Ontario Peak Perfection
Updated: Mar 1
Date: February 22, 2021
Distance: 12.1 miles
Total Elapsed Time: 10h 2m
Total Moving Time: 7h 13m
Summit Elevation: 8,688 feet
Elevation Gain: 3,739 feet
Trailhead: Ice House Canyon
Previous Ascents: June 2, 2020
Today's hike to Ontario Peak was picture perfect, literally. I had been watching the Mountain Forecast for Ontario Peak for a week leading up to today's summit. While the temperatures had remained mild, the winds at the summit elevation were anywhere from 20-50 mph, I gambled on today and was rewarded with forecast winds at the lowest point for the previous 7 days (as well as for the upcoming week) On top of that, there was not a cloud in the sky and the temperatures were 10 degrees warmer than originally forecast. I had hit the weather lottery!
Ice House Canyon Trail
I had encountered more traffic than I anticipated getting to the trailhead which pushed my starting time back a little, but once I pulled into the parking area for the Ice House Canyon Trail, the frustrations of being delayed melted away. As I was gearing up, I chatted with the guys parked next to me for a bit about my destination and what I anticipated the conditions to be for the day, turns out they were headed to Ontario as well. They left a few minutes ahead of me and I figured we'd likely meet often on the trail.
The distance to Ice House Saddle by way of the Ice House Canyon Trail (IHCT) is 3.6 miles and I expected to make good time as the trail was supposed to be clear of ice and snow all the way to the saddle.
There is an alternate route to reach the saddle via the Chapman Trail, a 3.7-mile deviation that adds just under two miles (net) to the trip to the saddle. Since I was already running behind my plan and I didn't know how the snow past the saddle would affect my travel time, I stuck to the IHCT.
The trail parallels Ice House Creek, and along the first mile of the trail are several occupied cabins as well as the remains of cabins that didn't do so well in past wildfires.
As I climbed towards the saddle I passed two guys (James and Austin) and stopped to chat with them about their hike, they were headed to Cucamonga and were super-stoked just to be out on the trail and enjoying the day. It always makes me feel good to talk with folks that are excited and genuinely happy just to be out enjoying nature. (I would see them twice later in the day, both times at the Ice House Saddle. They had arrived at the saddle slightly after me on their way to Cucamonga as I headed out to Ontario, then we basically all arrived back at the saddle from our respective trips at the same time.)
Further up the trail, I saw Scott and Adrian again (the two guys that I'd met in the parking lot), they had stopped to put on microspikes as there were more patches of ice on the trail. I opted to hold off on the microspikes as I was managing the ice patches fine on the ascent (however, later I would keep them on for the descent).
As the trail wound its way up, it offered some of my first views of Mount San Antonio a.k.a. Mount Baldy and West Baldy. From this point on, Baldy was visible most of the day as I continued on towards Ontario Peak.
I've only hiked Baldy once before, last year when I was doing the SoCal Six-Pack of Peaks Challenge, and due to weather conditions (super high winds), I opted for the Ski-Hut route as opposed to my Plan A (hike to Baldy Notch then cross over the Devil's Backbone).
Mount Baldy is one of the remaining peaks on my challenge and I'm hoping to do it this year approaching over the backbone, we'll see how that goes. Much of the snow is gone from 'Baldy Bowl' as you can see in this picture (another one of my 'wishlist' approaches is to take the mountaineering route up through the Bowl). All plans for another day, today I was just soaking in its majestic beauty 😊
There was a fair amount of activity at the Ice House Saddle when I arrived, people whose destination (and turnaround point) was the saddle and folks putting on traction devices to continue on to their designated peak(s).
The Ice House Saddle is a hub that provides lots of options and I am sure to be back there often this year as I work on different hikes. Today's trip obviously has me heading out on the Ontario Peak trail (with thoughts of potentially doing either Bighorn Peak or Timber Mountain as a bonus peak).
