Hiking Cucamonga Peak: The Struggle of My First Snow Hike & Heights

First off, I want to start by saying I won the lotto for a Mt. Whitney permit!!!  I’m soo excited!!  Well, technically, I lost, but my coworker who I am going with won… so I still won hehe.

HIKE TO: Cucamonga Peak ~ Hike 2 of Socal Six Pack of Peaks
TRAIL: Cucamonga Peak via Icehouse Canyon Trail 
MILES: 14.15 miles
TIME: 8:18 hrs (7:35 hr moving time)
DATE I WENT: 3/22/15
DIFFICULTY: moderate-strenuous
ELEVATION: 8859 ft
LOCATION: Angeles National Forest/ San Bernardino National Forest, Cucamonga Wilderness

A couple of months ago, I came across this “Socal Six Pack of Peaks” developed by Socal Hiker and I had it set in my mind I want to climb all six peaks, regardless of if I do Whitney or not; it’s good to set realistic, obtainable, not-too-distant-in-the-future goals, but since I am going to do Whitney, it doubles as training too.

Cucamonga Peak is hike #2 on the list (in order by peak elevation).  I did hike #1 (Mt. Wilson) back in January before I found out about this so I am now one-third of the way done.  If I continue at one peak a month, it should lead right up to my Whitney hike in August.  Cucamonga Peak is said to be 8,859 ft tall with an elevation gain of 4,300 ft and 11.6 miles long.  I use a GPS app tracker on my iPhone and measured it out to be 14.15 miles, with an elevation gain of 4,131 ft

This was definitely a hike like none other I have attempted and by far my toughest climb.  It took us a total of 8 hrs 18 mins, but with my power nap and the break at top, we hiked a total of 7 hrs 35 mins.  Compared to Wilson at 4656 elevation gain and 15.4 miles, I went considerably slower on this hike.

♦◊♦ My hiking experience ♦◊♦

The struggle of hiking under the weather:  Trailhead ⇒ Icehouse Saddle
I almost did not make it.  We went last Sunday [3.22.15] and I had really bad allergies from the day before.  I went to bed at 10:30 pm, woke up at 12:30 am thinking it’s morning already, but it was only midnight…… and I struggled sleeping through the night.  Anyways, I got scooped up just before 7 am and got started 7:45 am.  There is a parking lot right there which you need the Adventure Pass for, and at the trailhead is a box with day permits you’re supposed to fill out.  I took a nap during the car ride but still felt like crap all morning.  At 8:47 am, I really couldn’t do it anymore so I told Duy we had to break.  We stopped at a nice giant, flat rock………… and I took a 5-10 min power nap.  I think we barely covered 2 miles, but I had no shame.  Other hikers past us but I didn’t care that I stopped only an hour in because my eyes were shutting down on me and I felt sick from my allergies… it was miserable.  I’ve never wanted to stop mid-hike, let alone at the beginning of a hike!!  That’s how bad I felt.  I felt bad for wanting to bail so early, so I sucked it up and continued.  It was maybe not even half an hour later and I needed another break.  We didn’t even cover one mile since my last stop.  I was ready to call it quits and Duy said we could stop anytime since he did not want me to pass out either.  We were almost at three miles so I thought well let me just make it to the three mile mark so at least I can leave satisfied with a 6 mile hike round trip.

I pushed through and started to feel better, so I set Icehouse Saddle (7580ft elevation) as our turn back point which was supposedly 4.9 miles from the beginning.  The elevation does pick up once you hit Cucamonga Wilderness.  By the time we got up there at 10:10 am, I felt so much better.  It was ridiculously windy though!  For those of you who think 8mph is slow… let me tell you, it’s not.  Add the high humidity and cold air temperature — it was miserably cold when the wind howled.  (I’ve only experienced this feeling one other time… in Taiwan this past February… when it was high humidity + cold air + strong winds).  I was layered in a tank top, long sleeve, hoodie, shorts, and tights — that was not good enough!  Ok, so we finally made it to Icehouse Saddle.  We saw our first signs of snow along the way too!  I believe Icehouse Saddle splits into 6 trails (see map).  I decided since we were already more than half way there (Cucamonga Peak was only another 2.4 miles away) and I felt immensely better… screw it, we’re just going to go for it and finish our intended hike!  I hate quitting — I am all for listening to my body, hence the breaks and power nap, but I wanted to conquer this peak.

