Sunday, June 20, 2010

Telegraph Peak via Icehouse Canyon aka "Deception Peak"

View of Mt. Baldy from atop Telegraph Peak

Hike(s): Icehouse Canyon to Telegraph Peak

The Inspiration: The allure of the 3 T's

Highest Altitude: 8,985'

Trip(s) Mileage: 13.8

Total 2010 Mileage: 100.6

Telegraph Peak is quite the deceptive little ballbuster. 

The plan was for Team WWED? + Modern Hiker to stroll through Icehouse Canyon and head for the Three T's trail from the Icehouse Saddle, passing by Timber and topping out on Telegraph. Which we did. But it proved a bit more labor-intensive than any of us initially thought.

Arriving at the ranger station before the hike, we grabbed our wilderness permit and were duly informed that there was a hungry and very social little bear hanging out around the trail. Where?, we asked. The ranger very helpfully circled the trailhead, then made a big red asterisk right next to it.  Right there. At the beginning of the trail. Oh.

We practiced our bear-scaring measures (stomp loudly, clap loudly, repeat) and sped past the trailhead, continuing warp speed ahead, dodging slow trekkers left and right, rushing past an incredibly full flow of water, making record time to the Cucamonga Wilderness boundary. And then we all panted. And panted some more. Slow and steady does win the race when the race is more like a nearly 14-mile marathon. Lesson learned.

We carried on, tromping relatively quickly up the never-ending switchbacks to the saddle, passing a gushing double-decker waterfall in the canyon's crease. (Note to readers: Go to Icehouse Canyon NOW. Winter snowmelt = massive amounts of water everywhere. Bonus!)

At the saddle, we recharged, a mix of cold pizza, Clif bars, trail mix, and ginger chews fortifying us for the next set of quick switchbacks up towards Timber, and a surely quick 2.2 mile jaunt to Telegraph.

Ha. Bwahahahahahahahahahahaha!  Quick 2.2 mile jaunt, my ass!

At the junction with the Timber Mtn. spur trail, the Three T's trail continues towards Telegraph, and quickly descends to a very, very windswept saddle at about 7740'. Of course, we knew we'd have to climb back up to reach Telegraph, but we had no idea just how much elevation we lost on the way down from Timber. It was only afterwards that we realized that we put ourselves through 1,245' of elevation gain in just over a mile. 

During said mile, I cursed. I mumbled things under my breath. I considered finding a new hobby. It was a very, very, very silent mile. A very, very, very shitty mile. 

At what felt like the 666th switchback, we came across a group of people descending, with a few of them opting to cut across said switchback. Prompted by general crankiness, my inner self-righteous hiker asshole blurted out, "You know, you're not supposed to cut the switchbacks. It ruins the trail." The offending hiker retorted with, "Well, we're good hikers and we wouldn't cut the trail, except there's snow on it." I looked over. There was definitely snow on the trail. 

Telegraph Peak was turning me into an asshole. I needed to take a rest. I considered the possibility of scooting down the mountain on my butt. I considered the possibility of continuing on to Thunder and taking the ski lift down. I considered stopping at that very switchback and taking a nap, but I found myself nervously tromping across the snow and back up the damn mountain. 

When we reached a luxuriously wide and vaguely forested saddle, we all sat down, fueled up, and I proclaimed that I was done with this jerky portion of the hike and would be sitting out the last chunk to the top. Then we looked at the map, and the map said that it was only 0.1 miles to the top, and I bucked myself up for the last haul. 

Once on top, I realized that Telegraph Peak was not as assholey as I thought - it was just very, very picky. It wasn't going to let just anyone stake a claim - you had to earn your way. I felt proud. I soaked in the 360 degree views of Baldy, Cucamonga, San Jacinto, San Gorgonio, and beyond. Then I ate 4 slices of well-earned cold (well...lukewarm) pizza.

The mile or so back to the saddle was relatively uneventful (save for my constant fear of losing my balance and pitching myself thousands of feet down off the mountain during some hairy parts). It didn't seem nearly as steep, nor as exhausting, though the climb back up Timber was a minor pain in the ass. But as we gained momentum and busted our knees sailing down past Icehouse Saddle, through the canyon, and back to the car, I think we all felt a sense of pride in earning our spots atop Telegraph Peak. 

And then we went to Baldy Lodge and scarfed down burgers and fries and sugary drinks, a worthy prize for such a worthy endeavor. 

What Would Ed Do?

Ed would take Icehouse Canyon up through the Three T's, across Baldy, then hop in the car and tag San Gorgonio just for fun. Ed would, however, be proud of our camel-like abilities to collectively carry something like 11 liters of water on this trip. 



  1. How much snow on the trail if you had skipped going to the summit of telegraph and just kept trucking to the top of the notch and rode the ski lift down. Plenty of snow to melt for drinking water? How about mosquitoes? buggy at all?

  2. Hi!

    Hm - didn't look like all that much snow left up there at all. We only hit one tiny patch on the trail to Telegraph, and didn't really see any down on Thunder. Doubt there's enough anywhere to really melt enough as drinking water right now - just a smattering left in a few shadowy areas, and near the top of Baldy.

    Bugs are just starting to wake up, it seems - definitely hit a few buggy patches (and I ended up with a few in my mouth), but nothing too annoying.

  3. Did Baldy on fathers day with my 2 daughters. No snow issues what so ever. Few patches far off trail.

  4. Three of us are going up icehouse canyon late tomorrow afternoon, spending the night at the saddle and doing Three T’s on Saturday and riding the chair lift down Saturday afternoon. Hoping we can scrounge up a bit of snow in the crevices and hot have to lug up a ton of water. I will let you know how it goes and if there are any bear sightings!

  5. Sounds like a fun trip!!!

    You'll definitely need to bring water - BUT - Columbine Spring (the one you pass on the switchbacks on the way up to Icehouse Saddle) was running strong last weekend, so you can use that as a water source. I wouldn't depend on snow - there was barely any up there.

  6. How far from that Columbine spring to the saddle?

  7. Columbine Spring is about 2.4 miles from the start of the Icehouse Canyon trail. It's just a few feet to your right from the main set of switchbacks - it's the only little side trail you'll see on the switchbacks, and you might even hear it gurgling. Icehouse Saddle is just over a mile from the spring.

  8. I went to Icehouse 2 weeks ago (in fact, although I didn't realize it at the time I think I saw you there) and we only made it to Timber. This past Saturday we went again and made it to Telegraph.

    I think the most deceptive part of it is that for the vast majority of the 2.2 miles from the Timber spur junction you THINK what you see ahead of you is Telegraph. But then all of the sudden you're going on the side of it, and past it... and then you see Telegraph... and realize you're heading slightly down before you get to it.

    Well, the views were worth it when we did get there!