A Non-Hiker’s Reflections on Half Dome

By Darren

I’ll admit it: Hiking isn’t my thing.

Oh, I don’t dislike hiking. I just think there’s a clear winner between getting up at 4 in the morning on a perfectly good Saturday to scale the side of a mountain, returning filthy and sore, and spending the day off enjoying eggs benedict and bottomless mimosas on a sun-drenched patio.

Having put that out there, I will confess to a certain degree of envy when Heather returns from a solo hike and shows me photos she’s taken of big horn sheep or selfies of her standing on a rock ledge high above the clouds. California is a beautiful state, and I don’t want to look back on my time here and realize I missed much of it due to my own laziness.

So I’ve been joining Heather on more hikes, in part, because I shared her goal of summiting Half Dome. These types of feats mean more to Heather than they do me, but I do love Yosemite National Park and I looked forward to the idea of one day pointing at Half Dome and saying, “Yeah. I was on the top of that thing.”

Anticipation was keeping me waiting

Heather’s done a fine job of describing the Half Dome hike, so I won’t take up space here giving a blow-by-blow account. Instead, I’ll simply provide my non-hiker’s take on hiking Half Dome.

Given my apathy, I was surprised that I seemed more excited about the hike the night before than Heather did. As we filled our water bottles and stuffed our backpack pouches with granola bars and beef jerky to snack on along the trail, I kept asking, “Are you excited?”

“I don’t know,” Heather would reply. “I don’t think I’m feeling it yet.”

I slept little that night; in fact, I spent the last two hours before our alarm went off thinking, “Ring! Ring!

Heather usually wants to know every little detail of whatever we’re doing before we do it. In the weeks leading up to the hike, Heather boned up on Half Dome books, blogs, articles and YouTube clips and more or less had the hike memorized before we started out.

Me, I don’t want to know how may switchbacks I have ahead of me or what the toughest parts of a hike are going to be in advance because then I’ll talk myself out of going all together. In my case, ignorance is definitely bliss.

For instance, I was happy not to learn of the Mist Trail’s 700 steps until we started climbing them. Or the however many steps there were between Vernal and Nevada Falls. Or the black bear and coyote and rattlesnakes we were sharing the trail with. All pleasant surprises, as far as I was concerned.

Ain’t no mountain high enough?

Once inside Little Yosemite Valley, we had a clear view of Half Dome’s backside and Subdome jutting out like a giant boil to the right. And I think that’s where things started going wrong for me. The peaks of most of the hikes I’ve been on have been obscured by trees, rocks and even other mountains along the way. For that reason, the psych out factor has always been low because I haven’t been able to see how much farther I have to go or been able to anticipate how hard it might be to reach the top.

But Half Dome’s massive, distinctive peak is visible throughout most of Yosemite, its smooth, naked face taunting you with its lack of discernible routes to or from the top.


“Look at that!” Heather would say. “We’re going to be up there soon.”

“Yeah…” I’d say back. Then, a little more quietly, “I’m just not seeing how…”

I was hanging in there just fine until I saw the base of Subdome and the way the side of the formation seemed to rise up as flat and straight as the side of building. Would we need ropes and picks to get up there?

“Um. I really don’t think I can do that,” I confessed during a brief pause.

Heather assured me that I could do Subdome, that it wasn’t as intimidating as it looked. And she was right. Although parts of the ascent were made up of smooth slabs of granite pitched at steep angles that were a little difficult to navigate with 20 pounds of weight strapped to my back, the majority of the climb consisted of steps carved into the rock. Easy.

With Subdome vanquished, I turned with renewed confidence to Half Dome’s last hurdle to the top: the cables.

The cables

Well, “renewed confidence” is probably a stretch. Let’s go with “not as much bowel emptying trepidation as before.”

I’d seen a lot of photos of climbers using the cables, and while most of these pictures don’t make the cables look easy per se, they look manageable. This photo from Mr. Half Dome’s blog is pretty representative of what I’d been seeing:


Photo courtesy of hikehalfdome.com.

