Now I know why they call it Icehouse Canyon. It’s icy.
I drove just 18 miles from the Motel 6 in usually sunny Southern California to the canyon’s trailhead at 5,000 feet, where it was 33 degrees and overcast in a fierce wind. Almost every foot of the trail was slick ice.
Fortunately, I had taken my Yaktrax, which they gave me all the stability I needed on the ice. I also put on my parka, which I was carrying because it was raining lightly when I set out. The parka provided all the head-covering gear I had, since I hadn’t brought my headsock from Colorado in order to save space in my overcrowded suitcase.
But actually Icehouse Canyon got its name more prosaically. Way back in 1858 somebody began cutting ice there to sell to the hot inhabitants of Los Angeles.
As much as I love this canyon it was far too cold and windy for me to go very far today. I have hiked here many times over the years, but hiked only an hour today.
Icehouse Canyon is 1.5 miles above Mt. Baldy Village, where I lived from 1943 to 1946, when its name was Camp Baldy. When I was in the 3rd, 4th, and 5th grades, I went to a one-room schoolhouse there that had a total of 20-25 students in all eight grades. According to a neat little guide book that I bought there, the school started in 1921 for kids who lived in the village’s 50 or so houses and cabins built on Forest Service leased land.
I went back to the schoolhouse today. It is now the forest service visitor center where I went to pick up the wilderness pass that I needed to park at the Icehouse Canyon trailhead. When I got there, a ranger was giving a talk to a group of a dozen or so kids on the history of the area. I asked the ranger to say a word. I told the kids that for three years I had gone to school in that very room more than half a century ago. That is also history!
Then, I drove around the corner to the house that mother and dad bought for my health. I was always sick and scrawny from the asthma that I had when we had lived 15 miles down in Upland, but overnight I got well in the mountain air. No wonder that I love the mountains in general and Mt. Baldy in particular!
The sparse vegetation of these mountains remind me of the Sandia mountain range just east of Albuquerque. But the temperature certainly reminded me of Colorado.
Since I had got going early in the day for what I had planned as a long hike, I had time to explore the whole area. So I drove up to the very end of the road where the Mt. Baldy ski lift starts at 6500 feet. It was 27 degrees there according to the thermometer in my rented Pontiac Grand Prix. But I took the ski lift to the top at 7800 feet, where the ticket attendant said the temperature was 13 degrees, and with the windchill factor it was minus 5.
I believe it. I was so cold that my eyes hurt during the 12 minute rides up and down. At the top I stopped at a funky restaurant called “The Notch” for a hot cup of coffee. Fortunately, the weather cleared on the way up the ski lift, although it stayed windy for the next hour or two.
It’s amazing that the base of the ski lift is only 23 miles from the motel that I’m staying at. And when I got back to the motel it was more than 40 degrees warmer.
On the way back down the road from the ski lift I noticed the Mt. Baldy Zen Center on the left. I stopped to look around and photograph it, because it was here that my favorite singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen spent 10 years as a monk.
I proceeded back down to Mt. Baldy Village and decided on the spur of the moment to hike up my other favorite trail in the San Gabriel Mountains, Bear Canyon. This trail starts right in the village and is the first trail that I ever hiked. That was 64 years ago. By the time that I got there today it was sunny and still and the temperature had climbed to 39 degrees. I hiked up a very steep trail until I reached a creek where the bridge had washed away. Then I returned to civilization.
Today was a rendezvous with my history.