A Cold, Windy November DayWhen I stepped out of my car at the Ice House Canyon trailhead, a frigid wind hit me head on. My immediate reaction was that I had come woefully unprepared. I felt embarrassed to no one in particular that I might not have brought enough warm clothes. Me, an experienced hiker and conscientious preparer- for- hikes, caught short? I had expected warm weather. But I should know better than to rely entirely on even informed expectations concerning mountain weather conditions.
Over my thin synthetic inner layer I put on my fleece jacket and my rain jacket on top of that. That’s all I had. No wool hat, no warm parka. I did have a thin pair of gloves, fortunately. But I was still cold and I knew that it would be colder still higher up. Oh, well, I’d just have to make the best of it. But I needn’t have worried.
Excellent Trail to Cucamonga PeakOur group of five started off from the trailhead to hike Cucamonga Peak (elev. 8,859’). After five minutes, I had to peel off my fleece and rain jacket. I never put them back on despite it getting colder higher up. I was really warmed up and would stay that way.
We took the extremely well maintained Cucamonga Peak Trail all the way to summit. There, I explored its four corners while my hiking buddies sat huddled against a rock trying to protect themselves from the assertive wind. It was at least 35 degrees F. out there. Cucamonga’s summit is beautiful and affords fabulous views in every direction.
When we descended to the saddle between Cucamonga Peak and Big Horn Peak, I eyed the attractive ridge route straight up to Big Horn. The rest of the group was content with one peak and would be heading back to the trailhead, but I had decided I would add to the day Ontario Peak and Big Horn Peak since I was in the neighborhood. However, instead of going directly up the ridge to Big Horn, I opted to stay with the group back to Ice House Saddle and do Ontario and Big Horn from there.
I left the group at the saddle and picked up the well marked Ontario Peak Trail. The trail was so moderate in steepness that I decided to turn my hike into a trail run the rest of the way. So I cinched my day pack tight to my body and began jogging.
In Big Horn Sheep Country But No Sheep: Ontario PeakAbove Kelly Camp (elev. 7,840’), one mile from Ice House Saddle, there is an interesting area of low brush and lodgepole pine where it is reported that mule deer often graze. But I didn’t see any. Further on, the trail was littered with fallen logs, dozens of them, for a stretch of about a mile. Looking to my right, Mt. Baldy and Telegraph Peak looked close enough to reach out and grab. It is said that the area above the saddle between Ontario Peak and Big Horn Peak is a prime area to spot Nelson Big Horn sheep. But as with the mule deer, I was plum out of luck today and didn’t see any trace of these guys.
There were at least two, and maybe three, false summits before the rocky summit block of Ontario Peak (elev. 8,693’) appeared in my vision.
On Ontario’s summit I scrambled onto the summit block and got good views of Cucamonga Peak and, my next stop, Big Horn Peak.
Last Stop: Big Horn PeakFrom Ontario’s summit it is about a mile or so back to the Ontario/Big Horn saddle. Here, there is a small wooden sign pointing in the direction of Ontario Peak and of Big Horn Peak. The trail to Big Horn Peak (elev. 8,441’) contours below the ridge and is only ¾ of a mile.
Big Horn’s summit is relatively flat. The lack of an obvious high point caused me to wander around for a couple of minutes before I found the register.
I jogged back down the trail and found myself back at Ice House Saddle in no time. I promised myself that, next time, I would go cross-country down Big Horn Peak’s north ridge directly to Ice House Saddle. The trail takes a roundabout way. But today, I wanted maximum mileage for a decent workout.
Doing these three peaks all on trail comprised a 19-mile route and took me a little over 8 hours including a long lunch break on Cucamonga Peak.
The least enjoyable part of the day was running down the rocky sections of the Ice House Canyon Trail back to the trailhead. You have to be extremely cautious on these sections because it’s so easy to wreck an ankle or foot. Still, rushing water in the creek, beautiful standing pools near some sections of the trail, and some fall color in the leaves, made for a nice end to this outing.