People all smiles, whooping it up, having the time of their lives while maneuvering a pleasant little grade. “Whee! The cables on Half Dome are fun!” I mean, look at this girl:


Photo courtesy of hikehalfdome.com.

I’ve since learned that these photos were strategically taken or cropped in such a way as to minimize just how steep the climb is. This screen grab from a video on kidofallkids’ YouTube channel shows the reality. The cables are less of a gently angled walkway and have more in common with a ladder rising 400 feet straight up into the sky.


Photo courtesy of kidofallkids.

Still, I was undaunted and, after putting on a pair of rubberized gloves, I grabbed the first strand of braided metal and started pulling myself up.

Half Dome, full failure

I’ll preface the remainder of this by saying that I realize that countless people have gotten themselves to the top of Half Dome thanks to the cables. It is perfectly doable. In fact, of the three or four dozen people up there with us that morning, only one person couldn’t hack it.

And that’d be me.

I don’t think I was fully prepared for just how much strength it was going to require to hoist myself up the wall. My legs were virtually useless in terms of propelling myself up; they functioned more to brace myself against the 45-dgree angle. Instead, I had to rely almost exclusively on my arms, back and chest to literally pull myself upward. And just as those muscle groups failed me during every chin up, pull up and rope climb I’ve attempted, they failed me on Half Dome.

I would rest at every two-by-four plank along the route, but as I did so, I felt weaker and weaker. There have been plenty of times during my hikes with Heather when I’ve been fully aware of how hard they can be. Many times I’ve simply willed myself to put one foot in front of the other, to ignore every part of me that’s begging to stop and rest.

The cables at Half Dome, though… That was the first outdoors experience in which I found myself thinking, “You could die doing this, you know.” As I stood there clinging to the cable, feeling the wind whipping through me and my pack encouraging me to lean backward, I knew that one foot slip or one sloppy grip of the cable would send me straight down with very little in the way to stop me. That thought spooked me and tempting fate for a few photos and video suddenly didn’t feel worth it anymore.

The bottom feels so much better than the top!

I debated soldiering on, but my legs and my arms were practically vibrating from the strain I was putting on them. Two-thirds of the way up, I knew that not only did I not care about getting to the top, I wanted off and I wanted off fast.

But how to go about it? I thought I’d try simply going in reverse the way I had come up. But when my foot slipped on my first downward step, I quickly turned around and sat down on the rock face to think things through. The backpack seemed to be playing a large role in my underperforming that day, and for a brief moment, I debated removing it and letting it slide down the side of the mountain. With people approaching from in front and behind, I switched tactics and started down facing away from the rock with a full view of my surroundings. I crouched to center my gravity, locked my arms at the elbow and put most of my full weight on the cables like parallel bars. I let the cables slide through my hands and I took baby steps from one two-by-four to the next. Within 10 minutes, I was back at the cables’ base.

Exhausted, I sat and guzzled water. My relief at being done with the cables eventually gave way to the realization that I had come within feet of standing on the top of Half Dome. A feeling of crushing defeat washed over me.

Later, when she came back down the cables, Heather told me not to feel bad, that there wasn’t any shame in recognizing that I had reached my limit. “You can always come back and try again!” she consoled.

I appreciated her trying to make me feel better. But I think we should stick to what we do best: Next time, Heather can do Half Dome. I’ll do brunch.

The author and cables.

The author just before attempting the cables.

Hiking Half Dome via the Mist Trail and John Muir Trail

half dome yosemite valleyBy Heather

Well, Half Dome in no way disappointed. It exceeded all of my expectations. It was hard, it was full of adventure, it was a little scaryfun at the end and I will never forget the experience. And oh, yes. This is something I want to do again and again and again!

Picking up the permit

We picked up our permits at the Wilderness Center in Yosemite Village a couple of days before the hike.

If you have a wilderness permit along with the Half Dome permit, you’ll pay the $8 per person fee when you pick them up.

