Baldy Bowl Climb – Mount Baldy

Baldy Bowl Climb – Mount Baldy

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Distance

8.16 miles

 

&

Elevation

3,954 feet

 

f

Difficulty

Strenuous

 

Time

6-7 hours

Mount Baldy

 

Our first winter hike on Mount Baldy came about a week after a huge snow dump left several feet of snow on the trail. We started around sunrise and had to use crampons from the time we left the parking lot. It was our first real winter hike, so we were definitely a bit awed by the conditions. The numerous avalanche chutes crossing the trail did nothing to calm our nerves! As the sun rose, it got quite warm, and began turning the solid, ice-crusted snow to slush. By the time we reached the ski hut, we were consistently post holing. Climbing the sun baked bowl was not even an option. Instead, we traversed under the bowl, and followed the west ridge to the summit. We were happy to have successfully summited, and even happy to have safely gotten down, on our first winter trip. But we knew we had to return and climb the Baldy Bowl.

 

Weeks went by, and an unusually cold and wet SoCal winter provided plenty of snow on the mountain, but we could never line up our all too infrequent off days with what looked likely to be good conditions. We nearly made a second attempt a few weeks ago, but a fresh snow dump on an icy crust, made us bail at the last minute. Finally, on a rare Monday off for Michole, the conditions looked right. A great deal of the earlier snow had melted, then a rain and several below freezing days drastically reduced avalanche danger, and promised far more solid footing than we had encountered on our first trip.

Alpine Start

 

We wanted to avoid our first mistake from before, and made sure to get an earlier start. We left the house a few minutes after 4:00 am, and were on the trail by 5:45, giving us a solid hour before sunrise. We were both shocked by how different conditions were from our first trip. Before, we encountered snow before even reaching Baldy Village, a full 2,000 feet below Manker Flats. By the time we reached the trailhead, there was over two feet of snow on the ground. This time, there was no snow on the drive up the mountain. In fact, we didn’t even hit snow until just before reaching the ski hut. It was a pleasant surprise after what we had expected, and left us feeling fresh when we reached the ski hut.

Getting an Early Start with our Headlamps.

The bowl had already lost a great deal of the snow that had covered it earlier in the season. Fortunately, there were still plenty of ribbons of snow to choose from multiple lines. The route we had planned, up the center of the bowl had a solid line of snow going all the way up, and there was even one climber already on it, making slow but steady progress toward the top.

Baldy Bowl.

We Followed Route 11. Photo Credit: Caltech Alpine Club.

Climbing the Baldy Bowl

 

We broke out helmets, ice axes, and crampons at the ski hut, and headed for the climb. The traverse under the bowl held no surprises, but as we turned off of the trail and headed toward the bowl itself, we came face to face with a bobcat! It appeared out of some shrubs to our left, inspected us, then continued casually across our path, disappearing into a small stand of shrubs to our right, where I believe it watched us continue on from the cover of the shrubs. It was sort of the cherry on top of an amazing day. Its small stature and beauty gave you the impression that you could just cuddle it like your beloved house cat, but I’m sure this is not the case!

 

After our wildlife encounter, we continued on, heading straight up the bowl. It was by far the highest risk climbing I have ever done, and a few times looking down while resting, holding onto my ice axe as an anchor, my fear of heights tried to assert itself. I was able to force down the negative thoughts though, and continue on without too much issue. It struck me during the climb how ironic it was that I was not more afraid. When sport climbing above my bolt, I am at times gripped by a near paralyzing fear. I find myself unable to trust my ability, and often have to retreat and regather myself before continuing on. I know this is completely irrational. I’ve taken lead falls, and practiced many mock falls. Still, the irrational fear persists. On the bowl however, a fall could be disastrous. You might self-arrest, or you might not. You might hit a rock, or you might not. You might be okay, or you might not. Overall, the consequences of a fall are exponentially higher than while leading a sport climb. Nonetheless, I found it far less frightening. I think this is for two reasons. First: there really was no turning back. I can’t imagine having climbed back down that chute. Second: while the consequences of a fall were far greater, what you put your trust in is your ability not to fall. Unlike leading a sport climb, where you need to push far past your comfort zone, and depend on your equipment to keep you safe in the event of a fall. Again, it’s completely irrational, but fear often is.

 

The snow conditions on the bowl were perfect. The first three fourths of the climb was crusted in a solid layer of ice, offering excellent purchase for our ice axes and crampons as we climbed upward. The main danger seemed to come from the occasional rock, bouncing like a mad tomahawk down the slope. The climber ahead of us had slowed considerably, and we had made up a great deal of ground on him. Putting us directly in the path of any rocks he dislodged during his ascent. The last few hundred feet, where things get increasingly steep, was a bit softer, and we struggled to gain the solid footing we had enjoyed on the lower slopes, but it was still a far cry from the slush of our first trip.

 

The last 100 feet seemed to get steeper by the step. This stretch is also where we were blasted by wind gusting over the top of the slope. Finally, the last 20 feet felt almost vertical, as you encounter the snow deposited by the wind, which relentlessly howls over the edge. With a final placement of my ice axe, on flat ground, I pulled myself over the lip, and felt the euphoria of completing the climb. Michole was a few minutes behind, so I added layers against the wind and the cold of the exposed, final push to the summit.

 

Michole’s experience was a bit different than mine. Somehow, one of her boots popped out of its crampon. Fortunately, she handled it well, and managed to keep a cool head. She was able to get onto her back, bracing herself with one crampon and her axe dug into the snow. From that position, she was able to unstrap, reposition, and restrap her crampon, using only one hand! This was definitely the most hair-raising moment of the climb, but thanks to her good head, she safely overcame the unexpected difficulty, and carried on without too much incident.

Baldy Bowl to Summit

 

A few minutes after I topped out, she made her way up the final, impossibly steep edge of the bowl. We had a short celebration, took in an amazing view, and headed for the summit. From the top of the bowl, it is only a few hundred yards to the summit. While a walk to the summit may seem anticlimactic after experiencing the bowl, our legs and lungs were both on fire again by the time we reached the peak.

View From the Summit.

On the Summit.

We had climbed up alongside another pair of climbers, and we talked for a while, took in the views, and enjoyed the summit together. Finally, we headed down together. Deciding the part of the bowl we had come up was far too icy, steep, and exposed to glissade down, we traversed to the far west side of the bowl, before sliding down pristine powder, that made me wish I skied.  We all made our way back to the ski hut, where we were able to bask in our recent accomplishment, and scarf down a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. (The ultimate fuel for all endeavors.)

Descending from the Summit with other Climbers.

Descent Route on the West Side of Baldy Bowl.

Baldy Bowl from the San Antonio Falls Road.

Ethics and Safety in the Mountains

 

Being in the mountains is truly an amazing experience, and something that Michole and I both love. With that said, the mountains can be a dangerous, uncaring, and unforgiving place. Two people have died on mount Baldy this year, and three died last year. As Joe Simpson put it, “Gravity is a wonderfully democratic thing. It doesn’t know how good a climber you are once you start falling.” Nonetheless, there are many things you can do to minimize your risk, and the risk of those around you, while in the mountains. Namely, NEVER venture into the mountains unprepared. Always have the proper equipment, knowledge, and skill set for the task at hand. And if at any point you feel that one of those three things is not up to the task at hand, turn back. The mountain will always be there. Make sure you are too.

 

This brings me to the second thing you can do to keep people safe in the mountains: Speak up, and be honest. I know, it’s far easier to remain silent. I am guilty of it. On our first winter summit of Baldy, Michole and I ran into a guy at the ski hut. He was suffering, visibly beaten down from the first two miles of post holing his way up the mountain. And no wonder, he was in low cut trail walking shoes. Not only was he lacking crampons and an axe, he didn’t even have micro spikes, and I’m not even sure that he had trekking poles. He asked us how far to the summit and we dutifully informed him. He was probably old enough to be our father, what place did we have to tell him what he should or shouldn’t do?

