Hiking to Cucamonga Peak via Icehouse Canyon

By Heather

Soon, the peaks over Los Angeles will be topped with snow. That seems hard to imagine right now, since weather is solidly in the 80s nearly every single day and shows no signs of letting up.

cucamonga peak summit

Although I have the Santa Monica National Recreation Area as my playground for winter, I was really eager to nab one more peak in the Socal Six Pack: Cucamonga Peak (the first I did was Mt. Baldy). You can certainly do it when there’s snow, but it gets a little more difficult and I’d just rather not mess around with that.

cucamonga peak

See that narrow little trail? And I didn’t angle this photo, either.

And good thing, too, because the Cucamonga Peak hike is filled with very, very narrow trails with very, very steep drops. I thought Mt. Baldy had narrow trails, but they’re no match for Cucamonga! Holy crap!

Fortunately, I had my poles and they really steadied me. I’d be dead without those things, klutz that I am.

To the Saddle

I really love starting hikes as early as possible. Early starts will mean you beat the heat, most of the crowds, and you’ll have a huge sense of satisfaction in accomplishing something big by noon.

Just before I got out of the car and attempted to get somewhere in the dark.

Just before I got out of the car and attempted to get somewhere in the dark.

I arrived at the trailhead around 5:30 a.m. It  was still pitch black. Oh, and my headlamp was busted.

Thinking I could get by using the flashlight on my iPhone (nope), I started the hike before quickly realizing that this would end badly if I kept going. There just wasn’t enough light to see the trail clearly. I stopped and waited for someone to come along.

Soon enough, a group of four did just that and I asked if I could follow along with them. And good thing – they had hiked the trail the day before and were very familiar with it. I was really grateful to have them at the point where you lose the trail for about 100 feet, too. On top of all that, they were really kind and didn’t seem to resent my presence at all. Aw, I love other hikers.

cucamonga peak icehouse canyon

One of the ruins of the many icehouses in the canyon. They’ve all burned in fires over the years.

The trail from Icehouse Canyon to the saddle is an incredible mix of historic relics, water features and granite canyon walls. Despite the drought California has been experiencing and the lateness of the season, the creek was actually going! The relics are the old icehouses from the 1930s, many of which have burned in fires over the years. There are also a number of cabins in the canyon that are still occupied. (I was told all that, so don’t shoot the messenger).

The hiking terrain is varied and interesting, too: you’ll hike up switchbacks, climb over granite, make your way over water. It never gets boring or old. Eventually, I pulled ahead of the group and continued on to the Saddle, which is about 3.5 miles in. At the Saddle, a number of trails converge and you can go lots of different directions.

From there, Cucamonga Peak is another 2.6 miles or so.

Nelson’s Bighorn Sheep sighting!

Not long after taking the trail that goes to the peak, I saw some movement up ahead. It was a Nelson’s Bighorn Sheep, smack in the middle of the trail, kicking up dirt. Behind him were several more, which you can’t see in the photo.

nelson's bighorn sheep cucamonga peak

See the bighorn sheep at the base of the tree back there?

I usually try to get educated on wildlife so I know how to deal with it when it happens, but I nelson's bighorn sheep cucamonga peakreally wasn’t expecting to see them. They’re not often out and about when there are humans, and many people live here for years and years without ever seeing a single one. So, I had no idea what to do. Would they charge me if I approached? Fortunately, a woman came along behind me and said they wouldn’t bother us if we didn’t bother them.

There were four of them standing just 20 feet uphill from the trail, two of them staring at me hard. I took out my camera, shot some photos and a brief video as I walked slowly by, then continued on.

That, right there, was worth getting up at 4 a.m. And it was far preferable to a bear or mountain lion sighting!

If you didn’t know, the difference between Bighorn Sheep and Nelson’s Bighorn Sheep is their ability to go without water for long periods of time. They are very adapted to a desert climate.

Onto Cucamonga Peak

The hike to the peak begins by heading downhill for a bit. I started to wonder if I was heading the wrong direction. Eventually, the trail begins heading back up and you’ll come to a series of switchbacks and some gorgeous views.

cucamonga peak

Right?

After the switchbacks will be a wooden post with a handwritten “Cucamonga Peak” and an arrow pointing up. When I came up to this thing, it looked like a prank. No other sign on the trail is handwritten! But it’s for real. The sign can be trusted. But perhaps they should consider adding an official sign below it that says, “Not a prank.”

From there, it’s just a few more minutes of straight uphill hiking and then you’re there!

Although Cucamonga is at 8,800 feet, the views are better than those of Mt. Baldy. Look, I’m not saying Baldy is any slouch, but Cucamonga’s position in the San Gabriel Mountains gives you the ability to see even more of Los Angeles and the Inland Empire.

cucamonga peak summitcucamonga peak summit

Pros and cons

The Icehouse Canyon/Cucamonga Peak hike is not without its cons. The biggest one by far is the crowds. The hike to the Saddle is supposedly one of the most wildly popular hikes in all of Socal, and everyone and their brother comes here. It can make getting down difficult when you have to yield to hordes of people going up.