The permit is a single pass the trip leader holds (me, in this case), so your group needs to stay together at least for the ascent and the descent of Half Dome and Subdome, a smaller dome just before the main event. You should bring your ID, since a ranger is almost sure to check your pass and may want to see your ID (our pass was checked, but not my ID).

As trip leader, you are also responsible for the behavior of your group, so make sure you’re not traveling with any “wilderness artists” or jerks in general.

When you pick up your permit, a ranger will go over the details and rules governing proper wilderness behavior. You sign, they sign and you’re on your way.

half dome covered in clouds

While Half Dome looked cool covered in clouds, this isn’t what I wanted to see the night before the hike.

Come on, rain

Our story begins a week before we started. Rain was in the forecast. Thunderstorms, in fact. Frustratingly, the forecast kept changing: first, thunderstorms on Sunday only. Then Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Then rain Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday (ascent day).

mac and cheese carb loading half dome

Mmmm, carbs!

I kept myself together pretty well, though I wanted to fall apart a couple of times. Wouldn’t you after planning something for more than a year just to have it go to hell because a state that is in an epic drought happens to get rain during the exact week you’ve been planning for? My inner five-year-old was squawking, “This isn’t fair!

But I just hoped for the best and prepared for the worst, and we formed a Plan B: We’d hike to the base of the Subdome, and if the weather was miserable, we’d turn back.

We did everything as planned: We ate a big carby meal of mac and cheese with bacon, then we started packing up and organizing our gear around 6 and we were snuggled in our bed by 8.

Long story short, the weather worked out perfectly. It rained all day Wednesday, but when we woke Thursday morning, it was clear and starry. We had sunny, blue skies the entire hike.

But by the time we returned to camp after the hike? It was pouring.

Starting the hike

What the mileage marker looks like at 3:30 a.m. illuminated by headlamps.

What the mileage marker looks like illuminated by headlamps at 3:30 a.m.

We rose at 2:30 a.m. with the goal of leaving no later than 3:20 a.m. to be in the Curry Village parking lot by 3:30 a.m. We had Ahwhanee reservations at 2 p.m. and it sounds ridiculous, but we really, really wanted to celebrate this one. And not with Curry Village pizza.

About the parking situation: The unfortunate thing is that you cannot park at the trailhead (unless you’re disabled, but then I don’t think you’d be doing this hike anyway, although if you are I’m very impressed with you), and the parking is at Curry Village a mile away. Yeah, it sucks.

In advance of the hike, I photocopied the trail pages of “One Best Hike: Climbing Yosemite’s Half Dome.” They were incredibly helpful from beginning to end, and I cannot recommend this book enough in general. The tips were spot on. Author Rick Deutsch breaks the hike into 16 sections, and as we ticked them off, it really felt like we were making progress. Just get the book and do what the man says.

We did the route he suggests, which is up via the Mist Trail and down via the John Muir Trail (JMT). I completely agree with him. No way would I go down the Mist Trail, especially not in the middle of the day. The stone steps were steep and slippery and would require twice as much time to carefully navigate on the way down and we’d be sharing them with the inevitable post-sunrise masses making their way up.

When you arrive at the Mist Trail trailhead, there’s a bathroom and water station. Use both if you need them.

After the restrooms/water, we continued on up the paved trail in the dark. The incline is pretty gentle at this point. It was disorienting and intimidating to hear the falls and the river roar, yet  not be able to see much of anything.

Eventually, we came to the start of the stairs. Aside from reaching Half Dome, this was my favorite part of the hike! We climbed up 700 very wet stone steps with virtually no railing, a raging river blowing mist into our faces and we had only our headlamps to light the way. It felt like we were starring in our own adventure movie.

By the time we got to the top, the sky was beginning to lighten.

About those stairs

I’ve read a ton about the hike to Half Dome. Books, blog posts, articles, forums. Not one of them mentioned the thousands of stairs you will be climbing during this hike.

Yes, they all mention the 700 stairs of the Mist Trail. Many mention the stairs on Subdome, which some count as being 900 steps. More on that later.

But none of them mention all of the other stairs in between. After the Mist Trail splits with the JMT, you still have more stairs.

