Icehouse Canyon, nestled among cedar and pine, is a popular spot for casual hikers to enjoy alpine scenery and a year round stream. It is better served to more experienced hikers as a gateway to Cucamonga Wilderness: Bighorn Peak, Cucamonga Peak, Ontario Peak, and the Three Tee’s Trail (Timber, Telegraph, and Thunder Mtns). I made a sunset voyage up the Three Tee’s Trail in mid-September, and basked in views of Mt. San Antonio (Mt. Baldy) and surrounding canyons and peaks. This is a must-hike!
- 3.6 miles to Icehouse Saddle. 10 miles via Three T’s Trail to Baldy Notch (5.6 from the Saddle).
- Getting to the Saddle is moderately difficult. Continuing through the Three T’s is strenuous and summits Timber Mtn, Telegraph Peak, and Thunder Mtn. Please add additional mileage to get down from the Notch or for backtracking.
- This trail is part of the Cucamonga Wilderness and a permit for day and overnight hikers is required. Permits are available at Mt. Baldy Visitor Center. Hikers can make arrangements to pick up a permit outside of regular business hours to be posted outside the Visitor Center, call ahead (909) 982-2829.
I set off by myself from Icehouse Canyon trailhead at 2:00 PM in mid-September. I had a few liters of water, a Maglite, a thermal, my trekking poles, and my camera. I was determined to make it to Timber Mountain, but later was crazy enough to continue on… I’ll get to that. I should give an initial disclaimer that the decisions I made on this trip were risky and I didn’t exactly play it safe. So let me cut to the chase: make your own decisions, and don’t do what I did (unless you really want to). I’m broke so suing me won’t get you anywhere. There, I said it.
More trip report after the map and pictures.
Icehouse Canyon has a pristine stream, except for those pesky New Zealand Mudsnails, with several cabins and cabin ruins lining its banks. This area of the canyon will lull you into the murmurings of a quiet alpine stream and you’ll sleep well after a quick jaunt to the Saddle. It gets busy in Icehouse Canyon, but once you’re beyond the Saddle, the crowds die off sharply.
Columbine Spring is approximately 2.4 miles in. I may or may not have giardia as of this posting since there is a 1-2 week incubation period. [Update: Did not get giardia] Don’t drink unfiltered from the spring; i didn’t have that luxury but it was delicious! Several switchbacks later, I was at the saddle and my legs were warmed up. Fork right for Bighorn and Ontario Peak, fork left for the Three T’s Trail. At this point, I was still planning on a Timber Mountain summit and return trip, but took note of the distance to Baldy Notch, 5.4 miles. The Three T’s Trail will offer you beautiful vistas that the saddle will not, so don’t turn around without gaining a bit more altitude. If you’ve had enough, you can backtrack and take the Chapman Trail so as not to retrace your steps.
I made it to Timber Mountain and the late afternoon sun was starting to make magic happen. I stood there looking back down at Icehouse Canyon, then to Telegraph Peak, then back down at the canyon, then back at Telegraph Peak. I made a decision quickly and impulsively. There was not enough daylight to summit Telegraph and return. This is where the real danger lies, because getting lost and staying overnight alone on a mountain with no food or proper clothing spells disaster. However, the moon was nearly full, and again, I had my Maglite. So off I went, thinking I might be able to hitch a ride down the chairlift from Baldy Notch, but that was wishful thinking. Read the Mt. Baldy Chairlift hours of operation before leaving.
There is a 300 foot descent from Timber Mountain to another saddle before a grueling ascent of Telegraph. No regrets, the scenery is spectacular. Dramatic rock faces ebb into raw alpine terrain. Switchbacking up the eastern face, you’ll see deep into San Bernardino National Forest and Mt. San Gorgonio. For the first time, I think I felt the slightest tinge of altitude sickness, a mild headache and weariness. I took a few minutes to rest and thankfully it passed quickly, however the only true cure is to descend before it gets worse. At below 9,000 feet where I was, it is not much too much of a concern.
I got to the spur leading up to Telegraph Peak, and nearly kept going past it, but opted to do it anyway. By 6:30-7:00, I was watching the sunset behind Mt. Wilson from Telegraph Peak, 8,985 feet. I think my pictures came out pretty nice, but it’s a lot like getting the recording of a concert after you’ve been there… doesn’t fully capture the magic. A golden hue seamed the horizon line like a ribbon, and a gentle haze offset layer upon layer of mountains. Most of Mt. Baldy, which dominates the western view, was in shadow, but I had seen plenty of that mountain the weekend before.
After another quick descent (I was running), I passed through the saddle of Cedar Canyon and watched the moonrise over Telegraph Peak where I had just been. The sunset combined with moonlight were the perfect ingredients for an ethereal atmosphere, but I just couldn’t fully capture the range and hues I was seeing. I found a lot of happiness here, and some things are just meant to be memories and not caught on camera.
I rounded Thunder Mtn. to the top of the ski lifts, then followed Gold Ridge to Baldy Notch. Just use the access road and try to maintain a steady decline instead of plummeting down steep ski trails. I flicked on my flashlight once to read a trail sign, but the moon was more than enough to navigate. Stay right at the sign pointing you to the lodge.
By the time I reached Top of the Notch restaurant, it was closed and so was the chairlift. It was now completely dark out, except for the moon. I faintly heard music coming from inside, and I wanted to refill my water bottle which had been empty since my ascent of Telegraph. I knocked on the door and decided to try my luck. Leighton, the bartender, opened the door and graciously obliged. This guy is a real gem of a human being. If you have the pleasure of receiving his service, TIP BIG! He sent me on my way, after all, the lodge was closed.
I made it a moderate clip down the dirt road leading to Manker Flat and snapped some long exposures of stars over Mt. Baldy and civilization below. I couldn’t put away my camera despite the 2-3 miles that still were ahead of me. As I was snapping my last shot, there came a distant rumbling. I was startled at first, thinking that an earthquake was rippling through the San Gabriels, but soon headlights washed over me.
Leighton pulled up, leaned out the window and said, “You gonna walk all the way down or you wanna ride?” Call me a cheater, but I was not going to let him drive down all alone and he looked like he needed company. But seriously folks, I was exhausted and the temperature had dipped considerably. He drove me back to Icehouse Canyon trailhead and we parted ways. Thank you so much Leighton!
I live for these hikes!