Two ways I suggest you can beat the crowds:

  • Get there EARLY. And I don’t mean 6:30 a.m. I mean, 5 or 5:30 a.m. if you can. I’ve heard the lot is often full by 6:30-7 a.m.
  • Go on a Sunday. That’s when I went, and while it was busy, it wasn’t unbearable. Weekdays are probably a lot quieter, as well.

The other con is the part where the trail drops off. I was very grateful to have that group with me, as I mentioned above. If you’re directionally challenged, try to go with someone who knows this trail or find someone on the trail who knows which way to go. In general, stay to the right and look for the stacked rocks. They will guide you in the correct direction.

The pros are many:

  • This hike has roughly the same elevation gain as Mt. Baldy (4,300 feet), but it’s an additional mile longer so it’s a little less strenuous,
  • It’s a really shady hike.
  • The old icehouses and cabins are amazingly cool.
  • The canyon is huge and beautiful, almost reminiscent of Yosemite.
  • The creek is a nice bonus, too.

Final stats and other stuff

If you have a FitBit or another device with an altimeter, Cucamonga equates to roughly 470 flights of stairs. Baldy is about 450.

To hike the trail, you will need a California Adventure Pass for parking ($5 for a day pass; $30 for a yearly pass) as well as a permit for the trail, which is free. You can get the permit either at the trailhead or at the visitor’s center in Baldy Village.

You will need plenty of water and fuel. I had three liters of fluid with me (two thirds water, one-third Vitamin Zero) and several KIND bars. Always bring more than you think you’re going to need!

So that’s two peaks down and four to go! I’m thinking next season I’ll tackle Mt. Wilson, the easiest of the Six Pack. The next three after that are all tougher than anything I’ve done, so I’ll need to think about it, but I’m leaning toward Mt. San Jacinto.

And I don’t want to get greedy, but Mt. San Gorgonio scares me so much that I think that means I need to go for it.

Review: Affordable Hiking Pole Replacement Tips

bafx hiking pole tipsBy Heather

A few weeks ago, I needed to order some replacement tips for my hiking poles.

Although the company that makes my hiking poles – Cascade Mountain Tech – sells replacement tips, I could not resist the lure of more affordable tips from BAFX Products.

I did tons of research to find out if the BAFX tips would fit my poles, but I could never confirm it. So, I chickened out and purchased the Cascade Mountain tips, which cost $3.99 per pair.

Coo-coo ca-cha! Coo-coo ca-cha!

But then…mom to the rescue! I left the BAFX tips on my Amazon wishlist, and she purchased them for me on my birthday.

I shouldn’t have chickened out, after all – they fit my poles perfectly! There’s no apparent difference between them and the Cascade-brand tips. The material feels the same, the fit is spot-on. No complaints here.

So, if you’re the owner of Cascade hiking poles and are in search of cheaper tips, look no further than the BAFX ones! Five pairs for $12 can’t be beat!

Review: Cascade Mountain Carbon Fiber Trekking Poles

cascade mountain carbon fiber trekking hiking poles

My hiking poles, out in the wilderness.

By Heather

I couldn’t decide whether to call this a review or a Project Half Dome post. It’s a little of both!

Oh, man. How much do I love using hiking poles?! I beg forgiveness for ever having made fun of them.

A couple months ago, I purchased the Cascade Mountain Tech Ultra Light Carbon Fiber Trekking Poles with Quick Lock, since I plan on doing a lot more strenuous hikes – particularly Half Dome – and I want to preserve my knees.

I’ve used them on three hikes so far, all of varying difficulty – Los Liones, Mt. Baldy and Hermit Gulch – and pretty much can’t imagine going without them now.

The Cascade poles come with a snow basket, mud and sand basket, rubber tip, tungsten carbide tip and walking boot. As it says in the name, they’re ultralight and certainly don’t feel heavy to me, but they weigh one pound. That sounds kind of heavy from what I know of ultralights – and Cascade sells another pair that weigh in at 8 oz. that curiously does not have “ultralight” in the name.

The quick lock is easy to operate once you figure out how it works. You need to adjust the screw to get the correct tension so that the pole is nice and secure and doesn’t collapse when you lean on it. This took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out. Pro-tip: leave the tensions off when storing your hiking poles so they don’t wear out.

The handles are nice and comfy, and the straps have a soft material inside to make it comfortable to lean on them. They are also a great value at $50 or thereabouts.

If you don’t know how to use hiking poles, watch this video. I found it really helpful before I went out and used the poles for the first time. The woman in the video is right – you’ll find your own rhythm for sure. It takes a little time to get comfortable with them, but you’ll get there.

Hiking pole benefits

If you’ve never used hiking poles, these are some of the benefits:

  • Increased calorie burn. When you use poles, your arms are more engaged. By resting your palms on the straps while gripping the pole, you can push off when going uphill, giving the triceps a fantastic workout.
  • Muscle tone. Since some of the weight you’d normally be putting on your legs is now transferred to your arms, you’ll be going to the gun show soon.
  • Less strain on knees. This one is particularly important for me, since I have awful knees and want to remain active until I drop dead. The hiking poles have helped insanely in this department; when I first hiked Mt. Baldy, my knees for sore for a week. The second time, after using the poles, there was some soreness the next day and then I was good to go.
  • Better stability. Without the hiking poles, I am Trippy von Tripsalot. With them, it’s more like Trippy von Tripsoccasionally. These things are especially handy on loose gravel.

