The Mountains of California •
Telegraph Mountain & Thunder Mountain • San Gabriel Mountains
• Cucamonga Wilderness
• San Bernardino County

Mileage sign at Baldy Notch.

Thunder Mountain.

Approaching the saddle between Thunder and Telegraph Peak.

Telegraph Peak from the saddle

The trail approaching Telegraph Peak.

Sign for the top.

Getting closer...

Stick Scott at the summit.

View south.

View southwest. That wiggly road is the Glendora Mountain Road. Way off in the haze is Mount Wilson and San Gabriel Peak.

Hiking back down.

Shot of me at Thunder Mountain.

Date: August 11, 2012 • Elevation: 8,985 feet (Telegraph), 8,587 feet (Thunder) • Prominence: 1,183 feet (Telegraph), 387 feet (Thunder) • Distance: 6 miles • Time: 4 hours • Gain: 2,000 feet • Conditions: Warm, humid with storms developing

CaliforniaMainPB (Tele)PB (Thun)

Today was the third day of a short vacation before classes started back in Arizona. I had driven to Southern California to escape a brutal heatwave in Arizona (116 degrees the day before I left), only to find the heat equally as bad here, too. Even the mountains were warm, with daily thunderstorms building due to the humid airmass. Still, being higher up was better than suffering down low.

I had hiked a couple peaks over in the San Bernardino Mountains, and Waterman Mountain yesterday. My goal today was Telegraph Peak, a major summit along the main spine of the Sierra Madre, located about five air-miles east of the range highpoint, Mount San Antonio (Mount Baldy). A smaller peak, Thunder Mountain, was also on the agenda, located along the natural route to and from Telegraph Peak.

There are a number of peaks bunched in close to the Mount Baldy area that I am interested in. Given the weather and my time restrictions, Telegraph Peak rose to the top as the most logical one to do today. What sold me? For a fee, I could ride the ski-lift up to Baldy Notch, and save about 4 hours and 2,000 feet of dull road walking. I wanted to be here as early as possible, knowing the ski-lifts start running at 7 a.m., so I left Wrightwood very early and drove down the mountains, across the Inland Empire, then back up to the Mount Baldy town to get my permit (needed since I was partly hiking within the Cucamonga Wilderness). I continued upward past Icehouse Canyon, Manker Flats and to the road's end below the ski lifts. I was last on these roads in 2000, and I don't recall them being so steep. Sections of these roads have gradients approaching 15%. My truck did well, but it was lugging up some of these stretches.

I parked at the top-most parking lot then staked out my spot near the small trailer-shed that is used as a summer souvenir shop and ticket booth. The lady drove up, got things turned on, and sold me the first ticket of the day. I walked up, gave it to the man, sat in a chair and let it slowly carry me to Baldy Notch, elevation 7,800 feet. Occasionally the access road would come near the lift, where I could see hikers trudging up this road. This is what I did back in 2000 when I hiked Mount San Antonio. "Been there, done that", I thought. I didn't see the point in doing that all again. The ride to the top took about 20 minutes, and once there, I got myself situated and started the hike at about 7:45 a.m. Even up here at this early hour, it was warm.

Baldy Notch consists of the upper buildings and ski runs of the Mount Baldy Ski Area. To the west, the mountains rise quickly, with Mount Harwood and Mount San Antonio dominating the skyline. To the southeast, Thunder Mountain is the first "main" peak from Baldy Notch, then Telegraph Peak follows, about another mile away along the same ridge. Telegraph Peak is not easily visible from most vantage points in Baldy Notch. On summer weekends, people ride the ski-lift or hike up here (driving is not allowed to the general public) to escape the heat and smog down below. The operations up here are pretty impressive, even for summer. Workers are up here doing all sorts of general fix-up work on the ski runs and lifts or ferrying goods from below.

From the upper ski-lift, I dropped a few feet to catch a service road that gained gently to the far end of the Notch, to where one could look down the north side of the mountain into the high deserts. A sign here lists the distances to the various peaks. Thunder Mountain, first up, is just 1.4 miles away, so I turned right and started my hike. The handful of other hikers up here seemed to be heading west toward Baldy.

The hike toward Thunder Mountain follows a service road all the way, gaining about 700 feet. The road was gently pitched and I had shade for most of this segment. In about 35 minutes, I had hiked to where the road makes a hard left to the top of Thunder Mountain (and where one of the upper ski lifts lets off). However, I did not hike to Thunder Mountain's top just yet. Instead, I stayed straight and followed a lesser path to the end of a fence line (delineating the ski area's boundaries). Here, I merged in with the "Three Tee's Trail", so named since it passes by Thunder, Telegraph and Timber Peaks in one long loop between Baldy Notch and Icehouse Canyon. Today, I would be doing two-thirds of the Three Tee's.