 

The fact is: if you see someone who has no place doing what they are doing in the mountains, it is your responsibility to tell them. You might be the person who saves a life. How many people would still be alive, if experienced mountaineers had told that person in running shoes and spandex that they should turn back? People may not listen. And that’s okay. Someone may think you are an asshole for trying to tell them what risk they should or shouldn’t take. That’s okay too. I can live the rest of my life knowing that someone thinks I’m an asshole. But I can’t imagine living the rest of my life knowing that I had not expressed the danger someone was putting themself in, and that they had died because that knowledge came to them too late. And if they continue on, talking under their breath about you, you will know that whatever happens to them, you did what you could to keep them safe.

 

So PLEASE! Journey out into the wilds! Experience all of the wonder that this earth has to offer. And that includes the risks, but minimize those risks the best you can, and make sure those around you do the same.

Winter Mountaineering Necessities

Mandatory gear for heading into the mountains in winter are: ice axe, crampons, and helmet. Below are links to models of these items that we have personally used and endorse. If you purchase these products through this page, we will get a commission, but that is not why we show them here. Whether you buy these products through our page, at a local store, or just rent them, we hope that you adventure responsibly.

Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills is a one stop shop for mountaineering information. No book can replace experience or in person instruction, but this book is a treasure trove of information, that is required reading before many hands on mountaineering courses. If I were ever going to hard sell any product, it would be this book. Again, whether you buy it through our link, from REI, or rent it from your library, if you are a beginner or aspiring mountaineer, the knowledge you gain from this book could be what saves your life.

Mount Baldy Trailhead Parking Just Past Manker Flats Campground:

 

Manker Flats Campground – Mt Baldy Rd, Mt Baldy, CA 91759

Parking Just Past Manker Flats Campground

Gear We Used on This Trail


 Men’s Salomon Quest 4D 2 GTX

Like the Altras, these boots have an exceptionally wide toe box. As someone with wide feet, this is an absolute must for me. The give me plenty of room in the tow, but the awesome lace locker keeps my foot secure so I don’t bang my toe when kicking steps in crampons. The “4D chassis” keeps my foot from twisting even over the most rocky terrain, and the gore tex lining has kept my feet dry after a full day in the snow without gaiters.


 Salomon Women’s Quest 4D 2 GTX

These are the exact same boot as the men’s, but in a different range of colors.


 Men’s Leki Micro Vario Ti Cor-Tec

Another pair of lightweight, adjustable, folding poles. I use these and feel that they are the perfect pole for me. I am confident that if/when these poles are retired, I will replace them with another  pair of the same. If you would like to read my full review of these poles, you can find it here.


 Black Diamond Distance FLZ Women’s Poles

A great, lightweight, adjustable, folding set of poles. Michole uses these poles and loves them. In fact, she wrote a full length review on them. If you would like more info on these poles, you can read it here.


 Osprey Stratos 36

This is a great daypack, and will likely serve you on overnight trips, depending on how lightweight and compact your gear is. It features Osprey’s “Anti Gravity” suspension system. This lets more air flow to your back and, more importantly, shifts the weight of the pack from your shoulders and back to your hips. I love the “Anti Gravity” suspension so much, it’s hard for me to imagine ever buying a pack without it. I wrote a full review for this pack, you can find it here.


 Osprey Manta AG 28

A great women’s daypack, the Manta is a dedicated hydration pack that comes with a 2.5 litre reservoir. This has been an extremely solid day pack. Like the Stratos, it features Osprey’s patented “Anti Gravity” suspension. The external mesh storage compartment, as well as several divided compartments with easy access make this a great pack for storing snacks, gloves, hats, or anything else you might want on the go.


 Black Diamond Vector

Whether you are climbing at the crag or mountaineering, the Black Diamond Vector is a great choice. It is well ventilated, lightweight, very easy to adjust, and features very functional headlamp clips. We chose this helmet over some of its competitors mostly due to the fact that it offers a bit more coverage on the sides. This is extremely important for climbing, because you will likely turn your face away if you hit the wall, exposing the side of your head.


 CAMP USA Stalker Universal

The Stalker by CAMP USA is a great crampon for general mountaineering. The universal, strap on bindings means that they can be used with almost any mountaineering, backpacking, or hiking boots. This makes them an excellent choice for anyone who wants/needs a solid set of legitimate crampons, but does not want to spring for a pair of mountaineering boots. They have served us well on several hikes in ice and snow, including our climb up the iconic Baldy Bowl.


 Petzl Summit

The Petzl Summit is a lightweight ice axe with a curved shaft and a hot forged, positive clearance pick. The design offers maximum clearance for swinging on moderate to steep angle ice, and great leverage whether self belaying or self arresting. I use this ice axe and absolutely love it.


 Petzl Glacier

The Petzl Glacier is a lightweight ice axe with a straight shaft and a hot forged, positive clearance pick. Michole uses this ice axe and has been extremely satisfied with its performance. The same hot forged pick as the more expensive Petzl Summit and its light weight both set this ice axe apart from others near its price point.

Dartmoor-Emerald Hike – Laguna Coast Wilderness Park

Dartmoor-Emerald Hike – Laguna Coast Wilderness Park

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Distance

9.62 miles

 

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Elevation

1,843 feet

 

f

Difficulty

Moderate

Time

3-5 hours

 

Dartmoor-Emerald Trail – Laguna Coast Wilderness Park

 

While orange county may not be the first place you think of when it comes to hiking in Southern California, there are some real gems to be had, overlooking the beaches that usually dominate people’s idea of the area. A number of these are in Laguna Coast Wilderness Park. Michole and I spend a great deal of time on these trails, and they provide our primary training for bigger hikes in the nearby San Gabriels and beyond. This write up is for a loop of some of our favorite trails in the system. I will call this particular loop Dartmoor-Emerald, as it begins and ends on Dartmoor Street, and covers all three of the park’s “Emerald” trails.

 

Laguna Coast Wilderness Park is nestled in the Laguna Hills, and provides amazing views of Laguna Beach just below, as well as some of SoCal’s larger peaks to the North and West. The park is primarily made up of fire roads running along the tops of ridges, which are bisected and connected by many winding, single-track trails cutting down into and across the valleys between them. The layout is great for short hikes, because you can link the trails together to create any number of loops at whatever distance you prefer your hike to be.

 

Dartmoor-Emerald begins on the street, in a neighborhood, in Laguna Beach. I know, I know, it’s an inauspicious beginning. Don’t worry though, you will soon have amazing views of the city and the ocean, and then leave them both behind.

The Beginning of the Trail. Dartmoor Street Dead Ends with the Trailhead.

Pass by the gate that marks the end of the street, and begin climbing Boat Road. This is not an easy start to the hike. It is about .75 miles of steady climbing on an uninspiring fire road. If your lungs and legs are burning however, just look over your shoulder and appreciate the ocean view and, hopefully, the ocean breeze for a few moments before continuing on. At the top of the climb you can pause to take in more great ocean views before following the trail to the right.

Ocean View From the Top of Boat Road.

At the Top of the Climb Follow Boat Road to the Right.

Boat Road turns to the right, and will continue as a fire road until almost exactly the two-mile mark, when it dead-ends into Bommer Ridge. As you follow first Boat Road and then Bommer Ridge, there are great views down into the valley on your left. This is where you are headed. Bommer Ridge is another fire road on a ridge, and this is the one that will finally lead you to the promised land of single-track.

Take a Left When Boat Road Dead-Ends into Bommer Ridge.

Trail Sign at Intersection.

Take a left on Bommer Ridge and continue on for about three fourths of a mile, until you see a trail sign on the right side of the trail that reads “Old Emerald.” (For some reason the trail sign is on the right and the trail diverges to the left.)

Take a Left on Old Emerald.

This is where the hike really starts to shine, in my opinion. Old Emerald Trail winds and twists its way for just over half a mile, all the way down into the bottom of the valley. Finally, you cross a tiny bridge over a stream that is dry unless you are there shortly after big rains. This brings you to Old Emerald Canyon Road, where you want to take a right.

Bridge At the End of Old Emerald Trail.

Turn Right When Old Emerald Dead-Ends into Emerald Canyon Road.