Cons

The pros far outweigh the cons, but there are a few:

  • They’re one more thing to juggle and you’ll need to stop every time to take water breaks.
  • They require more energy to use, so pacing yourself and having enough fuel is important. Again, on the second Baldy hike, I was famished nearly the whole way up! Very different from the first time.
  • The tips don’t seem to last long. Three hikes in and the original tips are shredded, though all were long hikes. Fortunately, they’re not terribly expensive to replace and can be purchased here. And I probably shouldn’t have used rubber tips on Mt. Baldy, which is very rough terrain. Oh, well. Live and learn.

I’m sure a lot of hikers get by just fine without them – I did for a while – but there’s no way I’ll go back now after seeing how much they have improved my hikes!

Hiking Mt. Baldy via the Ski Hut Trail

By Heather

mt baldy summit

A few weeks ago, I hiked to the top of Mt. Baldy again.

Darren and Steve did it too!

mt baldy summit

This time, we took the Ski Hut Trail. Like it is going up from the Top of the Notch, the Ski Hut Trail is straight uphill. That’s why we were pretty discouraged to overhear another hiker say at the Ski Hut, “That was the easy part of the hike!”

The advantage of the Ski Hut Trail is that it’s shadier for longer. Going up the other way offers no shade at all, ever. But it’s no easier. Take your pick!

darren heather baldy summit

That’s me and Darren at the summit! Also, I need a new hat, because I’m not an Angel’s fan and just got that for free at a game. I can’t be a fan of a team whose name translates to “The Angels Angels of Anaheim.”

We celebrated with beers and snacks at Top of the Notch restaurant, which was nothing like last time, thank the sweet baby jesus. The tents and loud music and dirt people were gone. The picnic tables in the lodge were put away and it was a normal restaurant serving decent food for something in the middle of nowhere. They also have a terrific selection of craft beers that are mostly local!

steve darren baldy top of the notch

A couple of beers and a meal killed any desire we might have had to hike the rest of the way down. So, we purchased lift tickets and took the long, slow ride back to our cars. On the way out, Darren and I stopped at the visitor’s center which, sad to say, isn’t much to speak of. I was hoping for a braggy “I climbed Mt. Baldy” t-shirt or sticker. Guess I’ll have to make my own.

It’s getting late in the season and I really want to get in at least one, maybe two, more new summits before they get all snowy and require way more skill and daring than I possess.

Updated Review: Waterproof Smartphone Case

By Heather

Oh, hi there. How have you been?

Although it’s been silent around these parts, there has been much happening. We’ve hiked, we’ve camped, we’ve kayaked. I just haven’t found the time for the other half of the equation, the talking about the hiking, camping and kayaking.

eco fused waterproof iphone caseOne of the most amazing things that has happened over the last month concerns the waterproof smartphone cases we purchased a year ago for an upcoming trip to Catalina. I reviewed them then, noting that they worked perfectly. Our phones were bone dry, yet managed to shoot nice video and photos and even capture audio. Sweet!

We still use the cases whenever we go near water and they work great, but I may have undersold this thing a little.

A few weeks ago, we found ourselves back in Catalina, celebrating my beautiful mom’s 65th birthday. Darren and I rented a kayak and took it to our usual beach outside of Avalon. And as usual, I walked around the beach, enjoying the waves, taking pictures, while Darren floated out in the water.

After about 10 minutes of floating, Darren came back to shore. “Yep. Lost my phone.”

Turns out, he had his phone in his pocket and, not being secured to anything, floated away. (His brother, when told what happened, replied that the sea can be a cruel mistress. Ha!). He searched and searched, but despite the clear water and being relatively close to shore, we couldn’t find it.

Using the Find My iPhone app, he sent a message to the phone to call my number if on the off chance the phone was carried to shore, still working and someone had found it. HAAAAA. Like that would ever happen.

Oh, wait.

About 30 hours after that, we were enjoying some Dos Equis Ambar at Avalon’s only true dive bar, the Marlin Club, when my phone rang with Darren’s name on the display. I stared at it, confused. How could this be happening? His phone is gone! Then I looked around the bar, as though someone there might be pranking me. And then I showed the still ringing phone to Darren, who at first looked at me like I was crazy. “Yeah, that’s me.”

Before realizing…

“WAIT! THAT’S ME!!”

I answered it. Some guy had gone out kayaking and snorkeling with some friends and found Darren’s phone just a few hours earlier. It was still dry and still had battery power. They were still on the island, so we found them in short order and got the phone back.

People. Darren’s phone spent the night on the ocean floor in this pouch, and it came back FINE! Whoa.

I can’t think of a better endorsement for these waterproof pouches. These crazy things work! So, unless you need more convincing than that, you can purchase yours here.