Icehouse Canyon Trail to Timber Mountain on Google Earth

A long, tall hike down one of the most beautiful canyons in the Angeles National Forest. Probably the easiest way to reach Timber Mountain, the southernmost of the ‘Three Tees.’ Icehouse Saddle – just a short distance before Timber Mountain – is also a convenient gateway to several other peaks in the area.

My GPS went a little wonky at the start of the hike, but everything else is pretty accurate:

I opened the door to the Mount Baldy Visitor’s Center and walked inside. The warm, dark wood interior was a welcome respite from the howling winds outside. The rangers stood behind their desk – a bearded man and blond woman – smiling at me.

“Hi. I’d like a permit for the Cucamonga Wilderness.”

Still smiling, the woman said, “We are not recommending anyone go up there today.”

“Oh?”

The man chimed in. “We’re measuring wind gusts at 60 miles an hour. I almost got knocked down today.”

“But of course, we can’t do anything to stop you,” said the woman. Still smiles, that one.

I reached for a ballpoint pen and started filling out our Wilderness Permit. “I’m going to try for Ontario Peak. Is it more windy in the canyons, or on the ridge?”

“It’s windy everywhere.” The man with the beard was not smiling. All gravitas, he.

“What about ice?”

“We’re not sure. We haven’t been up there.” Still no smiles. “And you’ve got to remember, most of those trails are pretty narrow. One good gust of wind, and you could get swept off the side like that.” He snapped.

The woman smiled and nodded. What the hell was this? Some National Forest game of Good Cop-Bad Cop?

I thought back to my times on the Icehouse Canyon Trail. The trail I remembered was narrow, but not that narrow. And it didn’t have any particularly steep drop offs that were life-threatening. The Cucamonga Peak Trail, however, did.

“Well, I’ll fill this out and talk it over with the hiking partner. Thanks for the tips!”

As I turned to leave, the man called out one last scare – “and be sure to watch out for flying branches and rocks!”

I crossed the street to the Mount Baldy Lodge, where Will was sitting at the bar, waiting for a packable meal. I laid it out for him, mentioning that I’d also found a lower mountain further west in case Ontario was snowed-in. We thought about it for a while. The rangers had me worried it would be too dangerous to hike. Will got his food, turned to me and said, “Well, there’s only one way to find out.”

And with that, we drove to the Icehouse Canyon trailhead. We were going to have an adventure today.

As soon as I opened my car door at the trailhead, the wind shut it back on me. Oh, boy. Getting my bag and shoes out of the trunk was made significantly more interesting by the deafening roar of the wind whipping its way angrily through the Canyon. We tied our packs extra tight, pulled our hats down on our heads, and started toward the Canyon.

As we were walking, a nasty gust forced us to stop and wait. It also set off one of the parked cars’ alarms. This was going to be good.

Thankfully, the early part of the Icehouse Canyon trail was both ice-less and generally windless. It was still windy, don’t get me wrong, but there were none of the breath-knocking gusts that assaulted us in the parking lot. We got our first ice on a set of stairs, but since it was pretty well covered in dirt and mud, it was barely slippery at all.

Slippery Steps

Early on in the trail, we passed a young-looking group of hikers coming back down. We asked how the wind was at the saddle. One of the men got a worried look in his eye.”We didn’t make it up there,” he said. “We got close, but the wind – it’s blowing you right off the side. Too much for us.” They continued, slightly-panicked, to the trailhead. We pressed on.We made quick time up the trail to the Cucamonga Wilderness border, where we got a nice view of the now-almost-fully snowed-in north face of Ontario Peak.

North Sides

The further north we went, the stronger the wind seemed to get. And as the trail was also more shaded, we were running into more and more patches of snow and packed-in ice in our path. Here, we quickly discovered that our hiking boots didn’t offer too much in the way of friction. Yeah, not so much.Taking these parts of the trail very, very slow, I looked at it as just another form of boulder-hopping. I’d try to find rocks, old footprints, or patches of dirt and pine-covered ice that could offer a quick foothold and slowly, carefully made my way up. There were several times we lost our footing, but neither of us fell on the ascent. Which, looking at pictures of the trail, is pretty incredible.