Onward to Ontario Peak
The trail to Ontario Peak was entirely snow-covered, I had brought both my snowshoes and my microspikes, not knowing what the trail conditions would be. After a quick look around, I opted to go with my microspikes and stay on the "beaten path" which was well established with iced-over tracks. Periodically I'd pass a spot where somebody "post-holed" (broke through the snow and went all the way to the ground), sticking my trekking pole into the holes along the way I'd say the snow depth was anywhere between 24" to 40".
Most of the way to the Peak, the track I was following stuck close to the actual trail, there were a few deviations simply because a direct route over the snow, un-impeded by the usual underbrush and obstacles, was possible. Too, original trailblazers in the snow tend to shun switchbacks for going straight up 🤣
It's amazing how the snow changes the view and the landscape, I went back and compared photos from my trip last June to today's sights; until I got closer to the ridge, most of the manzanita bushes were completely covered by snow and the pine tree saplings only had the tops of the trees showing! It was fun passing through Kelly Camp and seeing the "No Campfire" sign almost completely covered with snow. Once I came out of the trees beyond Kelly Camp and was traversing towards the summit I had to put my goggles on, the combination of a beautiful sunny day and all that snow, well it was just plain BRIGHT!
As I worked up to the ridge, the snow gave way to bare ground in places due to wind and sun exposure, still pretty spectacular views of surrounding peaks and the cities below.
I reached the summit in a total of 5 hours, which did include a little stopped time to chat with people along the way and to make gear changes, but I am learning quickly that snow travel is about half-speed at best. I had this growing suspicion that my desire for multiple peaks today would go unfulfilled.
I was the only one on the summit and I spread out like I owned the place 🤣 First order of business of course was to get photos done. Then I changed into a dry shirt (setting my base layer and shirt out to dry) and set up my ‘kitchen’ for lunch. Even though it was 56º at the summit, I still had made a hot lunch to accompany the cold stuff I brought, then it was time to kick back and enjoy a leisurely lunch.
Summit Menu: Creamy Potato Cheddar Soup, Spam slices, little cuties, banana, Double Stuff GF Oreos, Nuts and Raisin trail mix, and hot Coffee (Starbucks instant).
I was just finishing up lunch when Scott and Adrian arrived at the summit, so I hung out and chatted with them for a bit while they had lunch and did their pictures, I hardly noticed that I ended up spending 2 hours at the summit! Yeah, maybe I could have squeezed in another peak if I hadn't spent so much time at the summit, but it's not always about the peak. It was SO relaxing to chill and have my quiet time soaking in the scenery, then to spend time visiting with new friends, totally worth it!
Well, all good things must come to an end, and I really did want to finish in the daylight so it was time to pack up and head down. The other guys took off a little ahead of me as I gathered my gear and put everything away. The downside of it being so nice out was the snow was getting slushy, which meant more post-holing on the way back, slowing progress accordingly. Once back in the trees above Kelly Camp the snow was firmer and I was able to pick up the pace somewhat, although walking on the narrow snow trail on the side-hill took some care (see images below). Passing through the Ice House Canyon Saddle, I decided to leave my microspikes on for the few icy patches on the IHCT. As I mentioned earlier, I saw James and Austin as they were just returning from Cucamonga Peak, they said microspikes were a little sketchy on some parts of that trail as there was lots of ice and some steep pitches where the "blazed trail" ignored the switchbacks. Good to know, I would be coming back soon to bag that one for my 6th peak on the SoCal Challenge list.
I stopped and chatted with another couple who were fixing a hot meal, new friends Dana and Julian (and their dog Georgia). it was pretty cool to hear of their New Year's Eve Snow Camp on the mountain! (and I mean pretty cool in the "better you than me" sense of cool!🤣) I always enjoy meeting new hiker friends on the trail and today didn't disappoint.
I made good time on my descent, but given my penchant for stopping to chat with people, I did end up finishing after dark, no worries I had my headlamp but the moon was bright and I figured I'd just use my iPhone flashlight rather than digging out my light. All-in-all it was an awesome day, I bagged peak number 5 on my challenge list, I met a bunch of new friends, and enjoyed a peaceful afternoon on the mountain.