31 May 2009

Icehouse Canyon

Angeles National Forest

Locate the trailhead.

Icehouse Canyon is on a right hand straight (the road turns sharply left) just after Baldy Village. To enter the Wilderness some two miles up, you need to get a permit. We also needed a hang tag to hold the Golden Eagle so we were good and let them count us. That didn't make parking any easier on a Sunday morning. Backpackers and early(er) risers had gotten all the real spaces in the large lot, and quite a few of the imaginary ones. I was able to imagine one more spot on the second time around so we weren't so good on the parking but we weren't blocking anything either.

The trail itself goes up at a steady, determined pace. It is about 3.6 miles of constant up. It does not go flat, it does not go down, it just climbs and climbs until it gets to the saddle. There is one junction along the way which is actually just another way up to the saddle but takes about two miles longer to get there. We took this going down, freeing ourselves of most of the crowd.

As with most the area canyons, there's cabins along the way. The first few are actually kept up and populated although there is some evidence that they're not quite all still there. Lost cabins can be seen from time to time a few miles up, but used cabins don't go as far as the first mile.

Often the only thing standing of an old cabin is the chimney.
Once this was someone's cabin, now all that is left is a chimney and a bit of ground that is clear but no longer flat.

As we got up near the end of the densest area of cabins, we started seeing many lady bugs on the plants. A little further and we found what we thought was a huge swarm of the things. That was until we rounded the corner and saw them gathering together seeming to be five deep in places.

Massive numbers of ladybugs.
The orange-red would be ladybugs. The grey and brownish are rocks and dirt and loose leaves. What exactly is attracting these ladybugs is a mystery but they are very enthusiastic about it. (Abbie, much later: Turns out, not ladybugs.)

As we continue to climb, the vegetation becomes more sparse, especially the undergrowth. Following the trail, we found ourselves on the other side of the canyon without crossing over the stream which had water below. We can see far up the slopes easily all along the trail. The trees are huge and the slopes make them seem as bushes along the way.

A bit of trees.
One of the lesser slopes which doesn't dwarf the trees so far beyond what one would expect.

It's a good time of the year to be out as a few flowers are also out.

A sprig of yellow by a pine tree.
A bunch of yellow sprouting up by a pine tree.

Butterfly on flowers in the alpine heights.
A few butterflies are around too, since they are often around when there are flowers about.

Butterfly more clearly and flowers vanish.
The butterfly more clearly but the flowers have almost entirely vanished.

The last thing standing here are some stone walls.
One last cabin on the way up. This one has noting left but the walls. A fragrant bush flowers with delicate flowers in large bunches.

Closeup of the bush.
Zoomed into those flowers.

Rocky bits around the trail ahead.
The trail ahead with vegetation getting sparse.

A large and wrinkled rock along the trail.
This rock along the trail always makes me pause. I wonder how all the wrinkles in it were made.

The trail starts climbing even more determinedly on the north slope leaving the bottom of the valley behind with a few switchbacks.

On back down the valley from some ways up the north slope.
Giant trees looking a little big short maybe because the landscape is too big. This is back the way we came.

Water isn't really gone, though. There must be an underground route for it further down where there should have been water crossings. There is plenty of loose rock for it. The trail passes within four feet of a spring which seems to be fairly reliable. Then as the valley begins to climb up quickly to the level of the trail again after the switchbacks, this trickle of water can be seen in the creak bed.

A bit of water trickling along down some rocks.
Not much water, but it's real and slowly cutting tiny notches in the big rocks.

The valley becomes quite small, but still we climb with the sides rising with us and the floor. There's still a little more than half a mile to go.

Abbie at the three mile marker.
We made it to the three mile marker (and we even saw it as we went by) but still have to keep on climbing.

Lizard on a burned stump.
Someone with shorter legs got there before us.

The top of the saddle is not actually so high that trees have gone. There's four or five trails at the top. Most of them are marked, but somehow the one we came up isn't. There's also a sign to help you figure out which way you want to go except that the most important bit has become unreadable from all the people stabbing it to point out to their companions where they are on the map.

Looking down on the trails at the top of the saddle.
View from above, looking to the trails heading off from the saddle.

Looking back.
The view back, a lot like it was from further down but more so.

Looking forward.
And looking on to what would lie ahead for the continuing traveler.

This is one of the few east-west directed canyons in the range and the trade winds blow from the west so they usually have to go over the mountains. The previous times I've been up here, that meant cold wind was being funneled down to the size of the notch. This time, the top was warm. We lay down on the sun warmed dirt behind a log to shield ourselves from the minor breeze. I had far too much warm clothing with me since I didn't use any. In time, we turned back and headed down, this time taking the long route.

The longer (newer) trail hugs along the edge of the north valley wall. It doesn't really think of descending for at least a mile. It doesn't see more than a tenth of the traffic the other trail sees. It is much narrower than its counterpart which can frighten some folks when there's a long way down. I didn't see any problems with it but Abbie felt a few places were a little iffy. It eventually gets far enough along the valley wall that it's past the lip of something and drops down into some minor valleys.

Those same sweet fragrance bushes coming over a large long.
One of those valleys was full of those same bushes with the strong, sweet fragrance. Here they are climbing over a huge long.

Abbie at the tree roots.
The trees are just that big.

White and yellow flowers high up along the trail.
Some flowers up in the dry areas of the the trail as it passed over the last spot with a bit of a dropoff to the side.

Yellow flowers on down into the lower valley.
Another bush of flowers, this time big yellow ones. The top portions of this bush were almost entirely yellow from the flowers.

The trail flattens out again to proceed through a pleasant little campground. With all the backpacking adults with small kids who were coming down the trail as we went up, this was probably quite full the day before. No one was left by the time we reached it. After the campground, it drops down fairly quickly to the old trail with a few switch backs. Shortly after the campground, a stream that's just a trickle can be found.

A small waterfall and some litter.
Once back down to the old trail, there is plenty of water. Also odd pieces of trash like this skeleton of a couch.

A shooting star flower in red.
Some more flowers for the journey back.

King snake on a tree.
Abbie found a king snake.

Some purple flowers.
And some more flowers. This time little purple ones that look like they want to eat you! And then that's it.

©2009 Valerie Norton
Started 17 June 2009
Posted 15 August 2009
Updated 15 August 2009

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