Ontario Peak • San Gabriel Mountains
• Mount Baldy Area
• San Bernardino County


Approaching Icehouse Saddle
 

Mileage to the top from Icehouse Saddle
 

The first of many false summits
 

Grand view of Mount San Antonio
 

Looking up toward that first false summit
 

Looking back into the morning glare at Icehouse Saddle
 

The marine layer was so thick that all of the Los Angeles basin looked like Antarctica. I think that's Santiago Peak in the background
 

Another false summits appears
 

Aiming for that second false summit
 

Burn scars and the third false summit
 

Finally, the real top
 

Almost there
 

Southwest view above the clouds
 

Stick Scott
 

Cucamonga Peak seen on the descent
 

Starting down the Icehouse Canyon
 

Another view looking down
 

Looking back up toward Icehouse Saddle
 

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Summitpost

 

Date: May 10, 2014 • Elevation: 8,693 feet • Prominence: 1,039 feet • Distance: 13 miles • Time: 6.5 hours • Gain: 3,700 feet • Conditions: Sunny and nice

Ontario Peak is a popular summit in the Mount Baldy Area, straddling the Los Angeles and San Bernardino county line. In recent years, I have become interested in hiking to as many of the principal summits in this section of the San Gabriels. On my twice-yearly visits to Southern California, I try to work in one big hike, and for this visit, I chose Ontario Peak as my destination.

I had driven to Wrightwood yesterday and got in a little bit of conditioning in the hills around Wrightwood. Early today, I left Wrightwood and drove up Mount Baldy Road to the Icehouse Canyon parking area, arriving at 5:50 a.m. as the sun was rising. Even at this early hour, there were about a dozen vehicles already parked and a lot of people getting their packs and boots on for their hikes. Conditions were pleasant and being a Saturday, I expected lots of hikers.

I had a small issue with my truck. It has some old seals so it burns oil if I strain the engine too much. Driving up the Mount Baldy Road is steep, and when I parked, some smoke started to emerge from my engine. I popped the hood and inspected everything. Not much I could do, but I wanted to be sure it wouldn't develop into a fire. After a minute, things seem to settle down.

I got all my stuff in order and locked up my truck, starting toward the trailhead at 6 a.m. I got myself a free wilderness permit, then started the long hike. The trail is the old road at first, then a proper trail. For about a mile, it stays low in the canyon near spring-fed pools and old cabins, some still habitable, others now old stone ruins.

The trail's tread was usually very smooth and pitched at moderate grades, but never very steep. Knowing I had a long day ahead of me, I tried to get into a rhythm and not rush things. A couple people passed me, and I passed a few people too. Everyone was cool. My destination was Icehouse Saddle, 3.6 miles away and 2,400 feet higher.

I crossed the Cucamonga Wilderness boundary after a little over a mile. Here, the trail was rockier as it worked through water channels and talus/scree slopes. About half-way into the canyon, the trail bent left and started up some switchbacks. Although a tad steeper than before, I was happy to be gaining elevation. I never stopped for an extended break and just a shade before 8 a.m., I arrived at Icehouse Saddle, where I found a log to sit on and have a break.

There was a group here already, and one guy had the type of voice where you could hear him from 200 feet away in a windstorm. He mentioned "Woodstock" to one of the ladies, who had never heard of it. So he proceeded to explain to her what Woodstock was, getting the year, duration, location, and most of the bands who played wrong. She was impressed with his knowledge. I feared they would mate later and produce more Southern Californians. I also wanted to sense where they were heading, hoping it wasn't Ontario Peak. Thank heavens, it wasn't. so once I got moving again, I never saw them again.

The Ontario Peak trail starts from Icehouse Saddle, and a sign says it's 2.8 miles away. I started walking up the trail and making decent time. So far, no one was going my way, so I seemed to have the whole mountain to myself for the time being. In about 20 minutes I came upon "Kelly Camp", a back-country camping area featuring old stone foundations and concrete pads, suggesting this was an old ranger's residence ages ago. I saw one tent there, but no people.

Past Kelly Camp, the trail steepens and curls around one small ridge, then starts up a slope aiming for the main upper ridge. A fire from years ago had killed off the big trees, but a lot of little saplings were growing along with a lot of lower-to-the-ground scrub. I was heading toward a false summit. As I neared the ridge, I could see another summit peeking out from behind the first one. I knew not to get my hopes up.

The trail stayed in fine shape, and after awhile I had bypassed these two false summits, rounding a bend and seeing what I thought was the real summit up ahead. But as I got close to it, the trail bypassed it too, and rounding yet another bend, revealed the actual real true summit. So I plowed forward and arrived on top at about 9:45 a.m., the only one here.

I took some time to scamper up the rocks to tag the highest of each. One fin of rock defeated me. I got about halfway up, but sensed I better not take chances, so I backed off. In any case, I felt I had covered myself sufficiently, then took a nice, lengthy rest to drink and eat, plus shoot some images. I was amused by the thick marine layer enveloping the Los Angeles basins below. It was so thick, it looked like the Antarctic ice sheet. Hard to believe that ten million people live down there. They were all awaking to another day of "May Gray", that dingy washed-out fog-haze-smog mix that is so common to the L.A. basin. Up here, conditions were superb. The sky was bright blue and the sun shone brilliantly.

The views were awesome. Gigantic Mount San Antonio stood to the north along with its subsidiary peaks. East was big Cucamonga Peak, which is now on my short list. West were the rest of the frontrange peaks of the San Gabriels. The hike to Ontario Peak's summit was worth every step. I was feeling full of energy, despite having hiked over six miles and 3,700 feet of elevation gain. I started down after a twenty-minute break.

As I hiked down, I met up with hikers coming up to Ontario Peak's summit. First a group of three, then another group of three. I made good time downward and was back to Icehouse Saddle in about an hour, where I rested again. By now, there were about thirty people congregated around this saddle. There are about five trails that start from here, so everyone was going every-which-way, but relatively few to Ontario Peak. I rested here about fifteen minutes.

I started down into Icehouse Canyon, and actually missed a trail junction up high, adding an extra quarter-mile each way when I realized my error. Once back on the right trail, I kept a concistent pace and didn't stop at all until I was back to my truck, egressing at 12:30 p.m. I must have passed dozens of people hiking up, many with dogs, and lots of families and little kids on the trails lower down. The parking lot was jammed with cars, as were the streets. There were easily over a hundred vehicles shoe-horned into every available spot.

I took time to change into dry clothes, drink and rest, plus pop the hood and inspect my engine for anything wrong. It all looked good and going down Mount Baldy Road, I had no issues. From here, I went straight back to Wrightwood, where I showered and napped, feeling pleasantly sore after my first big hike in many months.

I took it easy the rest of the day, watched the Kings-Ducks game on television, then the next day, stretched my legs again on a shorter hike up Throop & Lewis Peaks.

According to the signs, the one-way hike to Ontario Peak is 6.4 miles, with 3,700 feet of gain. Adding my little error, my total distance came in at 13 miles. The trails were all fantastic, and there were very few places where the trail lost elevation on the ascent. Despite the crowds, I had fun and never felt crowded while hiking.

(c) 2014 Scott Surgent. For entertainment purposes only. This report is not meant to replace maps, compass, gps and other common sense hiking/navigation items. Neither I nor the webhost can be held responsible for unfortunate situations that may arise based on these trip reports. Conditions (physical and legal) change over time! Some of these hikes are major mountaineering or backpacking endeavors that require skill, proper gear, proper fitness and general experience.