You will only be on Old Emerald Canyon Road for a few yards, before Old Emerald Falls Trail diverges to your left. This section of Old Emerald Canyon Road usually has tree branches and vines that make for a very aesthetic tunnel, and a wonderful shade on a hot day. Don’t worry if you were hoping for more of Old Emerald Canyon Road, you will be revisiting it shortly.

Turn Left onto Old Emerald Falls.

Tree Tunnel Exiting Emerald Canyon Road.

Follow Old Emerald Falls as it diverges left from Old Emerald Canyon Road. With any decent amount of rainfall, a rarity here in Southern California, Old Emerald Falls can turn into a lush green jungle, more akin to the tropics than Southern California. Other years you feel that you are in the desert, a few hundred miles to the west. When it is overgrown, be careful. The tall grass conceals the many cacti that line this trail, and often encroach on its edges. When we hiked it this week it was the most overgrown we have ever seen it, with grass reaching over our heads at times!

 

Immediately after leaving Old Emerald Canyon Road, Old Emerald Falls will reach a Y. Old Emerald Falls follows the valley floor to the right. Ignore the trail that goes straight up the opposite ridge.

Ignore the Faint Trail that Ys Off to the Left. (Depending on Trail Conditions, it May be More Visible.)

Shortly, you will reach a steady incline. This is the falls for which Old Emerald Falls takes its name, though water would only run along the trail portion during very heavy rains, and we have only seen water moving along the edge of the trail once. Begin your climb up out of the valley! Like the start of the hike, this is not a particularly long climb, but it is steep, and after a rainy winter, we found it was almost like bushwhacking! At around the 4.6-mile mark, you reach the end of Old Emerald Falls, as it dead-ends into Moro Ridge, another fire road running along a ridgeline.

Bushwhacking Up Old Emerald Falls.

Turn Right as Old Emerald Falls Dead-Ends into Moro Ridge.

Take Moro Ridge to the right, and at the 5-mile mark, Moro meets back up with Bommer ridge.

 

Turn Right at the Gate where Moro Ridge Meets Bommer Ridge.

Take a right onto Bommer. After about .2 miles, the trail forks, with Laurel Spur diverging to your left. Stay right to continue following Bommer Ridge.

Keep Right on Bommer Ridge.

Only .1 miles after the fork, you reach Old Emerald Canyon Road, leading back down into the canyon on your right.

Turn Right Onto Emerald Canyon Road.

Follow Emerald Canyon Road back down into the canyon. It seems like it goes on forever, down and down, mostly a straight fire road, narrowing as you near the tree tunnel where you left it earlier. Finally, just shy of 6.5 miles, you pass the turnoff for Old Emerald Falls, now on your right, and come to Old Emerald Trail, on your left.

Turn Left and Begin the Climb Back Up Old Emerald Trail.

From here simply retrace your steps, back up Old Emerald, right onto Bommer Ridge, back to the intersection where you will go right on Boat Road, and finally left down Boat Road and your return to Laguna Beach and Dartmoor Street.

 

This return journey offers amazing views both down into the canyon you hiked into and out of, TWICE, as well as of the ocean and beach communities below. If you can time it out, some of our most amazing sunsets came at the end of this trail, just before descending Boat Road back to Dartmoor Street.

Sunset from the Top of Boat Road with Laguna Beach, Long Beach, and Catalina Island in the Distance.

Of course, for a slightly shorter hike with less climbing, you could cut out either of the descents into and out of Emerald Canyon. Personally, if I were to do this, I would cut out the second one. That way you still experience Old Emerald  Trail and Old Emerald Falls, as well as the compelling portion of Old Emerald Canyon Road. Only the part around this juncture is the tree tunnel that we love so much. The rest is really just your standard fire road.

 

If you have any additional thoughts about this hike, would like to see guides of other linking options for trails in Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, or just have experiences there that you would like to share, please let us know in the comments below! We would love to hear from you.

 

We hope that this guide will be of some use to you, and help you get out and explore! If you found it useful, or think it may be useful to someone you know, then please, feel free to share it with your friends!

 

Until next time, safe travels, and happy hiking from Greenwoods Uncharted!

Parking and Park Info

 

Parking for this hike is street parking on Dartmoor Street in Laguna Beach.

Park hours are from 7:00am to sunset daily.

Trails may be closed after rain. Call (949) 923-2235 to make sure the trails are open.

Trail Map

Dartmoor Street, Laguna Beach, CA

Gear We Used on This Trail


 Altra Lone Peak 3

A great pair of lightweight, zero drop trail running shoes that are great for hiking. I first bought these shoes after I had injured my foot, and was looking for something with an especially wide toe box. I have loved these shoes for both hiking and the occasional run. If you have never tried zero drop shoes, they take a bit of getting used to, but I loved them so much I wish I could get backpacking or mountaineering boots that were zero drop!


 Saucony Women’s Peregrine 6

Lightweight trail runners. If you are not ready to make the switch to zero drops, or if they just don’t agree with you, this is a great, neutral pair of trail runners. Michole has used these for fifteen plus mile hikes in rocky terrain with over 4,000 feet of elevation gain, and loved them every step of the way.


 Men’s Leki Micro Vario Ti Cor-Tec

Another pair of lightweight, adjustable, folding poles. I use these and feel that they are the perfect pole for me. I am confident that if/when these poles are retired, I will replace them with another  pair of the same. If you would like to read my full review of these poles, you can find it here.


 Black Diamond Distance FLZ Women’s Poles

A great, lightweight, adjustable, folding set of poles. Michole uses these poles and loves them. In fact, she wrote a full length review on them. If you would like more info on these poles, you can read it here.


 Osprey Stratos 36

This is a great daypack, and will likely serve you on overnight trips, depending on how lightweight and compact your gear is. It features Osprey’s “Anti Gravity” suspension system. This lets more air flow to your back and, more importantly, shifts the weight of the pack from your shoulders and back to your hips. I love the “Anti Gravity” suspension so much, it’s hard for me to imagine ever buying a pack without it. I wrote a full review for this pack, you can find it here.


 Osprey Manta AG 28

A great women’s daypack, the Manta is a dedicated hydration pack that comes with a 2.5 litre reservoir. This has been an extremely solid day pack. Like the Stratos, it features Osprey’s patented “Anti Gravity” suspension. The external mesh storage compartment, as well as several divided compartments with easy access make this a great pack for storing snacks, gloves, hats, or anything else you might want on the go.

2011 Tuscaloosa Tornado

2011 Tuscaloosa Tornado

Greenwoods Uncharted is about delivering you great content that helps you make decisions, make plans, and take action to get outside. That is the primary focus in our gear reviews and trail guides. But from time to time we also like to share thoughts, stories, and ideas that have molded us into who we are, as well as the same from other people. Our hope is that these stories will entertain, enlighten, and inspire you, as they have us, and those they involve. With that said, here is one such story.

The 2011 Tuscaloosa Tornado

 

Life at UA Before the Tornado

 

My first semester at the University of Alabama was not an easy one. It was probably one of the least mentally healthy periods of my life. I had transferred to UA after Christmas break of my sophomore year, so not only did most students already have well established social circles from their freshman year, a much smaller number of students transfer in the spring than the fall. Therefore, the number of people sharing my situation was almost non-existent. I am usually something of a social butterfly, drifting easily from one group to the next, without really belonging to any, but I transferred to UA about two months after one of my closest friends had been killed in a car crash. So I was dealing with a lot of depression that kept me from getting out and meeting people the way I normally would. This only compounded the fact that I was removed from all of the people who were also mourning the loss of my friend.

