Monday, March 5, 2012

Ice House Canyon to Ice House Saddle

Ice House Canyon is a beautiful, dog-friendly hike, just 10 miles off the 210 freeway.  The varied terrain and plant life will keep you and your pup busy throughout an entire day.

From 210 freeway exit Baseline Road
Travel West 0.1 miles to Padua Ave Turn Right
Travel North 1.8 miles to Mt. Baldy Road Turn Right
Continue on Mt. Baldy Road for 8 miles passing through Mt. Baldy Village
Where the Road forks continue straight onto Ice House Canyon Road

From 10 Freeway exit Monte Vista Ave
Travel North on Monte Vista, it will turn into Padua Ave above the 210 freeway
Travel North 1.8 miles to Mt. Baldy Road Turn Right
Continue on Mt. Baldy Road for 8 miles passing through Mt. Baldy Village
Where the Road forks continue straight onto Ice House Canyon Road

View Larger Map

     Ice House Canyon is located just North of Mt. Baldy Village in the San Gabriel Mountains.  It's a beautiful canyon hike with plenty to see and do.  This hike is a launching pad to many other challenging hikes to the surrounding peaks such as Ontario Peak and the Three T's among others.  Today we will take a look at hiking to Ice House Saddle.

If you like having the trail to yourself, avoid weekends.

     This hike is great because you don't have to even make it to the saddle to have a good experience, though making it to the saddle is a great achievement.  A trip to the Cucamonga Wilderness Boundary will still give you plenty of views in 1.8 miles.  If you plan to travel to the saddle then this hike is somewhere past moderate difficulty probably more toward the strenuous side of the scale.  The switchbacks up to the saddle can give you some trouble if you are not prepared.  The elevation gain is over 2500 feet in 3.6 miles so that will give you an idea of what to expect.

Snow relatively low and early on the trail may be a sign of impassable switchbacks.
     I would place the recommended time of year for this hike from Spring into Fall before the first snow of the season.  If you encounter snow early in the trip, that may mean that there will be some impassable switchbacks later in the hike.  This year we haven't had enough snowfall to make the trail dangerous.  In typical years the snow will be much deeper and since many of the switchbacks are under the shade of larger conifers the snow won't fully melt.  This leads to thick ice on the trail that would be a hazard to you and your furry friend.  The good news is that even if you encounter snow, there is still plenty to do without making it to the saddle.  Always make sure that you check the weather and trail conditions before you embark on your journey.  This is a canyon, so you may also need to be prepared for high winds.

One of the remaining cabins in the background

One of the cabins that didn't survive the canyon disasters

     Here is some historical context for Ice House Canyon.  According to Author/Historian John W. Robinson in his book Trails of the Angeles, the Ice House Canyon name dates back to the 1860s when the canyon supplied ice to the residents of the valley.  Before that, Ice House Canyon was known as Cedar Canyon because it is said that the canyon provided the cedar beams for Mission San Gabriel (1771).  
     In the early 1900s the Forest Service began issuing leases for cabin sites in the National Forest and by 1938 there were over 100 privately owned cabins in the canyon.  But the Los Angeles Flood of 1938 changed the landscape of the canyon forever.  Two storms blasted the Los Angeles basin with over 9 inches of rain.  The heavy rains and melted snow destroyed all but 35 cabins in the canyon.  This explains the large number of destroyed cabins.  
     Another interesting fact is the large concrete foundation that you will encounter in the parking lot left of the trail head was once home to Ice House Canyon lodge


Chapman Trail.  Avoid this trail if you intend to go to the saddle.
     Chapman trail is an adventure for another day.  There is plenty to see and great views along that route, but you will be in direct sunlight for a good portion of the trail.  There is also a portion of the trail that is not wide enough for you and your dog to travel safely (at least the last time I was up there).  Plus it's an extra mile and a half to the saddle.

Nearly a mile in, just 2.6 more to go.