So, as we climbed the Mist Trail stairs, I counted them off as we went in increments of 100. It made things go faster and gave my mind a thing to focus on that didn’t involve my burning quads.

At the top of the stairs, we crossed Vernal Falls Bridge and stopped to take some video and pictures.

And then I saw more stairs and was like, “What?!” These stairs take you up to Nevada Falls and go on for just as long as the first set, if you ask me.

On our way up, we passed a friendly couple coming down. As we chatted, what we thought was a wolf—but we later learned was a coyote—started coming up the trail behind us. And fast! We all yelled and it turned away, then turned back. The guy blew his whistle and the coyote took off.

We continued on, but a few minutes later Darren said, “Heather, get the whistle.” It was that damn non-wolf coyote again! I blew the whistle and he took off for good. This story is now entitled “That Time a Coyote Stalked Us Throughout Yosemite.” Way more dramatic, don’t you think?

Mist Trail to Little Yosemite Valley

After you pass the stairs, there’s a long, merciful break and the trail gets more level. But don’t get too comfortable there, buddy. More stairs await.

You’re going to see your first real glimpses of Half Dome from this point, too:

Half Dome backside subdome little yosemite valley

The back side of Half Dome!

First impressions? It looks like an igloo. Where the “entrance” would be is Subdome, and the larger dome is Half Dome.

It was so strange to see something so iconic from a completely different angle, one that most of the people visiting Yosemite will never see.

As you walk past the backpackers’ campground, the last bathroom on the trail will be on your right. You’ll see a log cabin-type building, and there are four solar toilets up at the top.

Once we got through Little Yosemite Valley (called that for its resemblance to Yosemite Valley, which honestly, we didn’t really see), we took a break and had some snacks.

The forest to the Half Dome/Clouds Rest split

The trail printouts said that in this next section of the trail, we might be lucky enough to see mule deer, and we did! Two of them, in fact. Sadly, I did not get a picture.

This section of the trail slowly winds through the forest until you come to a section where the trail splits in two: One direction takes you to Half Dome, the other takes you to Clouds Rest. Go left to Half Dome. You’ll know you’re on the right track when you see a sign saying you’d better have a permit.

subdome half dome

Darren trudging up Subdome.

Up to Subdome

The trail from here continues on up to Subdome, where there are more stairs. Nothing like Mist Trail, at least.

When we finally made it to the base of the Subdome, we stopped and took a break. That’s when someone we’ve been calling The Smug Ranger came up with an intern. We’re not sure if she was performing for the intern or what, but I’ve never seen a ranger so full of herself! I’ve met Shelton Johnson and he wasn’t a fraction as impressed with himself as this woman was.

She mentioned that she had been on this beat for 10 years. Darren tried to make conversation with her by asking how many times she had climbed Half Dome. “Ugh. Really?” she replied as though she had just worked eight hours and was being asked to work eight more.

Uh, okay. Forget we asked! Thought it would just be an impressive number, that’s all!

The Smug Ranger also knocked over some cairn that someone had built at the starting point of Subdome, tossing the rocks aside. “No changing the landscape…” she said sarcastically, while standing next to a set of stairs hacked into a rock by humans (I did agree that the cairn in this instance was useless, but the irony of it all was just too much).

Smuggy Smuggerson did ask to see our permit, both on the way up and down (she didn’t remember us from before, not even as the askers of the dumbest question she has apparently ever heard).

“She must be wonderful to work with,” I said on our way back to the village.

The slog up Subdome

Subdome is rumored to be really, really hard. Harder than the cables. The switchbacking stairs go on seemingly forever with a purported 900 stairs to climb. I don’t mean to sound braggy, but I thought way too much has been made of this section. I used my counting trick, and was surprised to see the stairs come to an end after just 450 steps. What happened? I kept my head down as we went up we kept a good, steady pace and it went by pretty quickly.

Although, I can see how it would be absolutely miserable in the middle of the day once the heat and the crowds arrive. This is why you should always start your hikes as early as you can. Everything will be easier for you.

