you.
As always, on Flickr.
My GPS went a little wonky at the start of the hike, but everything else is pretty accurate:
Icehouse Canyon Trail to Timber Mountain on Google Earth
I opened the door to the Mount Baldy Visitor’s Center and walked inside. The warm, dark wood interior was a welcome respite from the howling winds outside. The rangers stood behind their desk – a bearded man and blond woman – smiling at me.
“Hi. I’d like a permit for the Cucamonga Wilderness.”
Still smiling, the woman said, “We are not recommending anyone go up there today.”
The man chimed in. “We’re measuring wind gusts at 60 miles an hour. I almost got knocked down today.”
“But of course, we can’t do anything to stop you,” said the woman. Still smiles, that one.
I reached for a ballpoint pen and started filling out our Wilderness Permit. “I’m going to try for Ontario Peak. Is it more windy in the canyons, or on the ridge?”
“It’s windy everywhere.” The man with the beard was not smiling. All gravitas, he.
“What about ice?”
“We’re not sure. We haven’t been up there.” Still no smiles. “And you’ve got to remember, most of those trails are pretty narrow. One good gust of wind, and you could get swept off the side like that.” He snapped.
The woman smiled and nodded. What the hell was this? Some National Forest game of Good Cop-Bad Cop?
I thought back to my times on the Icehouse Canyon Trail. The trail I remembered was narrow, but not that narrow. And it didn’t have any particularly steep drop offs that were life-threatening. The Cucamonga Peak Trail, however, did.
“Well, I’ll fill this out and talk it over with the hiking partner. Thanks for the tips!”
As I turned to leave, the man called out one last scare – “and be sure to watch out for flying branches and rocks!”
I crossed the street to the Mount Baldy Lodge, where Will was sitting at the bar, waiting for a packable meal. I laid it out for him, mentioning that I’d also found a lower mountain further west in case Ontario was snowed-in. We thought about it for a while. The rangers had me worried it would be too dangerous to hike. Will got his food, turned to me and said, “Well, there’s only one way to find out.”
And with that, we drove to the Icehouse Canyon trailhead. We were going to have an adventure today.
As soon as I opened my car door at the trailhead, the wind shut it back on me. Oh, boy. Getting my bag and shoes out of the trunk was made significantly more interesting by the deafening roar of the wind whipping its way angrily through the Canyon. We tied our packs extra tight, pulled our hats down on our heads, and started toward the Canyon.
As we were walking, a nasty gust forced us to stop and wait. It also set off one of the parked cars’ alarms. This was going to be good.
Thankfully, the early part of the Icehouse Canyon trail was both ice-less and generally windless. It was still windy, don’t get me wrong, but there were none of the breath-knocking gusts that assaulted us in the parking lot. We got our first ice on a set of stairs, but since it was pretty well covered in dirt and mud, it was barely slippery at all.
They told us the weather was fine up on Timber, but they’d gotten the stuffing knocked out of them coming up Bear Canyon. We traded “Danger in the Wind” stories, but the Australians had us beat. The husband almost got himself blown down a ravine.
Like us, they had their sights set one of the bigger peaks, but opted for the calmer environs of Timber Mountain instead. Checking out the trails, we noticed the route to Ontario Peak was on the mountain’s north face for quite some distance. Generally, the north sides of the San Gabriels are the ones that keep colder longer, and this looked to be no different. We looked north toward Timber Mountain, its trail on the south face and completely free of snow. And thus, our plans were altered.
The winds started whipping around Icehouse Saddle, so we climbed up the Timber Mountain trail a bit, found a log to sit on, and ate our lunches. In clear view, of course, of our former destination.
On the way up, Icehouse Canyon was pretty much deserted. We only passed a small handful of hikers on this normally crowded trail. I figured the Severe Weather Alert kept the more sensible SoCal residents at home that morning. But on the way back down, there they were.
The first few we passed were polite, and looked prepared. We tried to focus on the bubbling white noise of the stream and the occasional roar of the wind, but were distracted several times by bottles, cans, food wrappers, and napkins lying alongside the trail.
Stopping briefly to pick up whatever trash we could carry, we came upon an exhausted looking family about half a mile from the trailhead. Seeing two bearded, windburned hikers coming down the mountain, they assumed we knew what we were doing. One of them ran up to us.
“Is it close?”
“Where are ya headed?” I replied.
He looked confused. “Um … up the hill?”
Oh, sweet Jesus. The hill?!? I didn’t mince words. “Then no, you have a long way left to go.”
Closer to the trailhead, after incredulously picking up two half-empty Bud Lite cans, a large family – some of whom were in short-sleeves – passed us. The mother, also noting our beards and swarthy appearances, asked if there was snow on the trail.
We gave them an enthusiastic ‘yes’ and said it was further up the trail.
“Like ten minutes?” asked the father.
“More like an hour … maybe and hour and a half.” Their faces soured considerably. “But it’s worth it!” we chimed.
And we continued back to the trailhead, knowing full well that family wasn’t seeing snow today.
Latest posts by Casey Schreiner (see all)
- Forest Service Fee Update for the Angeles National Forest - December 5, 2013
- UPDATE: Interior Secretary Jewell to Allow States to Pay to Operate National Parks - October 10, 2013
- Modern Hiker on Luxuria Music’s RPM - October 8, 2013