April 27, 2011

 

The Lead-Up to Disaster

 

All in all though, I did have a number of great experiences that semester, and by the end I was on track to breeze through finals and maintain my 4.0 G.P.A. (which I obsessed over constantly in those days), then go home for the summer, and come back fresh in the fall. I was studying for those finals in a Barnes and Noble bookstore (I love bookstores, who doesn’t?) when my mom called me having something close to a panic attack. There was a “super tornado” heading straight for Tuscaloosa (UA is located in Tuscaloosa). I laughed it off and assured her that it would be fine. “Why bother going home? It’s no more likely to hit the bookstore than my apartment.” My flippant attitude towards tornadoes came from their frequency in the region where I grew up. In Northeast Alabama, if you stayed in during every tornado outbreak, you would never leave your house! Tornadoes, while intensely powerful, tend to be very concentrated. It always seemed that the likelihood of one actually killing me was not even worth considering.

 

Several other people in the bookstore were more worried, having loved ones call them, and watching news updates on nooks (Barnes and Noble version of Kindle). I brushed these people off as I had my mother, assuring them that it would all be fine, and informing them that my biggest concern was whether or not I had time to go to the Chipotle and Starbucks at the other end of the shopping center, and get back before the rain started coming down. Luckily, I decided I didn’t.

 

Shortly thereafter, the Barnes and Noble staff informed us that while they could not technically forbid us from leaving, we were all strongly encouraged to stay in the safety of the building. We were on target to take a direct hit from the tornado. I accepted this with a bit of annoyance and indignation, but I really didn’t have any plans to leave anyway. At about that time, two things happened simultaneously. My mother called again, this time sounding as though she were in tears, as she told me that she was watching the tornado live on television, being broadcast from a weather tower. It had grown to a mile and a half wide, bearing down on downtown Tuscaloosa: right at me. At about the same time, someone had pulled up the same live feed on one of the Nooks, and we could see the tornado, a few miles away, coming straight for us.

 

By now, a store manager had instructed everyone to go immediately to the back of the store: a storage room with concrete floors. I assured my mom that everything would be fine and that I would call her soon to let her know that everything was okay. At some point around then though, I realized that everything was definitely not going to be okay. We could see the tornado, a mile and a half wide, getting closer and closer. There was no way it could miss us, and everything it touched was just…gone. Some of the girls who worked in the store were crying. I think one lady had a baby with her. And in that moment I completely accepted the fact that I was about to die. It’s a difficult emotion to explain, because I didn’t think that I was going to die. I knew that I was going to die. It was the only logical ending to what was happening.  There were some wooden tables with folding legs stacked up in the room, and I suggested to an older gentleman that we set them up for people to get under. (I’m not sure why, but he is the only person from the store that I have any real memory of. The girls crying, a woman and her children, the store manager, they are all shapeless figures to me now, but I feel somehow connected to that man.) We set up the tables, but there wasn’t room for everyone, and I made no attempt to get under one myself. I knew what would happen when the tornado hit, so there didn’t seem like much point. Again, it’s difficult to explain, but I didn’t feel any fear. I’ve since come to believe that fear of death is really fear of the uncertainty of death. “Will this kill me? Could I die in this situation?” But with all the guesswork removed, the prospect of death really held no fear. It was a Zen like state of complete peace. In fact, in some of my darker moments in the following years, I would wish that I had died in that moment, because I didn’t believe that I would ever be in such a peaceful state again.

Disaster Strikes

 

We continued watching the storm approach on the Nook, until it hit the weather tower recording the stream and the stream went dark. I think the tower was about a mile away. A few seconds afterwards the power went out and, the room having no windows, we were thrown into complete darkness. The end had come, the only regret I had was that I had tried to send a text to my little sister telling her that I loved her, but the cell towers were already down, so the message didn’t go through. It was painful for me to think that she might never know that I had been thinking of her in my last seconds on earth, but I consoled myself with the belief that when my body was found, the failed message would be on my phone. I don’t think I really believed it though.

 

The noise built, I could feel a tremendous pressure in my ears like being deep underwater. I remember this sensation much more than the freight train noise so often associated with tornadoes. We huddled in the dark and waited to die. And then…nothing….

 

The noise faded, the pressure in my ears subsided. We sat there, not really knowing what had just happened. It’s hard to say how long we waited, but we felt our way out of the dark room, and made our way to the front of the store. I’m sure I speak for most of those who lived through this tornado and similar natural disasters when I say I was completely unprepared for what I found.

The Aftermath

 

The Search for Safety

 

Directly across the street from our building, the University Mall had received some damage, but was largely intact. To our left however, was a barren landscape that had been filled with businesses and other buildings only moments before. Now, all was flat, traces of buildings almost completely removed, with little remaining besides the concrete slabs that they had been on. The air was thick with particles from the debris; particularly bothersome was the insulation from all the buildings torn apart by the storm. I was sick for weeks after from breathing it in.

 

I managed to find one person with a cell phone that worked, and called my mother who was completely beside herself at this point, assuring her that I was fine. But relief turned to dread when she informed me that there were multiple other tornadoes from the outbreak, also heading straight for us. Naturally, we intended to go back inside the building, but the people working in the Barnes and Noble informed us that they had been instructed not to let anyone enter, and literally locked the doors on all of the people who had so recently weathered the storm inside the building, including one family carrying a baby. The city was in shambles. Roads seemed to be blocked in every direction, so leaving the strip mall wasn’t an option. Instead, we continued down the strip mall, passing several injured people, including a man who had taken shelter in Starbucks, and then received severe lacerations when the glass storefront had imploded on him. I was glad I had opted out of my Chipotle and Starbucks run.

 

Eventually, we found ourselves at a mostly intact Panera Bread. The employees there were as astounded as we had been that Barnes and Noble had shut its doors to us. They welcomed us in, and I even ran into a friend who had weathered the storm there with her roommate. But we were soon turned out again. This time because it was discovered that the gas lines to the block of buildings we were in had been damaged in the storm, and were leaking into our building at that very moment.

Humanity in the Face of Disaster

 

The sky still looked extremely threatening, and we didn’t know if we would be able to get anywhere, due to the debris blocking the roads, but we decided to make a run for my apartment (I still didn’t know how the apartments or my roommates had fared, as cell service was still jammed). It was difficult, and we had to turn around multiple times. The usual routes were blocked by trees, telephone poles, and other debris. On the trip home, a moment occurred that will stay with me until my dying day. I saw a man, almost completely covered in blood, walking a large, shaggy dog down the side of the road. I offered him a ride, and he asked me to take him as close as I could get him to the interstate (the exit was nearby). I did, and he thanked me with a gratitude that only those in the most dire of straits will ever know. He told me that his house had been destroyed, and that he and his dog had crawled out from under the wreckage. Someone was supposed to pick them up at the interstate. I dropped them off at the exit, and I have always wondered what became of the man and his dog.

The Dark Night

 

We eventually made it back to my apartment, as dark was coming on. The air here was filled with the smell of gas, as numerous gas stations had been destroyed, pumps ripped from the ground. Fortunately my apartment was still standing, and all of my roommates were fine, though the apartment received enough damage that it would be condemned and rebuilt afterwards. At this point, I think the reality of the situation began to set in. With the city in complete darkness, there was looting and people roaming the streets, appearing to have less than good intentions.

 

Stranded in a dark apartment with no windows, one of my roommates and I decided we wanted no part of the city that night, and decided to leave, though we were cautioned by all we talked to on the phone (at some point cell service had been restored) not to, as more tornados were ravaging the entire two hour stretch of interstate between Tuscaloosa and home. We didn’t really care at that point, we just wanted, needed out. It didn’t take long after setting out for us to realize that the roads were blocked, and in the darkness we had no hope of getting home. While in the car, we had seen huge shapes on the side of the road, but hadn’t been able to make them out. I ended up making it to the house of the friend I had been in Panera with, which was in a part of town that hadn’t been hit nearly as hard, and even still had power! I had a bowl of Campbell’s soup for dinner that night, and it was a meal I will never forget. Only a few hours before, I had thought that I would never have another.

April 28, 2011

The Faces of Destruction

 

The next morning I woke determined to get out of Tuscaloosa and make my way home, however dangerous or long the journey. But before I could get a start on the trip, I received a call from my roommate who had tried to leave with me the night before. He had left his own keys in my car, and would not be able to leave himself without them. So I set out on my trip home, but added a small detour to return his keys. More than the certain death of the tornado itself, or the fear of the darkness in the night that followed, which are both foggy and something of a blur in my memory, what I experienced in the next few hours are the images of the ordeal that I recall vividly whenever I think of the tornado.