The last stretch up Subdome is just a slope. Head up toward the highest part and you’ll eventually come over the hump and the cables will be within view. I can’t tell you how exciting it was to finally get a look at them in person!

Up the cables

half dome cablesAround 8:45 or so, we dropped our poles at the base of the cables, put on our grippy gloves and headed on up (the white streak in the photo at left is where the cables are).

Once again, I took the advice of Deutsch’s book and mostly stuck to pulling myself up with a one hand over the other approach. It worked: my arms stayed strong the whole way up, but they were definitely feeling the burn.

And don’t think you can do this without the gloves. You will never get the kind of grip you need, and the cables will shred your hands. Oh, and my fishing gloves worked great! Really cheap, really effective and I was able to pass them on to a fellow hiker on the way down who hadn’t brought any.

The cables are held up by poles that are resting in the rock (they’re not secured into it, so don’t pull up on them). Each set of poles has a wooden ledge between them so you can rest for a second. I tried to do two at a time, rest, do two more, rest and so on.

Eventually, I was on top. And then I waited for Darren.

Unfortunately, he was already really tired by the time we got to the cables, and he didn’t feel safe or strong going up them, so he decided to turn back. He writes about his experience here.

I really think it’s harder to recognize and pay attention to your own limits and knowing when to quit than it is to get to the top of Half Dome, so I totally commend him for that. He was really disappointed, naturally. But Half Dome will always be there and we’ll do this again! Right, honey?


half dome top

Walking on the moon. Or is it Half Dome?

The top of Half Dome

me on the half dome cables

Yikes! Before heading back down.

Half Dome is surprisingly huge up top. It goes on forever. The surface looks like the moon. Rocky, gray.

My time at the top was too brief: probably 10 minutes total. I shot a few selfies, some panoramas of Yosemite Valley and the Sierra, then descended.

On the way back down, I faced forward for the first part of the cables, since it isn’t too steep.

Once it did become too steep, I did a combination sideway/back maneuver and let gravity pull as much as possible. However you choose to do it, it’s definitely easier coming down.

Darren was heartbroken to get so far and not get to the top, and I was heartbroken for him.

liberty cap nevada falls yosemite half dome hike

Nevada Falls and Liberty Cap, viewed from the John Muir Trail.

Heading back

We were done on Half Dome around 9:30, and it was time to make the long trek back to the Valley. The first half of the hike to the JMT/Mist Trail split is the same: Subdome, forest, Little Yosemite Valley.

At the split, just continue on the JMT. On your way back, you’ll get several impressive views of Nevada Falls up close and from a distance. After that, you’ll wind your way down switchbacks that go on forever and ever until, finally, you are at the start of the Mist Trail.

Take a photo at the mileage marker. Even if you’re as tired and hungry as we were.

mist trail mileage marker

Oh, you best believe we made it to the Ahwahnee by 2 p.m.! With just seven minutes to spare, in fact.

A note for the gift shops

The sad thing about accomplishing something like Half Dome is that the gift shop has surprisingly little to commemorate it: a patch, a magnet and a mug or two. Come on, gift shop. What about tote bags, T-shirts, hats?

There’s lots with the Half Dome image on it, but little that says you’ve stood on top. It’s a missed opportunity in my book.

But I did nab that patch and am considering purchasing a daypack to put it on, since patches would be a fun thing to collect. We got a magnet that says “Go Climb a Rock” and Darren gifted me a wooden block magnet with the image of Half Dome on it that says “I made it to the top.” So, not bad despite the paltry offering!

Coming soon: more details

We’re not done blathering about the hike. Darren has written about his experience as a non-hiker, and I’ll also have reviews of some of the gear we used on the trail, tips about the hike and how to train for it (or at least what worked for me as I trained to do it).

Hiking Chantry Flats to Mt. Wilson (With Some Company)

By Heather

Our hike to Half Dome is coming up quickly! It’s one of those things we’ve been talking about so long that I’ve passed the point of believing it will ever actually happen. We’ll just talk about it and plan for it for the rest of our lives.