One Mile Marker.  Keep an eye out for the other two.
     This trail is marked very well and the trail is pretty easy to follow.  There may be a downed tree every once in a while, but it will still be clear where the trail is.  There are plenty of signs along the route and you will encounter 3 mile markers like the one above to keep tabs on how far your adventure has taken you.

     The first two miles of the hike are heavily shaded and you will hike along a beautiful creek and even cross through the creek bed.  The lack of sunlight will create some chilly but enjoyable temperatures.  The sound of running water and wind carving through the canyon will serve as your soundtrack throughout the day.

Hunter experiencing snow on the trail

     Take time to enjoy the varying environments and terrain.  You will see plenty of conifers including some Cedars.  You will also hike through some areas of chapparal with Manzanita lining the trail.  Also, leave some time to explore the creek on the way up or the way back.  You will see evidence of the power of water, with signs of past floods in the canyon.  Large boulders and trees sprawl across the canyon after being moved by the swift currents of past events.

Entering the Cucamonga Wilderness.  About 1.8 miles in.
     The beginning of the Cucamonga Wilderness is a good place to turn back if you want a shorter hike.  There are a few destroyed cabins just before the boundary that will serve as a great place to stop and have lunch.  You can also venture a couple tenths of a mile further before you reach the switchbacks.  Take your pup into the creek bed and enjoy the sights.

     Take the time to look up.  It's awesome to look up and see the surrounding peaks from the canyon.  The peaks are still a few thousand feet of elevation away but you can still get some inspiring views.  Plus, it will give you a good reference if you ever hike to the peaks.

Hunter taking a break
     So what does the pup think?  This trail give your dog plenty to see and smell.  You can take time and play in the creek if your dog enjoys water.  It may not be deep enough to swim but they can still go for a dip.  If it's early spring then your dog can play in some snow.  The switchbacks at the end will present your dog a nice challenge and get them the exercise that they want, enjoy and need.  There are a couple notes.  If your pup is dog aggressive or doesn't enjoy the company of strangers, then you may want to avoid weekends.  You will encounter a fair amount of other dogs on your trip and probably hundreds of people.  The good news is that on weekdays it is much less traveled, but don't expect to have the whole trail to yourself, this is a popular hike.  All in all, the pup will love the sights and sounds of Ice House Canyon.

Decent amount of snow and ice littering the trail
     On your way up the mountain, at the beginning of the switchbacks, keep an eye out for columbine spring.  It will be on the right side.  There is a small spur trail where you can take a seat and rest.  If you have your water purifier, you can filter some water too.  If you are early in the season, there may be snow on the trail.  The snow on the trail seems to melt from travel and freeze at nights so beware of icy conditions.  Take your time and watch your step.  It may be good idea to invest in some chains for your shoes if you plan on hiking in ice a lot.

     Once you begin the switchbacks, you will lose some tree cover and be exposed to some direct sunlight.  Take that into consideration.  Always make sure you have enough water and make sure you dress in layers.  It will be rather chilly when you are in all the heavily shaded areas, but you will heat up quickly when you are on the switchbacks.  So layers, layers, layers.

When you're heading up the switchbacks you'll eventually meet back up with the Chapman Trail

Looking back toward the Canyon
     Once you are on the switchbacks, take the time again to view the surrounding peaks.  You will see just how much elevation you have covered during the day.  You will feel quite accomplished.

Welcome to Ice House Saddle
       You made it!  Take the time to view the map of the surrounding peaks and see the other trail heads.  Plan your next adventure!  I will try and cover some of these surrounding trails, but most of the trails are hard to follow until late spring when the snow melts.  But this hike will give you an idea of what to expect if you are planning to adventure further into the Cucamonga Wilderness.

Elevation Gain: 2600 feet
Distance:  7.2 miles round-trip
Difficulty: Moderate +
Time: Around 5 hours total 
Required Permits: Cucamonga Wilderness Permit, Forest Adventure Pass
Where to Obtain Permits: Mt. Baldy Visitor Center (In Mt. Baldy Village 909-982-2829) If you want to hike before 8 a.m. call the day before for a Wilderness Permit.  Buy a Forest Adventure Pass 
Dog Approved: Yes!

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