 

More roads were blocked than there had been the night before, and I could only get about a mile and a half away from my apartment. The mile and a half I had to walk was through a very rough section of town, that had been hit hard itself by the tornado. I parked in front of a bar and told an old man what I was doing, asking him to watch my truck while I was gone. He looked at me as if I were crazy and shook his head, but said he would watch my car until I made it back. I’m honestly not sure he expected me to.

 

The walk to my apartment showed the real face of devastation, people with homes gone, some looting, others doing anything they could to help a neighbor in need. It seemed to bring out the very best or the very worst in people. There was a bit of uncertainty, and even fear on the walk, but eventually I came to McFarland, the road my apartment was on, a street of 5 lanes, usually busy with traffic. This is the image seared into my mind:

 

The road was completely blocked off to auto traffic, and instead was jammed with people, walking towards the interstate, carrying whatever they could. Many had televisions or babies on their shoulders. The only thing I can liken it to is the television image of Katrina survivors, making a mass exodus from their city on foot, via the interstate.

 

I eventually found my roommate, gave him his keys, wished him the best, and made my way back to my vehicle.

Leaving the City

 

Again, the attempt to leave was difficult, with roads blocked, often by debris and other times by foot traffic, leaving any road accessible by vehicles completely gridlocked, so that it took me a couple of hours to leave the city, rather than the 10 minutes or so it normally would.  On the trip out I was able to clearly see the huge shapes on the side of the road that I hadn’t been able to make out the night before: railroad cars from the station thrown miles from the tracks and crumpled like tin cans: a testament to nature’s power, and a reminder how lucky I was to be alive. (Though I still didn’t know just how lucky.)

 

Once I finally made it out of Tuscaloosa, I stopped at a Chipotle and a Starbucks on my way home, somehow, I needed the meal that I so nearly went for the night before, and that might have gotten me killed if I had.

The Days After

 

Once home, I was faced with a great deal of devastation in the more rural areas of my own hometown, though the more densely populated parts were mercifully spared. I later learned that a piece of the Krispy Kreme from Tuscaloosa (located just across the road from where I had weathered the storm) had been found in my hometown of Anniston, a two-hour drive away.

 

It took me a couple of weeks to feel like I was really alive again. In the meantime, it felt as if I were watching life from the third person, merely a spectator, only half interested in the drama unfolding before me. I think that the complete acceptance and peace with imminent death had really made me let go of my own life in a way that it took some time for me to get past, and come to terms with the realization that I was in fact alive, and that life would in fact go on.

 

Some time afterward, a video of the storm was posted on YouTube, shot from the University Mall parking lot, across the road from Barnes and Noble. The video shows the Barnes and Noble, and strip mall it was located in, as the tornado approaches, a mile and a half wide, heading straight for it, and suddenly takes a random turn, only about 75 yards away, missing the building we were in. Nothing in its path survived, it was only by this fluke of nature that those of us huddled in that backroom survived.

Reflections

 

In the immediate aftermath, and the years that followed, I have never been able to decide exactly how I should feel about the entire ordeal. It was a traumatic experience that took a few weeks or months for me to move past, though I know others who lost far more, and were far more deeply affected. But now it’s nothing but a memory, a story to tell around a campfire. I think the thing that I will take away from it most was its effect on humanity. The connection I will always feel to the man in the back room of Barnes and Noble, the man and his dog who rode with me, the girl who offered me a safe place to spend the night, the people taking, and the people giving the next day.

 

It is a reminder to live each day to its fullest. And a reminder that love and kindness are best in this world. That we should help people, even when it seems like there is no reward to, and no consequences for harming them. It reminds me of a movie quote:

 

“Everybody’s acting like we can do anything and it don’t matter what we do. Maybe we gotta’ be extra careful because maybe it matters more than we even know.” (Casualties of War)

If you enjoyed this post, head over and check out Logan’s Story to read about more of the experiences that shaped me into who I am.

Cucamonga Peak Via Icehouse Canyon

Cucamonga Peak Via Icehouse Canyon

,

Distance

12 miles

 

&

Elevation

4,300 feet

 

f

Difficulty

Strenuous

 

Time

5-7 hours

Cucamonga Peak Via Icehouse Canyon Trail Guide

 

Logan here with your third and final trail guide for the Icehouse Canyon trailhead! It occurs to me that I released these posts a bit backwards. Being the only loop, there are far more directions to give for the Three T’s hike. Meanwhile, the Bighorn/Ontario hike involves two peaks and disappears amidst scree and shrubs on a few occasions. By way of contrast, the Cucamonga Peak hike is only 12 miles. It is also by far the most popular of the three, and thus the trail is far more worn in and easy to follow. Don’t let these factors fool you into thinking it will be an easy day though! With roughly the same amount of climbing in a shorter distance than the other two, this hike is no walk in the park. In the end though, you are rewarded with a beautiful view of Los Angeles and the surrounding San Gabriels!

Trailhead to Icehouse Saddle

 

If you have read the other Icehouse Canyon trail guides, then you are probably already familiar with the beautiful Icehouse Canyon trail, so feel free to skip on to the next section.

 

From the trailhead, it is about 3.5 miles to Icehouse Saddle. Be warned, this is an extremely popular section of trail, being used by everyone heading to any of the peaks, and many people just going to the saddle and back. These first three miles are not a particularly easy start, gaining about 2,600 feet of elevation. Just shy of one mile in, a trail will diverge to the left. This is the Chapman trail, and it will link back up with the Icehouse Canyon trail just shy of the saddle, adding about 1.7 miles to the hike, but making the climb a bit more gradual. Stay on Icehouse Canyon trail for roughly 2.5 more miles (My GPS and the trail signs don’t exactly match up). These 2.5 miles will get more scenic, and progressively steeper as they go. Don’t forget to stop and turn around from time to time, particularly in the many switchbacks, as the views down the canyon are some of the best of the entire hike.

Michole Suffering on the Climb to the Saddle.

Icehouse Saddle makes a great place to stop and have a snack, or lunch depending on the time of day. Be warned though, saddles are often the windiest part of a mountain, and this one is no exception. If it is a windy day, it might be worth stopping a few hundred yards shy of the saddle and resting or refueling there, before continuing on. This would also make a great place to turn around, if you are not up for the miles and elevation that follows, and would make for a terrific short hike.

Icehouse Saddle to Summit

 

From Icehouse Saddle, simply follow the Cucamonga Peak sign. It is the middle of the three. Only a few dozen yards after leaving the saddle, a trail will Y off to the left. Stay right, and head for the summit! From here, the 2.4 mile trek from Icehouse Saddle to Cucamonga Peak doesn’t require much in the way of turn by turn directions. Unlike the other hikes out of Icehouse Canyon, this one receives more than enough traffic to keep the trail clearly visible. Don’t think the hard part is over though! Those remaining 2.4 miles will cover about 1,000 feet of elevation, so get ready for a climb!

The View Looking Back.

About 2 miles after leaving the saddle, keep your eyes peeled for an abandoned mine shaft on your right, or as Michole likes to imagine: a bear cave on your right. Following this is another saddle, which like the saddles of the Three T’s trail, is truly a standout point on the hike. Just before the summit, the trail will Y again. This is the one tricky part of the hike, as a sign post should be there. Unfortunately, the sign is often missing. So be on the lookout for the Y, and possibly a signpost and or sign. Then stay to the right for one final push; the summit is only a stone’s throw away!

Loose Footing after the Second Saddle, Before the Final Climb.

Cucamonga Peak!

 

And then you are at the summit! Great views of L.A. and a few of Southern California’s best peaks are your reward for your burning lungs and legs. On the Summit you will find a few backcountry camping sites, beautiful views, and several rocks to stand on while taking in the view, helping you feel like a real deal mountain climber!

Logan on the Summit.

Michole on the Summit.

The Summit View towards Orange County with the Saddleback Mountains in the Distance.