The first training hike was supposed to be another stab at Ontario and Bighorn Peaks, but a springtime storm and snow foiled those plans. Mt. Wilson it was.

Darren made a rare appearance on one of my hikes, but since he’s climbing Half Dome and Mt. Whitney too, he’s ready to do some leg-killing mountain work to get in shape for them. He also got some hiking poles (the same as mine, Cascade Mountain Tech), but I don’t have the heart to tell him this isn’t how you walk with them.

We took the Lower Falls trail from Chantry Flats, then mistakenly took the far less pretty Upper Falls trail on the way back. If you go right now, take the Lower Falls! The waterfalls are all going and it’s so pretty. Plus, ducks!

When we got up to the summit, we were just a notch above the clouds. I was also relieved to see that as disappointing it was to change our plans, the eastern San Gabriel peaks were all covered in snow.

baldy view from mt. wilson

View of Baldy from Mt. Wilson.

I forgot how tough this hike gets after you pass Spruce Grove Group Campground. It gets nice and steep, and pretty much stays that way until you reach the summit. My legs were burning, which is what I’m going for these days!

Stats: 35,388 steps; 15.41 miles; 7:02 hours; 510 floors

heather darren mt. wilson

Hey, that’s us!

Joshua Tree’s 4×4 Trails

By Steve

Joshua Tree National Park (JOTR) is much like Death Valley in that there were a lot of little roads and trails and other types of vehicle access routes running all over the joint back in the days before it was made a park, and some of those trails still exist today.

Not too long ago, I made the wise decision to buy an old beater pickup truck. BeaterTruck™ has a few things that make it fantastic for exploring 4×4 trails; it’s got great tires, skid plates, and low-range 4×4 gearing that make it damn near unstoppable, and it’s already cosmetically challenged – no need to worry about scratchin’ the paint.

So totally sweet!

BeaterTruck™ – kinda crappy in the city, incredibly awesome out on the trails

JOTR is a big park; not as enormous as Death Valley, but to drive from the north gate to the south takes a bit more than an hour. I spent the better part of a day driving most of the 4×4 trails in the park, and came away with two favorites: Geology Tour Road and Pinkham Canyon Road. Here’s a brief rundown of each.


Geology Tour Road (GTR) is near the center of the park, and features a nifty little one-way loop section in the center where you can then double back to where you started, or continue south out of the park via Berdoo Canyon Road. GTR starts out as a fairly mellow, well-maintained gravel road when you first turn off Park Boulevard, but becomes a bit more rutted and uneven as you continue on.

BeaterTruck™ likes a good view.

Pleasant Valley. So pleasant.

Once you start to dip into Pleasant Valley (who doesn’t love Pleasant Valley?) there’s a sign warning that 4×4 is recommended beyond. I never needed to shift into 4 wheel drive on this road, but there are more than a few spots where extra ground clearance was needed.

I should flip this photo to B&W and photoshop Bono and The Edge in

Joshua Trees in Pleasant Valley

The one-way loop section of GTR is probably a little sketchier if you’ve got one of those froofy-froo trucks with shiny paint that can’t handle a tree scrape or two. Needless to say, BeaterTruck™ made that part the most fun; cholla cactus, prickly pear, and lots of desert scrub will caress your mirrors and fenders as you gawk at the gorgeous views.  I took the loop back to Park Boulevard, but can’t wait to go back again to see what Berdoo Canyon Road has to offer. GTR, being in the middle of the park and well-marked, did have a fair number of other visitors roaming on it the day I was there (middle-May), but no cell service (AT&T) anywhere on the road.

Pinkham Canyon Road (PCR) is on the quieter south end of the park, and is a bit more of a commitment in time, distance, and necessary 4×4 capability.


PCR’s entrance is directly opposite the Cottonwood Visitor Center, and is easy to miss if you’re not paying attention. It starts out as a pretty narrow little two-track with lots of runoff dips and whoop-de-doos, spots for tree scrapes, then devolves further with soft, sandy sections where 4WD is not necessarily required, but highly advised.

