Lauren Decker, ascending the small chute near the dry falls.
While a confident climber could definitely ascend both tiers of the falls directly in dry conditions, we opted for a loose dirt path and small chute to the left. Eventually everyone made it up this short but difficult section we'll call the lower falls, and the spread had now reached about a quarter mile. The remainder of the canyon up to Sugarloaf saddle would include nearly 1,200 feet of vertical gain in just over half a mile scrambling over large boulders and loose talus. The important thing to note is that although there are a couple of offshoot gullies along the route, we would stay in the main canyon until we reached a large rectangular boulder center right of the path followed by a huge downed tree log. To the right of these land marks is the scree field we would ascend. If you end up clenching for dear life as you ascend a near vertical wall, you most definitely have turned too early (not spoken from any sort of experience).
Rectangular boulder and tree log near scree field. A great land mark to know when to leave the canyon. This photo taken on another outing.
Ascending Sugarloaf Saddle
As we reached the scree field, I could see that a few of the front runners started ascending too far to the right which was dominated by tiny pebbles, making it near impossible for them to gain any traction (this side should be reserved for descending). We continued further to the left where we were able to bypass at least 100 feet of scree for more stable dirt switchbacks, and eventually talus.
Eventually we made it up to Sugarloaf Saddle, where we waited for the rest of the group before opting for Sugarloaf Peak. The route is fairly obvious although still unmaintained by any means. We would follow the ridge North until reaching a plateau (about 300 yards with 150 feet vertical gain from the saddle), then continue west where we arrived at the peak. Atop Sugarloaf Peak, the Mount Baldy village was a small spec that indicated some good progress, while more humbling was the massive climb that was now completely visible just south. Most of the group talked about how close it looked and I knew better than to agree with those kinds of kinds of remarks.
After regrouping at the saddle, we received radio communication from Justin and Cisco who had accidentally passed the scree field and began an ascent along a 25 foot tier water fall. He asked for tips on the route but I had never climbed to that point. I suggested moving toward the ridgeline to avoid any further unknowns and we lost radio contact. This would be the fifth or sixth time I've heard of friends under or overestimating the point where you leave the canyon.
The Ridgeline to Ontario Peak
The rest of the group began following the sporadic path that meanders along the ridge often rerouting due to fallen trees or overgrown Manzanita. We would continue to climb nearly 1,500 vertical feet in just over 3/4 of a mile before reaching a shaded plateau that hinted at the epic views of Ontario Peak. A quick break allowed for the back of the pack to catch up and before the group got too comfortable, we made for the last 1/2 mile and 600 feet. A thin layer of snow highlighted the route which for the most part continued directly south from the treeline staying near the apex of the slope. We often stayed atop fallen trees to avoid wet feet and slipping.
Nearing the Ontario Peak trail.
Finally we reached the highest point in they day, Ontario Peak. The group took a long break to refuel. Cool winds and warm sun left us feeling refreshed while taking in the views of Los Angeles blanketed in clouds. Just as we started to gather our belongings, Justin radioed in. He and Francisco had made it back onto the ridge and were nearing the peak. Most everyone was out of beer so we opted to then split into two groups. While Jeremy would lead the bulk of the group to Big Horn peak for some more cross country action, I would hang back and wait for the others to catch up...and open up my secret bonus tall boy, *crack, fiiizzzzz*...
"A Cup of Ambition" Hazy IPA provided by Arrow Lodge Brewing.
Saying our Goodbyes at Icehouse Saddle
Our group took the Ontario peak trail down to Kelly Camp and made it for the tail end of a short break the others were taking at Icehouse Saddle. They described the route from Big Horn as fairly easy to navigate besides a few bits with heavy brush. As I recall, the route moves North from the Peak and then veers northeast into a mild gully before hugging right side of the gully and rounding directly into the saddle. We took a quick group photo and slowly but surely started heading toward the trail head. Everyone seemed to depart with a new confidence, even if a few were confident that they would never do that again!
MORE INFO (not including Big Horn Peak ascent)
Total Distance: 10 miles (not including Big Horn Peak ascent)
Total Elevation/Loss (feet): +4,800 ft / -4,800 ft
Trail Difficulty: Moderate/Difficult
- Easy class 1 trail before crossing the creek (first half mile)
- Use trail beyond creek disappears and steep loose rock terrain emerges for remainder of canyon ascent (1,500 ft vertical gain in 3/4 of a mile).
- More route finding near sugarloaf saddle, but terrain eases.
- Mild (avoidable) bushwhacking along the entirety of the ridge.
- Class 1 near Ontario peak and back to Icehouse Saddle.
- Use trail up to Big Horn Peak with faint animal trail along North Slope (direct route to Icehouse Saddle).
***If you are planning to complete this hike, please be aware of your own abilities and needs. Although the the trail is well marked, much of this outing does not include any sort of trail and this style of terrain can be extremely dangerous.