A Custom Hike Coordinated by: Dorothy Danziger and Mars Bonfire
Machine: "At the tone, please leave a message."
Ingeborg: "Ingeborg. Hiking, Tuesday. What time?"
As it turns out, the 150 character limit on messages to Mars' phone
only applies to e-mail messages, but Ingeborg didn't know that when
she left the above telegram-like message. (Stop?) In any case, Mars
apparently got the general idea, phoned back, and on Tuesday morning
six of us gathered in the Icehouse Canyon parking lot for a private
hike to Cucamonga Peak and Etiwanda Peak. Besides Mars Bonfire and
Ingeborg Prochazka, there were Dorothy Danziger, Doris Duval, and
Brian and Karen Leverich. Mars had already stopped by the ranger
station and picked up a permit.
This was my first trip up Icehouse Canyon, and I confess to being
totally charmed. On a weekday, we had it pretty much to ourselves
(Dorothy tells me that on weekends it's a whole 'nother story).
Trees, wild columbines, monkey flowers, a stream with water in it,
isolated cabins. We even got to cross the stream by walking on logs.
Hopefully this isn't sacrilege, but this hike would have been worth
doing, even without bagging any peaks. Not to worry, though, there
seem to be a zillion peaks up there worth a visit. (Including Timber
Mountain, which is the scheduled destination of a
hike on Friday -- see
Dorothy had been up to Cucamonga Peak something like nine or ten
times, so was drafted to lead the way. Someone commented at some
point about how tiny she was, yet carrying such a big pack! "The sign
of a leader," someone said, probably referring to the pack. Dense
response: "Being tiny? Uh oh, Mars is in trouble..."
Eventually we ascended past the cabins, the stream disappeared, and
the canyon was a dry wash. (The stream was underground?) We passed
the sign indicating the boundary of the Cucamonga Wilderness. The sign
conveyed lots of helpful advice and suggestions: talk quietly,
don't wear bright clothing. (Would Ingeborg have been busted
if we met a ranger? See her inappropriately bright attire in Brian's
Tsk!) Bicycles are forbidden. Etc. This was intriguingly different
from a similar sign I saw a few months ago, when I entered the Chumash
Wilderness from the south. That sign forbade hanggliders. Does this
mean they're OK in the Cucamonga Wilderness, or simply that they're a
worse problem in the Chumash Wilderness? Imponderable, I suppose.
Another mile up the canyon (this is one long canyon), and we turned
off to visit Columbine Spring, crystal clear water tinkling out of the
rocks under the trail. I thought it was lovely just as it was, but
apparently until recently it had been shaded by a large shady tree
that has since died and disappeared. It is now somewhat bare and
open. When we stopped there on our way out, I saw a bright flash of
almost metallic blue disappearing under a rock. Lizard? Snake? I
wish I knew, I've never seen anything like it before.
Milepost one, milepost two, milepost four. What's wrong with this
picture? We never figured the mileposts out, but did eventually
arrive at Icehouse Saddle, with views down Lytle Canyon to the desert,
and a plethora of trails to choose from -- left to Timber Mountain,
straight ahead down Lytle Canyon, slightly right and ahead to
Cucamonga Peak, hard right to Bighorn Peak, harder right to Ontario
Peak, and of course behind us back down Icehouse Canyon. And there
may have been others, those are just the ones I can remember.
We took the trail towards Cucamonga Peak, contouring around the
northeast face of Bighorn Peak. We coalesced into two smaller groups,
with Dorothy, Ingeborg and I in front, followed after a small gap by
Brian, Doris, and Mars. Dorothy was careful to never get too far
ahead. Once she asked me, "Can you see your husband back there?" I
looked back, saw the other three hikers, and answered, "I can see all
three of them! Er, all three hikers, not all three husbands..."
Never one to miss an opportunity, when we were later switchbacking up
a rocky slope, Dorothy cautioned me not to roll rocks down onto
At the saddle between Bighorn Peak and Cucamonga Peak, we took a break.
