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Stones
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PostMon Nov 14, 2005 11:03 pm 
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Icehouse Canyon in the San Gabriel Mountains is one of my absolute favorite hikes anywhere.  If you ever find yourself down and out in LA, this is a hike that you should do if you only have time to squeeze in a day of hiking.  It is within a two hour drive of most anywhere in the LA Basin.  The hike offers a variety of scenes, starting out in a sylvan setting of an alder shaded stream then climbing to the highest regions of the range with peaks reaching well over 8,000 feet where big horn sheep play.  On the way you will pass some spectacular specimens of incense cedar and a spring of some of the purist and best tasting water this side of the Pacific Crest.

I had a family vacation planned to Disneyland for the last three days of last week making for an extended Veteran’s Day weekend.  It was also my youngest son’s tenth birthday.  As luck would have it, some work came up allowing me to fly down ahead of my family.  The project wrapped up early on Tuesday and I immediately bee-lined up Mount Baldy Road to the Icehouse Canyon trailhead.  On the way, I picked up a sandwich at Wolfe’s Market in Claremont, just like old times.  Unlike old times, I had to pick up an Adventure Pass at the Mount Baldy ranger station for the privilege of parking at the trailhead.  The daily cost is $5.

The trailhead has an ample paved parking lot with a new deluxe pit toilet restroom.  Here you will find the foundation of the old Icehouse, a restaurant and bar built in the 1920s in a classic log cabin style.  It was a real landmark building, burned down in the early 1970s by the then new owner in an attempt to collect insurance money.

The first mile and a half of trail follows close the along the Icehouse Canyon creek, shaded by white alder, bigleaf maple, live oaks, bigcone Douglas fir, and incense cedar.  The creek sports a wild population of rainbow and brown trout.  Water ouzels track the stream course landing on rocks to stop and do their little dipping dance.  You will pass several cabins and cabin foundations along the way.  Many of the cabins burned to the ground in 1978 in a big fire that started on Thunder Mountain at the Mount Baldy ski area and burned down into the canyon and up the side of Ontario Peak.  The fire also torched some beautiful old lodgepole pines that grew on top of Ontario Peak.  The owner of the ski area was burning stumps and it got out of hand.

What really sets this hike apart is the trees.  Here incense cedars reach grand proportions with tall thick trunks covered in rich brown fibrous bark.  The bigcone Douglas fir, cousin to our own Douglas fir, is the first conifer you encounter as you climb into these mountains.  White alder and bigleaf maple hug close to the stream.  The white alder is almost identical to our red alder which peters out somewhere along the central California coast giving way southward to the white alder.  The bigleaf maple is the same as our own, but here only a shadow of itself, spindly trunks devoid of moss and licorice fern that can’t gain purchase in the dry mountain air, yet here the maple’s roots finding ample water in the canyon bottom.  Higher up Jeffrey pine, sugar pine and white fir come into prominence.  Still higher, limber pine and lodgepole pine mantle the high peaks.

At 1.8 miles the trail enters the Cucamonga Wilderness, which covers the high country of the eastern San Gabriel’s.  I made it as far as Columbine Spring at about 2.5 miles.  The spring emerges from the base of a talus slope.  The water from this spring is worth the hike.  I had a bottle of tap water I brought from home, which is excellent water piped to my home from the Cascades.  I ceremoniously poured this water out and replaced it with equally good if not better water from this wonderful spring.

From the high point I reached at the spring, I could look down canyon and see the summit of Mount San Antonio (“Old Baldy”), at 10,064 feet it is the highest summit in the San Gabriel Mountains and in Los Angeles County.  This area offers some of the most accessible and best back country skiing south of the Sierra.

I did not have enough time to make it to Icehouse Saddle so I turned back at the spring.  On the way out I came across a mule deer doe and her two well grown fawns.  They let me watch from a short distance as they ate.  Further down I came across a good size buck who also allowed me to view him from a short distance.

I made it back to my car as dusk was approaching feeling good to have had an opportunity to hike an old favorite that will never be out of style.

Icehouse Canyon Trailhead - San Gabriel Mountains - SoCal
Icehouse Canyon Trailhead - San Gabriel Mountains - SoCal
Icehouse Canyon
Icehouse Canyon
Icehouse Canyon
Icehouse Canyon
Cabin in Icehouse Canyon
Cabin in Icehouse Canyon
Icehouse Canyon
Icehouse Canyon
Cabin Remains in Icehouse Canyon
Cabin Remains in Icehouse Canyon
Fall Bigleaf Maple in Icehouse Canyon
Fall Bigleaf Maple in Icehouse Canyon
Incense Cedar in Icehouse Canyon - San Gabriel Mountains - SoCal
Incense Cedar in Icehouse Canyon - San Gabriel Mountains - SoCal
Jeffrey pines in Icehouse Canyon - San Gabriel Mountains - SoCal
Jeffrey pines in Icehouse Canyon - San Gabriel Mountains - SoCal
Columbine Spring in Icehouse Canyon
Columbine Spring in Icehouse Canyon
Mount San Antonio looking down Icehouse Canyon
Mount San Antonio looking down Icehouse Canyon
Mule deer fawns in Icehouse Canyon - San Gabriel Mountains - SoCal
Mule deer fawns in Icehouse Canyon - San Gabriel Mountains - SoCal
Mule deer buck in Icehouse Canyon - San Gabriel Mountains - SoCal
Mule deer buck in Icehouse Canyon - San Gabriel Mountains - SoCal

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Let me stand next to your fire
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whitebark
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PostTue Nov 15, 2005 11:12 am 
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Nice report and pictures...thanks for posting! Love those California mountains.
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Yana
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PostTue Nov 15, 2005 12:54 pm 
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Thanks for the TR and pics!

That is an awesome hike with many fun permutations once you reach the saddle (provided one has time and extra energy).

One day I am planning on doing a loop through Icehouse saddle, over a bunch of "bumps" in the ridge to Mt. Baldy.
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ree
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PostWed Nov 16, 2005 12:09 am 
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Thanks for the great tr and lovely pictures, Mr. Stones!  Thanks for the historical scoop too!

Icehouse Canyon is where I saw my first rattlesnake on the trail! eek.gif   And I love those old abandoned cabins at the bottom.

I summited Ontario Peak almost 20 years ago and came across a couple bighorn sheep...  We startled each other.

More recently, I did Timber Mountain up that ways.  It was a gorgeous clear day, and we could see all the way to Panamints of Death Valley.

Fancy potties they have there now at the trailhead.  That's where the five bucks goes to... I think. biggrin.gif
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wolfs
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PostWed Nov 16, 2005 2:03 pm 
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Very nice pictures!
The Icehouse trail is probably the trail I've hiked the second-most-often in my life (just behind Echo Mountain above Pasadena), largely because of all those options you can take from the saddle. I think I've done them all at least once (Ontario, Cucamonga, over the saddle to Comanche camp on the Lytle Creek side, Timber, Telegraph, the Chapman trail loop). If you can cancel out the airplane traffic the Cucamonga really is a Wilderness. I've never done the full "Three T's" trail in one piece though,  let alone hiking the Backbone all the way to Baldy. Now that would be a serious day's hike!
Sometimes on hot days I'd just head up the Icehouse trail with no goal other than to find a nice cool shady spot by a pool of the creek to read a book, or scarf down a low budget Trader Joe's trail picnic with some 3$ wine amidst the cabin foundations.
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