Trail Conditions

Looking off the side of one of these sections of ice, Will noticed an area that had amassed a healthy snowdrift. “Want to go down there and check it out?””Why the hell not? I still haven’t gotten my Winter Fix.” And with that, we were on our asses, sliding down a layer of ice to the drifts below.I dipped my hands into the snow and stopped to pose for a picture. My family in New England still hasn’t gotten any snow this season, and had a record high near 70 degrees on Saturday. I couldn’t resist rubbing it in.

Rubbing it In

Will’s dog, Dingo, also seemed like she couldn’t get enough of the snow. Born and raised in the Sunbelt, she’d never seen this stuff before, and had a great time discovering how she could dig in it, slide on it, and drink it.

Dogs are awesome.As we got close to Icehouse Saddle, the winds started picking up again. This, combined with the icy trail, made for some interesting hiking postures, that’s for sure. Lots of bowed legs and outstretched arms on my end, given just the right amount of silliness by the occasional flailing to keep balance.Eventually, we made it to Icehouse Saddle, and met up with a pair of Australian hikers decked out with trekking poles, crampons, and all other sorts of equipment that will probably end up on my credit card statement pretty soon. They were coming down from the Timber Mountain trail, and we asked them how the weather was.

They told us the weather was fine up on Timber, but they’d gotten the stuffing knocked out of them coming up Bear Canyon. We traded “Danger in the Wind” stories, but the Australians had us beat. The husband almost got himself blown down a ravine.

Like us, they had their sights set one of the bigger peaks, but opted for the calmer environs of Timber Mountain instead. Checking out the trails, we noticed the route to Ontario Peak was on the mountain’s north face for quite some distance. Generally, the north sides of the San Gabriels are the ones that keep colder longer, and this looked to be no different. We looked north toward Timber Mountain, its trail on the south face and completely free of snow. And thus, our plans were altered.

The winds started whipping around Icehouse Saddle, so we climbed up the Timber Mountain trail a bit, found a log to sit on, and ate our lunches. In clear view, of course, of our former destination.

Ontario Peak

Oh well. It’ll have to wait until the snow melts. Or until I buy crampons.Just under a mile of dry, easy-graded hiking and we were at the sign to Timber Mountain:

That Way to Timber Mountain

I’d forgotten that last .25 miles is a relentless, nearly-vertical slog up to the wooded summit, but was quickly reminded by my legs. They weren’t very happy about it.But soon, we were at the top, signing names and telling tales in the register, which still bears the mountain’s former name: Chapman Mountain.

Register at Timber

From the summit, we took a short stroll over to the edge of the north face, where Dingo played in the snow some more, we got pelted by more winds, and we got a great view of the Baldy Bowl and Telegraph Peak.

Baldy, etc.

After taking in all the scenery, and getting our lungs filled (sometimes without asking) with the mountain air, we turned and made our way back down into Icehouse Canyon. The icy sections of the trail were much more difficult going down than they were coming up, and coming up wasn’t exactly a cakewalk. There were a few times I just crouched down and slid on my heels, using my hands to steer myself. And there was one time – and only one time – when my feet, previously motionless, decided to both move forward quickly, suddenly, and without consulting the rest of my body.Luckily, my fall was broken by my elbow and ass.I honestly can’t believe that only happened once. There must have been at least a dozen close-calls, though.

On the way up, Icehouse Canyon was pretty much deserted. We only passed a small handful of hikers on this normally crowded trail. I figured the Severe Weather Alert kept the more sensible SoCal residents at home that morning. But on the way back down, there they were.

The first few we passed were polite, and looked prepared. We tried to focus on the bubbling white noise of the stream and the occasional roar of the wind, but were distracted several times by bottles, cans, food wrappers, and napkins lying alongside the trail.

Stopping briefly to pick up whatever trash we could carry, we came upon an exhausted looking family about half a mile from the trailhead. Seeing two bearded, windburned hikers coming down the mountain, they assumed we knew what we were doing. One of them ran up to us.

“Is it close?”

“Where are ya headed?” I replied.

He looked confused. “Um … up the hill?”

Oh, sweet Jesus. The hill?!? I didn’t mince words. “Then no, you have a long way left to go.”

