Friday, June 29, 2012

Mt Whitney Training hike #2: Cucamonga Peak Via Icehouse Canyon

After setting the pace for our Mt. Whitney training on Iron Mountain, the husband and I decided to tackle one of the big Southern California peaks.  For this hike we chose Cucamonga Peak.  This prominent peak towers above Rancho Cucamonga and the sprawling suburbs of Los Angeles.  It tops out at an impressive 8859'.  And might I say, it is an absolutely stunning hike!

Just one view from the top of Cucamonga Peak

Cucamonga Peak is the second hike in what is known as the "So Cal SixPack of Peaks."  The So Cal SixPack is a series of more and more strenuous hikes that go higher in elevation with each peak.  The peaks included in the six pack are as follows:  Mt. Wilson (12.6 miles, 5710'), Cucamonga Peak (11.6 miles, 8859'), Mt. San Antonio (a.k.a. Baldy, 11 miles, 10068'), San Bernardino Peak (15.7 miles, 10649), San Jacinto Peak (11.8 miles, 10834'), and the crowning glory, the tallest peak in So Cal, San Gorgonio (a.k.a. Old Greyback, 17.3 miles, 11503').  Done in sequence, these hikes are an excellent training schedule for any big hike like Whitney or Half-dome.  But they are also great accomplishments in their own right!  We plan to hike all of these peaks before Whitney with the exception of Mt. Wilson.  We skipped that one because it is the lowest, and we aren't sure we have enough weekends for all of them. For more info on the So Cal SixPack,  check out the SoCal SixPack page at  They have great trail descriptions, difficulty ratings, distances, and elevations.  Overall they are one of the best hiking sites I have found.  They are definitely the site I go to most often for my trail info.

Training Hike #2  
Cucamonga Peak via Icehouse Canyon
Peak Height: 8859'
Distance: 11.6 miles round trip
Elevation Gain: 4300'

We completed this hike on Sunday, June 14th.  We left the house at 7am.  We planned to leave at 6am but we were both feeling pretty groggy and it was a struggle just to get out by 7am.  It is 1hr 45 minute drive to get up to Baldy Village from Oceanside.  Our first stop was the ranger station to pick up our wilderness permit and adventure pass (we left our annual pass in the other car.  It was a rough morning).  The minute I got out of the car and inhaled that cool, clean mountain air filled with the scent of pine, I was instantly refreshed. This was our first visit to the Baldy Village area, and it is a great little spot!  You really feel like you have escaped all the hustle and bustle of the city.  And these are some real mountains with huge towering trees and some respectable peaks.  These things can sometimes be hard to come by in So Cal.  I was stoked to get started!

We drove up the road a mile or so and grabbed a spot in the Icehouse Canyon parking lot, gathered our gear and set out at around 9:30am.  We set a leisurely pace as we began to climb up through the canyon.  Icehouse Canyon is absolutely beautiful.  It was the perfect temperature, and the canyon hosts a flowing creek complete with many waterfalls and clear pools, as well as a smattering of little stone cabins and ruins.  Some of the cabins appeared to still be in use.

Cute little waterfall in Icehouse Canyon

With the sound of the creek and the multitude of birds, squirrels, and chipmunks lifting our spirits and propelling us onward, we made good time through the canyon.  It really seemed to fly by in such a gorgeous setting.  We followed all trail junction signs up to Icehouse Saddle by the shortest route.  At one junction there is a slightly longer, but gentler trail option called the Chapman Trail, but we opted for the shorter, steeper route.  Once you climb out of the canyon there are some switchbacks that lead up the mountainside.  The views start to become more grand.  

Climbing out of the canyon on the switchbacks

Once we finished the switchbacks, which are pretty strenuous, we arrived at Icehouse Saddle.  This is a junction of three major trails.  The 3 T's trail branches off to the left, the Ontario Trail branches right, and straight ahead is the Cucamonga Peak trail.  For many hikers in Icehouse Canyon, this is their destination.  But after a quick lunch of PB&J (that I dropped in the dirt, much to my dismay), and some trail mix, we continued up the Cucamonga Peak trail to the summit.

Erik checking out the map at Icehouse Saddle

The saddle is more than halfway to the peak, but we had a long drive home so it was time to get moving!  As we left the saddle the trail quickly became looser and less maintained.  We got to cross some impressive talus slopes and the views were quite spectacular.  We kept moving as the trail became increasingly strenuous.  There is one final push up a steep slope to the peak.  We made it!

Basking in victory at the summit!

