More Fantasy Than Adventure: Ice Sculptures in the San Gabriels

More Fantasy Than Adventure: Ice Sculptures in the San Gabriels

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Feb 20, 2011
Activities Activities: Hiking
Seasons Season: Winter

Spontaneity on a Sunday Morning

“What a storm last night. Bet the local mountains are covered with white.”

“I can’t stand it. Let’s go see.”

“Let’s go.”

My son Daniel and I grab our day packs and snowshoes on the beautiful Sunday morning of February 20, 2011.

We hop in the van and take off. No sooner did we turn onto the main drag of our home town of South Pasadena, California, than we saw the San Gabriel Mountain range clothed in fresh white.

View from My Home Town, So. Pasadena, CASan Gabriel range from South Pasadena

“Let’s head to Wrightwood.”

“Good deal. We can see if the Mojave Desert got painted in white too.”

For us, Wrightwood, a mountain community perched between the east end of the San Gabriel Mountains and the San Bernardino Mountains, is an ideal destination because most of the drive is freeway followed by a few miles of beautiful two lane road. After heading east along Interstate 10, we turned north on Interstate 15 and cranked toward that humongous gap in the earth separating the San Gabriel from the San Bernardino range, known as the Cajon Pass. Before reaching the pass, we turned off onto Highway 38 and into desert terrain.

The White Mojave

It is singular to see a desert, meant by definition to be a place of extreme hot, get snowed on. The mounds of snow clinging to the Joshua Trees seemed to be surprised to have landed at such a low elevation.

Mojave Desert in White Dressed in White

As we turned onto Angeles Crest Highway and headed towards Wrightwood, the snow-covered Mojave Desert continued to saturate the eye with beauty.

“Oh, oh. End of the road.”

Cal Trans has closed the road right past Wrightwood. It left enough road open for the thousands of skiers and snowboarders to get to the Mountain High Ski Resort and then buttoned it up.

“No big deal. We’ll park the van along the road and hoof it.”

Into Nature’s Winter Throne Room

So that’s what we did. We hiked for about 2 miles along the road before we got to an area called “Grassy Hollow.” Signs of human life were minimal we were happy to see. The minimal human presence was locked inside a giant yellow monster—a Snow Cat clearing the road. The yellow beast would scrape up a few hundred pounds of powder and spray it high into the atmosphere as it moved along the road. This was good entertainment in itself.

“All to ourselves.”


We strapped on our snowshoes and took off cross-country up a rounded peak. The sights were astounding. The powder was fresh and deep. You would have h
ad a blast descending in this powder on alpine skis. Even with snowshoes, we sometimes sank to our knees. Invigorating, fun stuff.

Fantasy in WhiteUnited in beauty

Nature's Sculpture Gallery

More amazing than the fresh powder were the results of last night’s storm and freeze. Trees were sculpted in ice; solitary trees and trees in circles of friends. It was magical. Who were we to have stumbled onto something this amazing? I asked the question. I didn’t get an answer.

In the distance, Mount San Antonio, locally known as Mt. Baldy, grabbed the eye’s attention. It was caked in frost, snow and ice. Big, bad and dangerous to know.
View Toward North face of Mt. Baldy from Grassy HollowNorth Face of Mt. Baldy from near Wrightwood

We snowshoed toward the top of the hill. It was a great aerobic workout. Actually, the setting was too beautiful to call it a workout. I remember breathing real hard, but not caring. I got some amazing shots of the valleys below, frost and ice adorning the rugged terrain.

At the top, we huddled in the cold to eat from our stores of trail mix and peanut butter sandwiches. There is nothing more delicious in the throne room of local snow and ice, we decided.


Grassy Hollow Area near Wrightwood, CABehold


“Dad, you’ve said that quite a few times.”

“A..f…mazing then.”


We procrastinated about leaving, it was that good. Finally,

“Time to go.”

“Too bad because we have it all to ourselves. And of course, by tomorrow the sun will have started deconstructing the icy sculptures.”

“Well, at least we have what we’ve seen in digital form and the experience in our memory banks.”

“At least.”

“Maybe I’ll do a TR for SummitPost even though it’s more fantasy than adventure.”

“True that.”

Frozen in Time

Frozen in Time


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Viewing: 1-4 of 4
Vic Hanson

Vic Hanson - Nov 3, 2011 6:23 pm - Voted 10/10


That about says it all!

Augie Medina

Augie Medina - Nov 3, 2011 6:27 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Amazing!

Thanks Vic. BTW, I'm still looking at my schedule but will propose a hike or two soon.

Norma R

Norma R - Nov 4, 2011 12:24 am - Hasn't voted


Yep, that's how it feels to me when i get to make first tracks on a bluebird day right after a storm. Beautiful photos and fun narrative. Posting this TR the day before the first snow hits the San Gabriels for the 2011/2012 season... schaweet!

Augie Medina

Augie Medina - Nov 4, 2011 11:18 am - Hasn't voted


Thanks Norma.


Viewing: 1-4 of 4