Tuesday, November 27, 2012

C50 Training: Ontario Peak Trail

Ontario Peak trailhead at Icehouse Saddle.
Ten months had passed since I hiked the Ontario Peak Trail. So on November 19th it became the focus of my first training exercise in preparation for the Cucamonga Fifty (C50), which I plan to do in April or May. I woke up late morning and drove to Icehouse Canyon above Mt. Baldy Village. It was a weekday, and I had no problem scoring a parking spot right next to the trailhead. The sky was clear, but a cold breeze kept me wearing gloves and a beanie much of the day.

With three liters of water in my Camelbak, I started up the canyon at 10:45 AM, arriving at Icehouse Saddle by 12:24 PM. The trail made me ascend 2,600 feet in the span of 3.6 miles. Covering this distance took a little longer than usual because I stopped at Columbine Spring to refill my Camelbak plus a 1-liter bottle to simulate conditions for my future C50 attempt. Also, a lingering case of bronchitis had interfered with conditioning, and my weakened body required mini-breaks on the steeper switchbacks before the upper Chapman Trail junction.

After a short break for lunch, I hit the Ontario Peak Trail at 12:38 PM. The path contoured westward along the southern head wall of Icehouse Canyon. This tree-covered, north-facing slope receives little or no direct sunlight and ices up during winter and spring months. While hiking here last January, a patch of ice upset my footing, causing a fall and slide of about twenty feet before a young pine tree rescued me. This time, with no such hazards, I managed to stay upright the entire way.

The trail left Icehouse and rolled over a ridge into Delker Canyon. It then curved around the head of Delker before entering Kelly Camp, having gained a mere 260 feet in a mile.

At Kelly Camp the main trail continues to the left.
The springs are straight ahead via the path on the right.
I walked into Kelly Camp at 1:02 PM. The trail wanted me to ascend, more vigorously now, to the southwest. But one of my goals for this hike was locating the Kelly Camp springs, which I had missed in January. So instead I wandered west toward a gully and mere yards from the edge of the campground found a piped spring which feeds an intermittent stream feeding Delker Canyon. Unfortunately, only drops dripped from the pipe this late in the season. A second, untapped spring a few yards beyond the piped one was also exhausted.

In the midst of mild disappointment, I noticed the remains of an old trail leading north and away from the springs. Suddenly there was an urge to follow this trail, and my disappointment abated. The faint path performed a wide u-turn over Shortcut Ridge, offering impressive views of Telegraph Peak to the north. It mostly disappeared after this point, but perhaps a long time ago had meandered southward to the beginning of Lost Creek, which was completely dry during my surprise visit.

View of Telegraph Peak from Lost Creek.
I completely lost the way at Lost Creek and opted to climb cross-country to the Ontario Peak Trail, now three hundred steep feet above me. After negotiating some rocks and dodging a little brush, I found the main trail waiting for me very near the Bighorn Peak junction. My watch said 2:08 PM. I had spent an hour exploring the abandoned trail to Lost Creek. If I had continued on the main trail from Kelly Camp, I would have reached the same spot in ten or fifteen minutes.

Within sight of the ridgetop junction, I started the 1.4 miles west toward Ontario Peak, saving the eastbound trip to Bighorn for later. The trail passed to the right of several ridge bumps, including 8,688, which is home to many burned trees. After this false peak, views in all directions were spectacular, especially those of Cucamonga Peak standing boldly to the east.

View of 8,688 and Cucamonga Peak from Ontario Peak.
Continuing 0.4 miles beyond 8,688, I reached Ontario Peak at 2:51 PM, having gained 1,000 feet post-Kelly Camp. Large boulders covered the small mountaintop, and those wishing to stand on the true summit could very easily climb them and peer over the trees to the north. The register was in a plastic canister nestled between smaller boulders below the big ones. After signing the book, refueling, and admiring the sweeping sights of cities far below and peaks nearby, I departed the summit at 3:15 PM, making it back to the ridge junction by 3:43 PM.

A broken sign sat upon some rocks at the Bighorn Peak trailhead. It indicated the trail designation (7W08A) and mileage (3/4). The use path continued along the ridge for approximately 0.8 miles and 420 feet of gain. At 4:10 PM, it unceremoniously petered out at a rock and wood pile. The pile held up an old metal pole next to a single campsite. In January a plastic register canister had been among the rocks, but this time I found nothing.

Rock pile and metal pole at Bighorn Peak.
The elongated peak encouraged a small amount of exploring through some trees to the east. It's possible to follow the ridge as it turns right and descends to the Cucamonga Peak Trail at saddle 7654. But I needed to backtrack to the Ontario Peak Trail, so I could get a GPS track of the 0.4-mile segment above Kelly Camp that I had bypassed earlier.

I left Bighorn Peak at 4:13 PM and completed the 2.2 miles back to Icehouse Saddle by 5:03 PM. Running out of daylight, I saved the longer Chapman Trail for next time and returned to the car via Icehouse Canyon, finishing at 6:27 PM.

After hiking 14.8 miles with 4,770 feet of gain, I tried to start my car in the freezing darkness. But after six years of dutiful service, the battery suddenly quit without notice. In neutral I coaxed my Honda Accord slowly downhill to the village, where a good patron of the Lodge restaurant gave me a jump start while explaining how the cold mountain weather hates car batteries.

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