Closer to the trailhead, after incredulously picking up two half-empty Bud Lite cans, a large family – some of whom were in short-sleeves – passed us. The mother, also noting our beards and swarthy appearances, asked if there was snow on the trail.

We gave them an enthusiastic ‘yes’ and said it was further up the trail.

“Like ten minutes?” asked the father.

“More like an hour … maybe and hour and a half.” Their faces soured considerably. “But it’s worth it!” we chimed.

And we continued back to the trailhead, knowing full well that family wasn’t seeing snow today.

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Casey Schreiner

Founder and Editor at Modern Hiker
In addition to writing about the outdoors since 2006, Casey has also been producing and writing television since 2003.He was the Head Writer on G4's "Attack of the Show," co-writer and host of "The MMO Report," and the Series Producer / Head Writer of pivot's "TakePart Live."His work has received several honors, including Webby, Telly, and CableFAX awards.
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This post was written by Casey Schreiner on January 8, 2007

21 Comments

  • Bruce says:

    Hiked up to Timber Mountain on the 15th of March. It was beautiful and clear day. The views were spectacular! There were only a few people on the trail for a Friday with such fantastic weather out. There was only a very light amount of snow still on the trails and was easily passable with no extra equipment. Great hike!

  • Great hike, but lots of irritating old folks wiht their damn clickclack sticks, wish they would ban those things,
    They can get up though, of course, I guess I am old folks now at 52, but dont really see it, nor luckily my wife. And wil never get those things, do they really help? Cetainly takes away from teh nature experience and so many telescopic ones doubt tehy would help in a fall, look weak

  • Shane says:

    I just hiked this today, on May 15th 2011… It was very beautiful the whole way up, The creek was quite flowing due to it raining earlier in the day. The first 2 miles was pretty busy, There was like 2 tour buses in the parking lot so I’m assuming it was the tour coming down. After that it really quieted down which I loved, I really enjoy the sounds of nature over the sounds of people. Once we got up the the cutoff at the 3 mile marker I only saw 1 person going up and 2 people going down. By the time I arrived at Icehouse Saddle so it was so cold I had to keep moving, I decided to continue my trek to the top although I really wished I had taken a jacket with me because I was just in a long sleeve shirt and gloves. I reached the summit but had almost no visibility because I was in the dead middle of the clouds, no view up and no view down. Stood up there for less than 3 minutes before continuing on my way down, due to my lack of proper attire I had to keep moving.

    I kinda jogged down the first 2 miles or so past Icehouse saddle until I met up with an older couple I had passed on my way up and decided to follow them down and have a nice conversation. The scenery was beautiful up and down, still very icey past Icehouse Saddle, yet beautiful nonetheless. The whole 9.4 mile trek took me roughly 3.5 hours, but I was really booking it up and down. Improper attire led me to taking 0 breaks the whole trip, thank god for my camelback.

    Next week I want to attempt the Cucamonga peaks or maybe the mountain past Timber Mountain, not sure which yet. I just want to make it atleast 12-15 miles next week instead of only the 9.4 mile trek. It was somewhat moderately difficult for myself but I know I can do better, and so far I am not sore.

    Really nicely done website I will continue testing out these trails and letting you know of my findings. Thanks guys

  • Noel says:

    My friends and I just did this hike on July 10th, we really enjoyed it. Great sights along the trail, and fun terrain. It was pretty busy up to the saddle but nearly empty up to Timber Mountain. Only incident was some kids through rocks down one of the switchbacks, they stopped when they saw us coming thankfully.

    We’ve really enjoyed your trip reports, they’ve been a great source of information for us, thank you so much!

  • Zebra24601 says:

    Hiked this on May 20. Trip write up here.

    Essentially no snow or ice on the way to Timber. Just a few short patches, which may very well be melted by now.

    Lots of snow from the saddle south, so it wasn’t even clear to me which way to go to Kelly’s Camp, Ontario, Cucamonga, etc.

    Some snow on the Three T’s trail after the Timber Mountain spur. Didn’t go far enough to see if it would be a real barrier, but I’m planning to give the snow another week or so to melt before I try for Telegraph.