BeaterTruck™ in its element

Great spot for a dinner picnic on Pinkham Canyon Road

I ran 4WD the whole time, mainly because in the three hours I was on PCR, I didn’t see another soul and there is no cell service (AT&T) anywhere on this trail. The western half of the trail gets a bit rocky in a few sections, which put BeaterTruck™’s skid plates to use once or twice. That said, there weren’t any spots that I needed 4WD low gears, so you could probably do PCR in a small AWD SUV without much trouble if you’re a better driver than I am and can pick your way around the rocks.

Who dun't luvs sum flerrs?


PCR runs along the northern edge of the Cottonwood Mountains, and teases with the thought of maybe going up into the hills at a few points, but it stays mostly level and sneaks around the western edge of the hills via a little escape route in a canyon, where I stopped for a little dinner picnic (photo above).

Can't argue with a purty sunset

Sunset over Pinkham Canyon Road

My only real beef about Pinkham Canyon Road is on the western/southern end; PCR ends just outside of the park where it meets with a fairly well-graded dirt road that features no signs whatsoever telling you where you are or where you might go. Interstate 10 is right nearby and runs parallel to this road, but you’re expected to drive all the way back to Pinto Basin Road. I cheated and found a hole cut in the fence near the I-10 rest stop and snuck onto the freeway there.

That minor beef aside, Pinkham Canyon Road is a neat trail and well worth the time and vehicle abuse. I’d like to run it again and check out Thermal Canyon Road, which gives an alternate exit out the park when running east-to-west.

Hiking Icehouse Canyon to Ontario Peak

ontario peakBy Heather

Last week, I discovered the Sierra Club’s Hundred Peaks Section. As an avid checker of things off lists, this excited me to no end! Now I’ll have a little more direction in the hikes I choose to take, and I’ll plan many of them around scaling new peaks. Eventually, I hope, I’ll bag every single one!

To kick it off, I hiked to Ontario Peak a couple weeks ago.

I don’t know what it is about the San Gabriel Mountains. I’ll take a hike there and think it’s the prettiest one ever. But then the next hike tops that. And the next hike tops that. I thought Cucamonga was the be-all, end-all of San Gabriel hikes. Scratch that. Now it’s the one that takes you to Ontario Peak!

It starts off the same as the Cucamonga hike: head to the Icehouse Canyon trailhead and make your way up to the saddle. At the saddle, make a right and head on up.

The trail winds through Manzanita bushes and there are views for miles. At one point, I could see Mt. Wilson way off in the distance.

ontario peak hike

I wanted this to be my first two-peak hike. When I got to the part of the trail where it splits off and going right takes you to Ontario, going left takes you to Bighorn, I was greeted with this sign:

bighorn peak ontario peak signI read the mileage to Bighorn Peak as 1 3/4 miles from that point and decided that I didn’t have the time. I’m not crazy, right? That totally looks like a 1! But we had a potluck at work the next day and I had to get home to buy stuff for that and make it, because as organized and proactive I can be, I can also be an epic procrastinator.

Turns out I totally had time to do both peaks. Not only is it just 3/4 of a mile from that point, I got back to the saddle so early that I would up taking the longer Chapman Trail back to the trailhead to kill time. ARGH!

Oh, well. Next time I’ll be older and wiser.

There are a few false summits heading over to Ontario. If you have to ask, you’re not there yet.

When you get there, you’ll likely find a summit register hiding in a little red can at the base of some rocks and a dead tree.

It was exciting to finally find and sign my first summit register. I took the opportunity to do some self promotion, too!


If you brought any celebratory beverages with you, feel free to pop them open on this handy little bottle opener that has been installed on said dead tree.

ontario peak bottle opener I’m going to do this hike again in a few weeks, and will definitely add Bighorn Peak to the roster.

The final stats on the hike were 35,835 steps taken, 15.61 miles walked in 6:17 hours. I wish my Fitbit would save elevation gain in the activity log, but if memory serves, it was about 5,000 feet.

I can’t wait to get back here.

catalina from ontario peak