Dorothy asked Mars if he was holding up OK. I mean, he's always at
the back, it's natural to worry, right? "I'm doing fine," he said
cheerfully, and added: "Besides, I really need these peaks!" This
provoked some fine laughter. Mars, needing peaks, imagine!
The view to the north was fascinating as we zigzagged our way up the
face of Cucamonga Peak. Each time we turned, the ridges behind
Bighorn emerged further, eventually dominating the northern horizon.
Almost like a flower opening in slow motion photography, the mountains
gradually appeared for us.
We passed several cleared deadfalls. When Dorothy and Doris were here
earlier in the year, they'd instead had to scramble over them.
Dorothy complained to the ranger, and voila!, the trail was repaired.
This is clearly a woman with influence, I'd be careful to not annoy
Then we were at a fork, with Cucamonga Peak to the right. Up a few
hundred more feet, and we'd reached our first peak. We stayed long
enough for some group pictures, but our next peak, Etiwanda,
from across a narrow ridge. Dorothy led us down, staying slightly
left of the drop off. The trail reappeared, heading eastward through
a pine forest. Eventually, we branched right up a use trail to our
second peak. We all signed the register, noticing the peak isn't
visited that much. I think Ping and Martin's names, from early
in July, were the last ones before us.
The problem with Etiwanda... Well, a problem with Etiwanda is that
apparently the best way back to Icehouse Saddle is by going back up
and over Cucamonga Peak, and, like, who's in the mood at that point
to go uphill again? Cucamonga from Etiwanda looks steep and
And there are these inviting use trails branching to the right
hither and yon that look as if they might contour around and
avoid all that gain. But Mars and Doris and Dorothy have tried
most of them at one time or another, and hadn't successfully made
it through on any of them.
Never say die. We were willing to try again. At the very least, there
had been that junction below Cucamonga Peak -- we had turned right and
ascended, but the left branch surely went somewhere. Mars had noted
the altitude, so on our way back up Cucamonga, we figured we'd take a use
trail at a similar altitude, and maybe a miracle would occur? "Mars
isn't going to get us into trouble," Dorothy reassured us. "If Mars
leads, we'll get there."
And of course she was right. Though the use trail we turned off on
petered out pretty quickly, Mars detected the real trail slightly
higher up the hill. We all scrambled up. Doris, Ingeborg, Brian and
I took a short break while Mars and Dorothy headed back east to scope
out how this trail interacted with the one between the two peaks.
They would have built a duck, except it turns out Dorothy had already
put one there. Then we all headed west and arrived at the expected
intersection. Hurrah, we had avoided all of 200' or so of elevation
gain. Well, and we had a much better understanding of how the mountain
On the way back down, I waxed slightly philosophical. Isn't it a tad
obsessional worrying peak counts? Wouldn't it be better to simply
appreciate each peak on its own merits? Should we be able to count a
peak when we can't remember anything about it other than that we've
been there? (Ingeborg and I were racking our brains trying to conjure
up a clear memory of Anderson Peak. Before you turn us in to the
Peak Police, rest assured that we did eventually remember the peak.)
The group was not receptive, but at least didn't toss me off of
Cucamonga Saddle when they had the opportunity.
We stopped again at Columbine Spring on our way out. I was still a
little vague on how this hike had come to pass, but was feeling so
grateful to have been included, that I thanked the group for having
invited Brian and I along. Turns out it was Mars' idea. He really
did need the peaks! He's closing in on his fourth list completion,
and didn't have these two scheduled to lead anytime soon. And here
we'd laughed at him earlier, thinking he was teasing. Sly devil...
On our way out through Icehouse Canyon, Dorothy and Mars pointed out
Falling Rock Canyon. A real inviting name, huh? Dorothy tells me
there's scree, and falling rock, and even a dry waterfall. Surely no
one in their right mind would go there. Er, no, wait: there's a hike
next Tuesday to Bighorn Peak, Ontario Peak, and Sugarloaf Peak. I was
going to sign up for that one, and the descent is by way of Falling
Rock Canyon. This sounds like the world-class gully Brian was asking
for just last Saturday. Um, I need to think about this... Why is it
that getting off these peaks seems so much harder than getting onto
them in the first place?