Icehouse Canyon ⇒ Cucamonga Peak: heights + snow + wind = no bueno
So this was at 10:10 am right… we did not reach the peak until 12:40 pm… that’s a good two and a half hour later. :O  We saw so much more snow on this trail and hiked through a decent amount on the last stretch before the peak!  I often forget about my fear of heights when I hike, but when the trails are narrow and the mountain slides straight down next to you with no bushes/ trees/ rocks to block the way… that frightens me.  There was two parts to this trail.  The first part was easy, decent elevation gain, not very windy, even got a bit warm, just a few snow patches to past, and there were beautiful mountain views.  Since I did not have hiking poles (and I’m scared of heights on top of that), and I did not have chains for my shoes, I struggled crossing small patches of snow.  It was warmer here so the snow melted into harder, slippery ice, and I was scared to slip and fall off the mountain!  I went super slow — better safe than sorry.  Maybe 50 minutes into it (that’s how I would split the second part of this trail, but it is all one trail technically) the temperature and wind changes drastically once you get to the other side of the mountain. You know you are approaching the other side of the mtn cause you will hear the wind howl loudly.  It was freezing when the wind blew but the views are definitely more gorgeous.  Guess what?  You are already well above the clouds!  It’s all switchbacks from here and parts of the trail were narrow so I stalled and Duy even had to drag me through some of it cause I was too scared to slip and fall.  But, none of that compares to the last stretch up.

The last stretch up: hiking straight up the snow
You will know it when you see it.  It’s a short distance but the elevation shoots straight up.  What makes it worse is that it was snow the entire way!  I must have stalled at least 10 minutes, debating if I should turn back or not.  We were sooo close… but the height and climb up the snow just scared the life out of me.  Seriously.  I was terrified to go up… but we were almost there.  Going up is one thing… but coming down, the thought of slipping and sliding all the way down and off the mountain freaked me out.  Duy told me well at least it’s snow so you’ll roll into a snowball -_-.  Of course, that did not make me feel better.  So what better way to conquer my fears than to face them straight on, right?  I decided to do it.   Some hikers from San Diego passed us and the girl saw I was struggling with the cold; when the wind blew, I froze.  She offered me her windbreaker jacket which helped so much!  The first couple steps at the bottom of this part was slipperier so Duy again had to give me a hand, but once I started to go, it was fine, not as scary as I thought it would be.  All you have to do is follow in other hiker’s footsteps in the snow… and don’t look back.

Every hiker told us the view on top was amazing, and they were right — it was definitely worth it!  The peak was well above cloud levels and you can see two other tall mountains.  It was much, much warmer at the top with barely any wind.  The pictures speak for itself.  We only stayed up there for 30 mins so we could go down with the same group and continue to use her jacket. 😛

I thought going down was going to be the scariest part but one of the guys (same group) let me use the hiking stick he picked up at the bottom of the mountain, so it was much easier going through the snow with three legs on the ground.  Yet, I somehow managed to fall on my butt twice on the way down…

The rest of the decline was just long, but we made it off the mountain a little after 4 pm.

I’m going to invest into a windbreaker and legit hiking gear!  Let me know if you have any suggestions!

I’ve learned that sometimes, you just need to take your time and listen to your body.  It’s good to push yourself but your body knows its limits.  A healthy body makes for a much more pleasant hike!  I’m also realizing how my fear of heights is holding me back.  It’s hard to just tell myself to get over it, especially when I’m already en route, but I’m hoping that getting legit hiking poles will help me push through.

Never stop exploring.

2 thoughts on “Hiking Cucamonga Peak: The Struggle of My First Snow Hike & Heights”

  1. How much snow was on the ground on average? Was there a wind chill factor? It must been quite amazing up there! At what elevation did snow cover become quite thick? Hey do you have other social media such as Twitter on Instagram? 👍

  2. Pingback: Hike to Bighorn Peak in Angeles National Forest | Follow Tiff's Journey

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