  • Matt D says:

    Thanks MH! I was looking for a moderate, 5 hour-ish hike and Timber Mt. was perfect. Beautiful hike. Big thanks.

  • Tyler says:

    Just did this hike last monday and made a night of it camping on top of timber mountain. Given last weeks snow, freezing nights, and a 35 lb pack, not bringing crampons was an iffy idea to say the least. The three Tee’s trial was almost snow free until the sign for timber mountain where the drifts were about 3 feet deep. On the plus side we never saw a sole above 7000 feet! Beautiful views and cold crisp mountain air all to ourselves.

    The hike back down was pretty secluded as well (didn’t have to pick up hardly any trash this time!). We only ran into about 5 fully equipped hikers that were turning back at Chapman trail, well before the saddle. Made us feel a little more bad ass for the effort.

    I only wish we could have gone further up but its still pretty much a block of ice up there above 8000 feet.

  • David says:

    Thanks so much for this terrific site. You have no idea the enjoyment you’ve introduced to a couple of newbie hikers.

    We hiked this route today and I thought I’d share our experience.

    Yesterday I called the Mt Baldy Visitor Center for information on trail conditions. The ranger reported that the trail was clear up to the saddle, but anything higher would require crampons and poles. Note that if you’re planning on hitting the trail before the Visitor Center opens at 8am, you can call the day before to reserve your wilderness permit, and they’ll pin on the bulletin board outside for you to pick up the next morning.

    We got started a bit early, at around 6:45am. We only saw 3 other pairs of hikers the entire way up to the saddle. We did, however, run into a few campers, some of whom had decided to pitch their tents virtually on top of the trail!

    While the path was clear most of the way up to the saddle as reported, we did encounter one treacherous section. It was a steep slope that the trail probably switchbacked up, but the path was entirely lost under rock-hard frozen snow and we ended up climbing almost straight up. We were hiking without poles or crampons, and we definitely took a risk by continuing onward–it was nearly impossible to get footholds, and a slip would have caused a slide further down than I care to think about. One older (wiser) hiker with poles turned back after attempting the ascent for a few minutes.

    However, the sense of accomplishment when we reached the saddle was incredible. The wind whipped around us as we looked down on the clouds. We had the place to ourselves! (We arrived around 9am.) After soaking up the views and taking some photos, we decided to continue up to Timber Mountain.

    The climb up was, at times, brutal in the ice and snow, but none of it was as dangerous as the section we had traversed earlier. Despite the rather short distance from the saddle to Timber Mountain, it took us about an hour. The summit marker area was a bit crowded, but there’s plenty of room on the mountain top for you to find your own secluded lunch spot to soak in the views as the wind howls.

    By the time we started our descent, the snow that had seen a few hours of morning sun was soft enough to provide decent footing. We tried a few sitting glissades on gentle slopes–incredible fun! We passed dozens and dozens of hikers on our way back to the trailhead, and returned to find the parking lot packed. Despite the frozen trail, we were glad we beat the rush!

    • Modern Hiker says:

      David,

      Sounds like you had an awesome time! That’s pretty similar to the experience of Timber Mountain I wrote up here. I know I was a little nervous about pushing onward a few times, but it was worth it. Glad to have you on the trails!

  • Sean says:

    Icehouse is a great trail. Having done Timber already, and not having the free time to conquer the Three T’s, I’ve been wanting to go up Ontario and Cucamonga. Anyhow, I’d recommend this trail to all. Just remember the last bit of trail up Timber will definetely get you huffing and puffing.

  • Shawnte says:

    Hi!

    My friend Rebecca and I are avid readers and you’ve turned us both on to some great hikes so far – so thanks!

    We were going to try for Cucamonga Peak today (starting at Icehouse Saddle), but both of us underestimated the butt-kicking we got on the way up (mostly because we kept trying to speed around huge groups of slow hikers and completely messed up our pace and lung capacity). Lesson learned, and we’ll try for Cucamonga again soon, but we did detour to Timber Mtn once up on the saddle and it was worth the effort.

    Thanks for maintaining such a great resource!

  • webjones says:

    Very good review of the trail and excellent google earth views. I think I’m going to hike this one next time I’m out that way. Probably mid-September.

  • Hermes says:

    Dingo didn’t look affected.

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