So this is more or less it for our Icehouse Canyon trail guides. Hopefully this summer I will be back with a report of the Three T’s plus Mount Baldy and, possibly, Mount Hardwood, for a four or five summit hike!

We hope you have enjoyed this little trilogy of guides, and that they inspired you to get out and see some amazing scenery for yourself! Drop us a comment and let us know what you think, and about your own plans and experiences In the Icehouse Canyon area! And if you missed them, check out our other Icehouse Canyon trail guides for Ontario/Bighorn Peak, and the Three T’s trail.

Icehouse Canyon Trailhead Parking:

Ice House Canyon Trailhead, Mt Baldy, CA 91759

Icehouse Canyon Trailhead Parking Lot

Gear We Used on This Trail


 Men’s Salomon Quest 4D 2 GTX

Like the Altras, these boots have an exceptionally wide toe box. As someone with wide feet, this is an absolute must for me. The give me plenty of room in the tow, but the awesome lace locker keeps my foot secure so I don’t bang my toe when kicking steps in crampons. The “4D chassis” keeps my foot from twisting even over the most rocky terrain, and the gore tex lining has kept my feet dry after a full day in the snow without gaiters.


 Salomon Women’s Quest 4D 2 GTX

These are the exact same boot as the men’s, but in a different range of colors.


 Men’s Leki Micro Vario Ti Cor-Tec

Another pair of lightweight, adjustable, folding poles. I use these and feel that they are the perfect pole for me. I am confident that if/when these poles are retired, I will replace them with another  pair of the same. If you would like to read my full review of these poles, you can find it here.


 Black Diamond Distance FLZ Women’s Poles

A great, lightweight, adjustable, folding set of poles. Michole uses these poles and loves them. In fact, she wrote a full length review on them. If you would like more info on these poles, you can read it here.


 Osprey Stratos 36

This is a great daypack, and will likely serve you on overnight trips, depending on how lightweight and compact your gear is. It features Osprey’s “Anti Gravity” suspension system. This lets more air flow to your back and, more importantly, shifts the weight of the pack from your shoulders and back to your hips. I love the “Anti Gravity” suspension so much, it’s hard for me to imagine ever buying a pack without it. I wrote a full review for this pack, you can find it here.


 Osprey Manta AG 28

A great women’s daypack, the Manta is a dedicated hydration pack that comes with a 2.5 litre reservoir. This has been an extremely solid day pack. Like the Stratos, it features Osprey’s patented “Anti Gravity” suspension. The external mesh storage compartment, as well as several divided compartments with easy access make this a great pack for storing snacks, gloves, hats, or anything else you might want on the go.

Ontario Peak and Bighorn Peak via Icehouse Canyon

Ontario Peak and Bighorn Peak via Icehouse Canyon

Ontario & Bighorn Peak Hike Stats

,

Distance

15.19 miles

 

&

Elevation

4,071 feet

 

f

Difficulty

Strenuous

 

Time

7-8 hours

Hiking to Ontario Peak and Bighorn Peak

 

Logan here! Back again with the second entry in our Icehouse Canyon trailhead series. This guide will take you to Ontario Peak, with the option to tack on Bighorn Peak as well. As you know, if you read my guide for the Three T’s hike, we absolutely love all of the peaks that trail from Icehouse Canyon. They are undoubtedly some of the most beautiful in Southern California. Among those though, Ontario and Telegraph vie for my very favorite. So, without further adieu, here is our guide for a, roughly, 15 mile out and back hike, gaining over 4,000 feet of elevation, and bagging Ontario and Bighorn Peaks along the way.

Trailhead to Icehouse Saddle

 

From the trailhead, it is about 3.5 miles to Icehouse Saddle. Be warned, this is an extremely popular section of trail, being used by everyone heading to any of the peaks, and many people just going to the saddle and back. These first three miles are not a particularly easy start, gaining about 2,600 feet of elevation. Just shy of one mile in, a trail will diverge to the left. This is the Chapman trail, and it will link back up with the Icehouse Canyon trail just shy of the saddle, adding about 1.7 miles to the hike, but making the climb a bit more gradual. Stay on Icehouse Canyon trail for roughly 2.5 more miles (My GPS and the trail signs don’t exactly match up). These 2.5 miles will get more scenic, and progressively steeper as they go. Don’t forget to stop and turn around from time to time, particularly in the many switchbacks, as the views down the canyon are some of the best of the entire hike.

View of the Mountains After the Icehouse Canyon Saddle.

Icehouse Saddle makes a great place to stop and have a snack, or lunch depending on the time of day. Be warned though, saddles are often the windiest part of a mountain, and this one is no exception. If it is a windy day, it might be worth stopping a few hundred yards shy of the saddle and resting or refueling there, before continuing on. This would also make a great place to turn around, if you are not up for the miles and elevation that follows, and would make for a terrific short hike.

Icehouse Saddle to Col

 

From the saddle, you are looking for the trail to your far right. Early on, the trail offers great views back down into Icehouse Canyon. It will then bear back to its left, bringing you to Kelly Camp, about a mile after leaving Icehouse Saddle. Apparently there was once a resort here, but all that remains now are the foundations where cabins must once have stood. You might find a backcountry camper or two, taking advantage of this perfect location to pitch a tent. The trail hugs the left side of the campground, and after only about a quarter mile of steep climbing through switchback after switchback, you find yourself deposited on a col with an amazing view into the valley between Ontario and Bighorn Peaks.

The Clouds Below Us. Looking from the Col Between Ontario Peak and Bighorn Peak.

Logan Above the Clouds Between Ontario Peak and Bighorn Peak.

Col to Bighorn Peak

 

From the col, it is about 1.5 miles to the summit of Bighorn Peak. Follow the ridge until the trail wanders to the left a bit, eventually bearing back right and bringing you to the final climb. The trail all but disappears at the foot of the final climb, which is covered in thick manzanitas and scree. You will finally be deposited on the summit, with a humble pile of boulders as the only summit marker. I have read that there is a trail register somewhere nearby, but we didn’t see it, and the wind whipping over the ridge dissuaded us from spending much time looking. While the view may not be as impressive as Ontario, we did get an up close view of a bighorn sheep here.

Bighorn Sheep on the Way Back From Bighorn Peak.

Closer Image of the Bighorn Sheep.

Col to Ontario Peak

 

Passing back through the junction, continue on straight, following the well-defined path. Be warned, like with Telegraph Peak, there are several false summits along the way. Don’t be fooled into thinking you are closer than you are! Follow the trail through more manzanita and dead trees until around the eight mile mark, where you will find a few more back country camping spots on your left, looking out over the edge of the ridge. Follow the trail as it heads back slightly to the right, away from the ridge, and begins its final ascent. Switchback after switchback will finally deposit you at the summit! Unless of course you are adventurous enough to do it in the snow, in which case you get to skip out on the switchbacks!

A Beautiful Lookout Spot just off the Trail.

The views from Ontario Peak are truly spectacular. Combined with the rocky outcroppings on the summit, it really makes for an alpine feel. Having hiked this trail several times, we have been fortunate enough to do it in some pretty amazing conditions. Our first time on the trail we saw thick clouds rolling up the valley when we first reached the col, and by the time we summited there was a huge sea of clouds surrounding us. It is where we did our first snow hike, and had a near face-to-face meeting with a big horned sheep. There is no doubt in my mind that when we move on from Southern California, this trail will hold several of our fondest memories from our time spent here.

Michole and the Clouds Drifting Higher. View From Ontario Peak.

Our Snack Break on Ontario Peak.

We hope that you find this guide helpful! If you think we left anything out, drop us a line and let us know! Otherwise, please share your plans or experiences on this hike with us! And if you are craving more Icehouse Canyon trailhead adventures, check out our guides for the Three T’s Trail and Cucamonga Peak.

