Adequately named, as every rounded peak should be called a sugar loaf. That being said, this is the only peak known around these parts with that title. There’s nothing special about looking like a hill among mountains, but then again, this is clearly a case for the tip of the iceberg, however big or small. The time was October 16th, 2011 and my first attempt at climbing this hill. This would turn out to be an adventure of a different kind, but an adventure nonetheless.
OFF THE BEATEN PATH
Ice House Canyon lends its healthy ecosystem to an ever flowing stream that provides a wealth of fauna and wildlife. There’s so much in way of exploring along the waterways and trails that take you through and out of the canyon. One such adventure begins half a mile or so from the ice house canyon trailhead, where you’ll find a short distinct switchback that starts to ascend to your left. It will be at this juncture where you will leave the trail and head in a southeast direction into the canyon itself.
There you will come upon a running stream where you’ll make a crossing to continue the hike. You’ll soon notice as you gain higher ground, the build up of large talus and scree that gather at the base of the mountain. What is talus you say? One way to remember is that talus is rock bigger then your fist, and anything smaller then that would be scree. There’s no illusion from where it came from, as you’ll soon come face to face with the obvious.
UP, UP AND AWAY
From this point, it’s roughly over a mile up to the peak. Cross country at it’s finest, by San Gabriel standards.
It starts off relatively easy, as you make your way over the talus and scree. Soon you’ll be boulder hopping as you gain elevation, passing dead fall and navigating a route. You just go with the obvious and sometimes you’ll come across a duck marker placed by a previous hiker, showing you the way. If there was ever a name given to characterize this area, falling rock canyon is that perfect name. Trees that once stood have lost purchase on the rocky ground that crumbles beneath it, creating cliffs with overhang ready to fall at any given moment. Every now and then a rock would break loose from above and hurl nearby. Wearing a helmet comes to mind and I probably should carry one in my kit. I did improvised by padding the inside of my cap with bandanas and hoped for the best.
CRACKS, GRABS AND HOLDS
Making my way to the left and making my way to the right, I came across this huge granite slab. The angle was good with plenty of cracks for holds as I muscled and pushed my way up.
ARE YOUR DUCKS IN A ROW?
Of all the duck markers I’ve found on this route, there was one that was a true duck marker. Typically on trail you would find stacked rocks, which actually denotes a cairn. Often times one would think this is what you do, but the proper way is to use one large, one medium and one small stone to build the shape of a duck, with the smaller stone pointing in the desired direction of travel. Cairn markers were built and originally used as landmarks usually found on summits or places of interest.
A RACE TO THE SOUTH
About the halfway point the sun gave away its position. I could clearly see it through the trees above the canyon. We were both headed south and I used it to pace myself till I got on the ridge to Sugarloaf. It’s a lot of work traveling over rocks on an incline. Very easy to roll an ankle out here. It’s about calculated steps and using your movement efficiently.
Looking back to the NW, I was high enough in elevation to see the ridgelines that make up Mount Baldy. It was awe inspiring to say the least and to think that I have climbed that mountain in every season on five different routes is satisfying. Like a lot of us do, we claim that mountain to be our very own and we don’t mind sharing it.
WHEN THE GOING GETS TOUGH, THE SLOPES GETS STEEPER
It was at this point that I had to use the aid of sticks to pull myself up the mountain. The loose scree made everything challenging, as I found myself sliding back four feet for every foot of gain. Nothing fancy, just raw determination. With every stab I finally made it off the scree and closer to the top.
Officially out of the canyon and for the most part on level ground, I noticed the scrape on my shin turn into a gash. Nothing that a pair of trousers could have prevented… right? Keeping a close eye, I just decided to air it out. I was a good hundred feet or so from the ridgeline and as I got there, the view to the south opened up. At an elevation of around 6,800 feet, let’s just say it was good to see the sky and what was on the other side of the mountain.
It never gets old. That familiar feeling of solitude combined with the visuals that come with elevation hiking.
As summit registers go, this would have to be the best design to date. A lot of thought went into the construction of this one, with steel rods working as armatures to place between and under rocks. The contents within were the typical notepad and pen. I’ll sometimes cache a little treat or gatorade packet for anyone who may need it.
ABOVE IT ALL
Not much in way of real estate, but you get the best 360 degree view that a rounded top can offer. Sugarloaf happens to be on the Sierra Club’s 100 peaks list, and at 6,924 feet, it is very formidable.
ALL GOOD THINGS MUST COME TO AN END
If you could make the day longer, how many hours would be good enough for you? How long can a good time last? Unfortunately, there are bad days as well, and we all know how quickly we want them to end. Well, I was having a good day, and the balance here is the moment. Just as it was an adventure getting here, it doubles the pleasure getting back.
IT’S SCREE SEASON
It’s rare that you can find an opportunity to scree ski several hundred feet. The scree has to be fine and consistent to ensure a smooth glide. At an angle of 50 degrees, I used my stick to push off and act as a rudder. What took forever climbing up this stuff, took minutes getting down. I haven’t had so much fun since the last time.
THE ONE THAT DIDN’T GET AWAY
Taking what a cold stream can offer on a warm October day is priceless. Like always, it’s good to be back safe and without incident. Apart from the hike itself, I can see all the inherit dangers that come with this one. I’m not one to preach, as I don’t always follow the hiking code, which is the buddy system. I guess it’s just my personality and something I need to change. Having said that, I couldn’t have asked for a better way to learn and share what’s important to me. Take what is given and don’t let it get away.