The trail descends about 360 feet down the south slopes of Thunder Mountain to bottom out at the saddle below Telegraph Peak, at roughly elevation 8,180 feet. The trail was narrow in spots, including a section where the slopes were very steep below it, such that a slip could have been very costly. Other than a sore toe from my new hiking shoes, I was feeling well and making good time. I was somewhat surprised there was no one else on the route with me. I had this whole section of mountain all to myself.

Past the saddle, I walked up the trail a little more, then once back in the lovely shade, took my first break. To here, I had covered about two miles in a little over an hour. It was cool and still in the shade, and quiet. The slopes here are a rocky mix of scree and small talus, interrupted in places by large sections of woody scrub. The tree cover was not too thick, not so that I couldn't see long distances. It was peaceful.

Once rested, I started the 900-foot gain to the top of Telegraph Peak, about a mile farther to go. The trail makes about four or five long switchbacks, cut nicely into the talus. The grade was moderately steep, easy enough to where I could keep a consistent pace and not need to stop every 50 feet, and steep enough so that when I would look across to gauge my gain, I was pleased to see how fast I was going upward. I used Thunder Mountain (elevation 8,587 feet) as my gauge. In time, I was well above Thunder Mountain, and soon, I was at the main crest, where a side trail leads a quarter-mile to the top of Telegraph Peak.

This last quarter-mile segment was a little steeper in spots, but I think I was rushing things too. I covered this segment in about 10 minutes, arriving onto the open top, the highest point a small gray rock outcrop with the register log chained to the rocks. I tagged the top, signed in, took a few photos and had my second lengthy break. The views were tremendous, especially looking west at Harwood and San Antonio. Looking north, the mountain gives away in steep cliffs, with impressive views. I spent about 15 minutes up here. Of concern were the puffy clouds forming above the higher peaks. It was not yet 10 a.m. and the storm clouds were already collecting. Today promised to be as active as the previous days had been. I started hiking down.

I got maybe 30 feet down from the summit when I hear some talking, then a group of five or six runners come running up the trail. I'm always amazed people can do that. Me, I'm 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds. I have trouble running on flat asphalt. These people (a mix of men and women) were all small, slender people for whom running comes easy. Probably training for cross-country meets or something. They were going to the top, so I said hi and then started my walk back down. I made good time back to the saddle below Thunder and Telegraph, then huffed and puffed a little as I regained the elevation back up Thunder Mountain. The runners were behind me and it was a moral victory when I beat them to the Thunder Mountain area. I didn't want them passing me again.

Here, I left the main road and went up the extra 50 feet to the top of Thunder Mountain. Lots more people were up here, so when I made the top, there were about six others up there with me. One kindly took my photo of me at the sign. The highest point is a mound of dirt near a small building beside the ski-lift. In truth, the actual summit has been bulldozed and re-built to accommodate the ski-lifts. Whatever its history, I was pleased to get a second peak for my efforts.

The thunderheads were building quite large by now. The San Antonio and Harwood area was completely covered over, while things were still generally open above us on Thunder Mountain. Some people were looking at hiking over to Telegraph Peak, but distant thunder could be heard. I think most of the hikers up here were happy to be on Thunder Mountain and to go no farther. My walk back to the Baldy Notch buildings took about a half-hour, and my total hiking time a little under four hours. By now, there were dozens of people up here, walking all over the place, hikers, families with small kids, some just up here to sit and enjoy the high elevation. I sat at a table near the cafeteria and rested, listening to the classic rock radio they had on.

The ride down the ski lift was fun and relaxing, and I was back to my truck a little after noon. My engine light had turned on as I drove up in the morning, so I took time (with a cooler engine) to inspect things. Sure enough, I found a small disconnect in my air-intake hoses. I taped them up and solved that problem for the time being. The drive down was kind of spooky. The roads are so steep, it's easy to build up speed, so I put the truck in low gear and let it rumble downward, trying to brake as little as possible. I made it down fine, then drove into Upland and into Cucamonga to meet up with my parents at my brother's house. I got to see my niece and nephew, and we all went out to lunch. After more time visiting, I drove back to Wrightwood, and my parents followed soon thereafter.

Counting the up and downs of the hike, I put in about 2,000 vertical feet in under six miles round trip. I enjoyed this outing very much, amazed that this was just my second time ever up here after all those years I lived in SoCal.

(c) 2012, 2019 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. .