Icehouse Canyon Trailhead Parking:

Ice House Canyon Trailhead, Mt Baldy, CA 91759

Icehouse Canyon Trailhead Parking Lot

Gear We Used on This Trail


 Men’s Salomon Quest 4D 2 GTX

Like the Altras, these boots have an exceptionally wide toe box. As someone with wide feet, this is an absolute must for me. The give me plenty of room in the tow, but the awesome lace locker keeps my foot secure so I don’t bang my toe when kicking steps in crampons. The “4D chassis” keeps my foot from twisting even over the most rocky terrain, and the gore tex lining has kept my feet dry after a full day in the snow without gaiters.


 Salomon Women’s Quest 4D 2 GTX

These are the exact same boot as the men’s, but in a different range of colors.


 Men’s Leki Micro Vario Ti Cor-Tec

Another pair of lightweight, adjustable, folding poles. I use these and feel that they are the perfect pole for me. I am confident that if/when these poles are retired, I will replace them with another  pair of the same. If you would like to read my full review of these poles, you can find it here.


 Black Diamond Distance FLZ Women’s Poles

A great, lightweight, adjustable, folding set of poles. Michole uses these poles and loves them. In fact, she wrote a full length review on them. If you would like more info on these poles, you can read it here.


 Osprey Stratos 36

This is a great daypack, and will likely serve you on overnight trips, depending on how lightweight and compact your gear is. It features Osprey’s “Anti Gravity” suspension system. This lets more air flow to your back and, more importantly, shifts the weight of the pack from your shoulders and back to your hips. I love the “Anti Gravity” suspension so much, it’s hard for me to imagine ever buying a pack without it. I wrote a full review for this pack, you can find it here.


 Osprey Manta AG 28

A great women’s daypack, the Manta is a dedicated hydration pack that comes with a 2.5 litre reservoir. This has been an extremely solid day pack. Like the Stratos, it features Osprey’s patented “Anti Gravity” suspension. The external mesh storage compartment, as well as several divided compartments with easy access make this a great pack for storing snacks, gloves, hats, or anything else you might want on the go.

Three T’s Trail Via Icehouse Canyon

Three T’s Trail Via Icehouse Canyon

,

Distance

14.3 miles

 

&

Elevation

4,617 feet

 

f

Difficulty

Strenuous

 

Time

7-8 hours

Three T’s Trail (Timber Mountain, Telegraph Peak, Thunder Mountain)

 

Virtually everyone in Southern California has heard of Mount Baldy, with its iconic Baldy Bowl and Devil’s Backbone. What many people are unaware of are the numerous other amazing trails to the surrounding peaks which are, in my humble opinion, often more beautiful than Baldy, lacking the title of highest peak in the San Gabriel Range by only a few hundred feet. Where might these trails be, you ask? If you have hiked Baldy from Manker Flats, then you passed the trailhead! The Icehouse Canyon trailhead lies just beyond Baldy Village, and leads to Icehouse Saddle. From the saddle you can reach Cucamonga Peak, Ontario and Bighorn Peaks, and the Three T’s Trail, which includes Timber Mountain, Telegraph Peak, and Thunder Mountain, and from which you can make your way to Baldy notch.

 

This guide is for the Three T’s hike, but all three are wonderful (if a bit strenuous), and I will be adding guides for the other two soon. The Three T’s hike, as laid out here, will be a loop that will take you from Icehouse Canyon to Manker Flats. From Manker Flats it is 2.5 downhill miles back to Icehouse Canyon trailhead. Throughout the guide, I will also give advice for good turnaround options for varying out and back hikes, and the length that each would be.

Trailhead to Icehouse Saddle

 

From the trailhead, it is about 3.5 miles to Icehouse Saddle. Be warned, this is an extremely popular section of trail, being used by everyone heading to any of the peaks, and many people just going to the saddle and back. These first three miles are not a particularly easy start, gaining about 2,600 feet of elevation. Just shy of one mile in, a trail will diverge to the left. This is the Chapman Trail, and it will link back up with the Icehouse Canyon trail just shy of the saddle, adding about 1.7 miles to the hike, but making the climb a bit more gradual. Stay on Icehouse Canyon trail for roughly 2.5 more miles (My GPS and the trail signs don’t exactly match up). These 2.5 miles will get more beautiful, and progressively steeper as they go. Don’t forget to stop and turn around from time to time, particularly in the many switchbacks, as the views down the canyon are some of the best of the entire hike.

One of the Fabulous Views on the Switchbacks of Icehouse Canyon Trail!

Icehouse Saddle makes a great place to stop and have a snack, or lunch depending on the time of day. Be warned though, saddles are often the windiest part of a mountain, and this one is no exception. If it is a windy day, it might be worth stopping a few hundred yards shy of the saddle and resting or refueling there, before continuing on. This would also make a great place to turn around, if you are not up for the miles and elevation that follows, and would make for a terrific short hike.

Icehouse Saddle to Timber Mountain

 

From the saddle, it will be .9 miles to Timber Mountain, 2.9 to Telegraph Peak, 3.9 miles to Thunder Mountain, and 5.4 to Baldy Notch (at least according to the trail sign). Following the sign up the ridge to your left, it is about three fourths of a mile until you reach the sign pointing you up to the summit of Timber Mountain. The trail is well marked, and the summit is just beyond. Full disclosure: if you have never visited it, Timber Mountain is not far enough out of the way to pass up, but I find it easily the least compelling of the peaks that Icehouse Saddle leads to, and we have passed it by on subsequent trips.

Timber Mountain.

Timber Mountain to Telegraph Peak

 

From here, the trail really starts to shine, giving you landscapes and views that make it vie for my favorite of all the Icehouse Canyon trails. You descend a bit, then cross a ridge, with great views in both directions, before starting the hardest climbing of any trail from Icehouse Canyon. Switchback after switchback will eventually lead you to a summit that you can’t actually see until you reach it, so don’t be fooled into thinking it’s almost over by the false summits you pass! As with the hike to the saddle, be sure to take time to stop climbing long enough to enjoy the amazing views on the way up. On this climb, you will encounter a steep, loose slope, covered in small shrubs, where the trail gets a bit hard to follow. If it starts to seem too dangerous, leads you to the edge of a cliff, or the trail seems to have petered out, you most likely missed a switchback. Just backtrack 20 feet or so and look for the trail to continue sharply upwards. Eventually, you will reach a sign reading “Three T’s Trail” pointing onward. This sign stands in for a “Telegraph Peak sign.” Take a right and the trail will lead up, down a bit, and finally climb to the summit of Telegraph Peak.

Beautiful View on the climb to Telegraph Peak.

Telegraph Peak offers an unbelievable 360-degree view, and from it you can see many of the prominent Southern California peaks. If pressed, I would say it vies with Ontario for my favorite Icehouse Canyon Peak. Our first time here was with a storm bearing down on us that made for an otherworldly sight.

Logan on Telegraph Peak with Storm-clouds Rolling in.

Michole on Telegraph Peak with the Baldy Bowl in the Distance.

Full disclosure time again: the inspiring part of the hike has pretty much come and gone at this point. If you are not terribly opposed to doing an out and back, my honest opinion would be that that is probably the way to go. It allows you to repeat the best portions of the hike, this time facing down into the canyons that you had your back towards coming up. If you would like a bit of extra mileage, you could always tack the Chapman Trail onto your return. This would make for a roughly 14.7 mile round trip, or 13 if you skip Chapman Trail and return exactly as you came. We have opted for this more recently.

Telegraph Peak to Thunder Mountain

 

Proceeding on from Telegraph Peak, it is only a mile and a half to Thunder Mountain. You will head down a few switchbacks, cross a final saddle, and finish with a gentle climb to the end of the trail. The trail ends at a fire road. Turn right on this road and make your way up, going right at the fork, to the Ski area, which is the peak of Thunder Mountain, rather anticlimactic after the earlier portions of the hike. You could also use this as a turnaround for an out and back, which would make for a 16-mile hike, assuming you skip Chapman.