At the top we got to relax for a bit and have a snack.  My legs were toast!  But it was worth every step.  The views on the summit were amazing.  The peak is really prominent and plunges directly down into the Inland Empire.  And in the other direction you get a stunning view of the San Gabriel Mountains.

Erik enjoying a snack at the summit

Luckily the hike down is pretty gradual in most spots so it wasn't too brutal.  Plus on the way down there was a little more time for photography!  We booked it down the trail stopping for pictures here and there.

Crossing a talus slope on our jaunt back to the trailhead

The afternoon light in Icehouse Canyon is perfect for pictures.  On our way back down into the canyon we stopped at Columbine Spring, which flows directly under the trail, to splash some cool, refreshing water on our face.  The waterfalls in the canyon were gorgeous, so we dipped our heads in a few of them as well.  

An inviting pool in Icehouse Canyon, but the water is cold!

The cabins in the canyon are quite adorable, so of course I had to pose with one.  I wouldn't mind having a cabin like this of my own someday!

This is my future summer home

We got back to the car around 5:00pm with plenty of daylight left.  It was a fantastic hike, and a gorgeous day.  I definitely plan to do some of the other hikes from Icehouse Canyon in the future.  I can honestly say this was one of my favorite So Cal hikes to date.  It would also make a great backpacking trip!  I can't wait to go back to the area to tackle more of the peaks.  

Till next time, keep living life to the fullest and hike on!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Mt. Whitney training: Iron Mountain

Anyone remember my post about goals?  No?  Well, here is a little refresher.  Sometime around the new year I mentioned that I had some new years resolutions.  Some of these goals were easier than others (I did pretty darn well eating paleo for 6 months!).  Some have yet to be accomplished.  But that is a story for another time.

I only bring this up because the dear husband and I have set our sites on a much loftier goal for the both of us!  We have decided to climb Mt. Whitney for our one year wedding anniversary!

View of Mt. Whitney from the Whitney Webcam.  We'll be way up there!

Mt. Whitney is the highest peak in the United States outside of Alaska and tops out at 14,505' above sea level.  This mountain is in the California Sierra Nevada range.  We will be attempting the climb over two days via the main Mt. Whitney Trail.  The total distance is 22 miles round trip with over 6100' of elevation gain.  Our anniversary is July 30th, and we have planned our summit attempt for the second weekend in August.  As we came to this decision just a week or so ago, we did not have the opportunity to enter the permit lottery for the mountain.  Our plan is to show up and try to snag a walk-in permit from a cancellation.  Cross your fingers for us!  It is going to be a tough one, but we have already started our training!

We are not complete strangers to high elevation hiking.  Both Erik and I have spent a fair amount of time at elevation.  We both lived in Tahoe City, CA and in Boulder, CO for years above 5000'.  I have hiked many miles above 10,000' and we summited San Jacinto last year (10,834').  We attempted to summit Longs Peak in Colorado (16 miles roundtrip, 14,259') but due to a very late start (try 10am when you are supposed to start before dawn...oops.) only made it to the keyhole (13,150').

Sitting on the top of San Jacinto Peak!

This is all well and good, but alas, living at sea level has made us soft!  We decided need to do some training hikes leading up to the big summit attempt.  We have decided to start fairly small and build up to longer and higher hikes every weekend.

Training Hike:
Iron Mountain, Poway, CA
6.63 miles round trip, 1000' elevation gain (plus side trip to the iron mine)

Our goal: Iron Mountain

We completed this hike on Sunday, June 17th.  The Iron Mountain trail is extremely well developed and easy to follow.  It was quite hot out on Sunday but the trail was still pretty busy.  We were sweating up most of the trail, but got a good rhythm going a mile or so in from the trailhead.  It was 91 degrees at the summit but it felt a lot hotter walking up the trail with no shade.  We completed this hike pretty handily despite the heat, so it was a good hike to judge our current fitness level.  There are a few picnic tables at the top to stop for lunch, and the view is gorgeous.

   Great view of north San Diego County from the top

On the way back down the trail we took the short but strenuous detour to the old iron mine.  This trail is very primitive and overgrown in spots, and was difficult to find.  It slogs straight up the hillside about a mile from the main trailhead.  The reward at the top is a small pit where people used to mine for iron ore (hence "Iron Mountain").  There were still chunks of the heavy, dark iron ore lying around the pit.  We tested a few of them with a magnet to confirm the identity.  I grabbed a nice, heavy chunk to use as a book end and lugged it back to the car.  Collecting iron at Iron Mountain?  Totally worth it.  We finished our hike with a BBQ bacon cheeseburger, fries and a shake at The Habit in Carmel Mountain.  Overall an awesome day!

More training hikes to come.  Stay tuned! :)