Thunder Mountain to Baldy Notch

 

From here, head back down the fire road, hooking almost 180 degrees back to your right at the Y. Go past an extremely steep ski run on your left, sticking to the fire road, which you will soon be able to see wind its way all the way down to Baldy Notch. As the road starts to descend, another ski run will start to diverge to the left. We chose to follow this one for a steeper, shorter path to Baldy Notch. To avoid finishing such a beautiful hike on three obligatory miles of fire road, we plan to repeat the Three T’s in the future, but rather than descend from Baldy Notch, continue to the summit of Baldy via the Devil’s Backbone, and descend to Manker Flats on the Ski Hut Trail, getting the best parts of both the Baldy loop and the Three T’s trail!

Baldy Notch to Manker Flats Parking Lot

 

At Baldy notch, Pass by the ski lifts just on your left, taking the fire road that winds down under them.  (You could also pay to take the ski lifts down, cutting out part of the descent.) Avoid any turn offs on the way down. After around 2.5 miles you will pass the turnoff for Ski Hut Trail on your right. Almost immediately after, the fire road will turn to black top, and bring you to San Antonio Falls. If you have never seen it before, make sure to hop off of the paved road and follow the trail that leads down to it. It can be quite impressive, depending on the time of year.

 

Finally, you are at Manker Flats parking lot! Icehouse Canyon lies two and a half miles below, so you have a few options. 2.5 paved miles is probably not a big deal if you have already come this far, but on the other hand, you have already come this far. We chose to catch a ride with a family heading down the mountain after completing a Baldy loop of Ski Hut Trail and the Devil’s Backbone. They didn’t have any extra seats, so we piled into the back of their Jeep with our packs in our laps. Some people may not be comfortable hitching a ride with strangers, but it definitely made for an adventurous feeling end to the day! If you are planning to do this, Manker Flats is a very popular trailhead, and should be bursting with people willing to give you a ride and listen to a story about your hike, particularly if you are there in good weather or on the weekend. With that said, We have been there with four feet of snow on the ground, on a weekday, and there were still more than a few people coming and going. As a final option, when we return for our super loop of the Three T’s and Baldy, we plan to bring our bicycles, park at Manker Flats, and coast down to Icehouse Canyon. Then we will have a ride at Manker, and can pick our bikes up on the way down.

So there you have it! The Three T’s Trail and several different options for doing it. We hope that you will give this hike, or some section of it, a try. And we hope you enjoy it as much as we did! If you do, or if you are planning on it, drop us a line in the comments and let us know. We can’t wait to hear about your adventure!

Want more trails from Icehouse Canyon? Check out our guides for Ontario and Bighorn Peaks, and Cucamonga Peak!

Icehouse Canyon Trailhead Parking:

Ice House Canyon Trailhead, Mt Baldy, CA 91759

Icehouse Canyon Trailhead Parking Lot

Gear We Used on This Trail


 Men’s Salomon Quest 4D 2 GTX

Like the Altras, these boots have an exceptionally wide toe box. As someone with wide feet, this is an absolute must for me. The give me plenty of room in the tow, but the awesome lace locker keeps my foot secure so I don’t bang my toe when kicking steps in crampons. The “4D chassis” keeps my foot from twisting even over the most rocky terrain, and the gore tex lining has kept my feet dry after a full day in the snow without gaiters.


 Salomon Women’s Quest 4D 2 GTX

These are the exact same boot as the men’s, but in a different range of colors.


 Men’s Leki Micro Vario Ti Cor-Tec

Another pair of lightweight, adjustable, folding poles. I use these and feel that they are the perfect pole for me. I am confident that if/when these poles are retired, I will replace them with another  pair of the same. If you would like to read my full review of these poles, you can find it here.


 Black Diamond Distance FLZ Women’s Poles

A great, lightweight, adjustable, folding set of poles. Michole uses these poles and loves them. In fact, she wrote a full length review on them. If you would like more info on these poles, you can read it here.


 Osprey Stratos 36

This is a great daypack, and will likely serve you on overnight trips, depending on how lightweight and compact your gear is. It features Osprey’s “Anti Gravity” suspension system. This lets more air flow to your back and, more importantly, shifts the weight of the pack from your shoulders and back to your hips. I love the “Anti Gravity” suspension so much, it’s hard for me to imagine ever buying a pack without it. I wrote a full review for this pack, you can find it here.


 Osprey Manta AG 28

A great women’s daypack, the Manta is a dedicated hydration pack that comes with a 2.5 litre reservoir. This has been an extremely solid day pack. Like the Stratos, it features Osprey’s patented “Anti Gravity” suspension. The external mesh storage compartment, as well as several divided compartments with easy access make this a great pack for storing snacks, gloves, hats, or anything else you might want on the go.

Black Diamond Distance FLZ Trekking Poles – Women’s

Black Diamond Distance FLZ Trekking Poles – Women’s

Hi Everyone! This is Michole with my review of the Women’s Black Diamond Distance FLZ Trekking Poles. If you are just trying to decide if you want or need trekking poles, check out Logan’s post To Trekking Pole or Not To Trekking Pole.

 

If you decide that trekking poles are for you, I suggest checking out the Black Diamond Distance FLZ Trekking Poles.

Size and Weight

 

The Distance FLZ Poles are extremely light and very packable. When the poles are collapsed, I can easily hold them in one hand. The women’s poles come in two different lengths, while the men’s poles come in three different lengths. Since the poles are adjustable, each size has a different range of lengths. At 5’6”, I opted for the longer of the two because my standing flat ground length is 115cm.

Women’s

Short:

  • Usable length 95-110cm
  • Collapsed length 34cm
  • Weight per pair 440g (15.52oz)

Long:

  • Usable length is 105-125cm
  • Collapsed length 37cm
  • Weight per pair 455g (16.05oz)
Men’s

Short:

  • Usable length 95-110cm
  • Collapsed length 34cm
  • Weight per pair 440g (15.52oz)

Medium:

  • Usable length 105-125cm
  • Collapsed length 37cm
  • Weight per pair 455g (16.05oz)

Long:

  • Usable length 120-140cm
  • Collapsed length 40cm
  • Weight per pair 470g (16.57oz)

These weights are about as light as you can get for adjustable, aluminum poles. This means that the Distance FLZ Poles are pretty much a best value for price to weight ratio. Since the poles are so light, it is very easy to swing the poles forward with every step. Even after a 16-mile hike, I hardly notice them in my hands. They are also among the most packable trekking poles available.

Both Poles Collapsed and Held in One Hand.

Comfort and Usability

 

The handgrip is made of lightweight EVA foam that is very comfortable. The wrist strap is a little less comfortable but it is very breathable and it wicks away moisture. The straps are also easily adjusted with the Velcro strap on the outside. For now I have left my wrist straps, but it would not be a problem to replace them with a more comfortable pair.

 

The fact that the poles are adjustable is a huge factor for me. This gives me the opportunity to adjust the height depending on the terrain. We typically hike in the mountains, so I love being able to shorten the poles for climbs, and lengthen them on the descents.

Break Down and Assembly

 

I was surprised at how easy the poles are to assemble. To assemble: just hold the grip and the first shaft section, and pull them apart until they snap into place. The snap is the button locking in place. The whole process takes about one second, and is one of the key features in Black Diamond’s Z-Pole Series. To adjust the height, there is a lever towards the top of the poles. Pull back on the lever and slide the poles to the desired length. To break down the poles, simply press the button and slide the first section in. Then, pull apart the other sections. It is as easy as that! The cord that holds the poles together is covered in a flexible tubing that protects the cord when the poles are folded.

Lever and Button on the Poles.

Flexible Tubing Covering the Cord.

Overall

 

The Black Diamond Distance FLZ poles have been a wonderful set of poles for me. They have helped me try to keep up with my type one muscle fiber having husband! But seriously, they have helped me climb steep ascents with terrible footing and helped me keep my balance climbing to and descending from snow-covered peaks.

 

I love the light weight, packability, and adjustability of these poles. The assembly process helps me hit the trails earlier, while the break down process leaves me with little work when I need to stow them. My one and only complaint is the comfort of the wrist straps, and this would not hold me back from purchasing these poles again.

If you want to check out another amazing trekking pole, here is Logan’s review of the Leki Micro Vario Ti Cor-Tec Trekking Poles.

 

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