Trail & Snow Conditions: Icehouse Canyon, Bighorn Peak, & Cucamonga Peak, January 16 2016

I joined the S.C.H.P. Meetup group for the first part of my hike. They planned to hike Cucamonga Peak, in the effort to complete the SoCal Hiker 6 Pack of Peaks Challenge in winter. I did not have enough time to hike Cucamonga, so I decided to join them to Icehouse Saddle, then solo hike Bighorn.

Some notes on trail and snow conditions:

  • From the trailhead to Icehouse Saddle, everyone in the group used winter traction that utilizes an elastomer harness – ie microspikes, trail crampons, yaktrax.
  • If you plan to hike beyond Icehouse Saddle, more aggressive traction should be used – hiking crampons or mountaineering crampons. At Icehouse Saddle, we all starting using our helmets and crampons. Some opted to carry an ice axe in one hand and a trekking pole in the other. Remember if its slippery enough to need crampons, you also need a way to self arrest (ice axe, whippet).
  • On my ascent from Icehouse Saddle to Bighorn Peak, the snow was very soft and wet until about 8,000 ft.  Around 8,000′ the snow became hard and windblown and I appreciated the extra traction provided by my Hillsound Trail Crampon PROs.
  • Leaving Bighorn Peak, I used my mountaineering crampons. I descended via a canyon northeast of the peak and wanted the extra length of the crampons.
  • I wanted to avoid the crowds of hiker coming up the trail and I stayed in the canyon longer than I should have.  Around 6400′ the trail became very brushy. I should gotten back onto the trail around 6600′.
  • When I returned to the trail, I used micros style winter traction back to the trailhead.
  • Regarding trail conditions for Cucamonga:
    • Deep snow from Icehouse Saddle covering the “usual trail”. There is a trail kicked in snow that traverses around Bighorn below the elevation of the mine taking you to 200′ lower than that of the Cuca-Bighorn Saddle. Don’t attempt this in just microspikes. You should use crampons and an axe for self arrest. We didn’t even attempt to find the trail up Cuca. We went up a long drainage east of Cuca all the way to the summit and back down.” source:


My route, exported from my Delorme inReach.

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The conditions were excellent for testing the winter traction devices I’ve received over that last few weeks:

Winter Traction

  • Yaktrax – both of these models provided adequate traction for the hike to Icehouse Saddle.
    • Pro Traction Cleats
      • With normal walking, they worked great.
      • When I tried to push the limits of them, ie trying to make the slip, the coils grabbed well, but I was able to get the toe of the elastomer harness to pull up and over the toe of my boot. Will need to figure out if this is an issue with sizing, the materials used, or the design.
    • Run Traction Cleats
      • Design of the straps kept the cleats where they’re supposed to be – didn’t slip like the Pro Traction Cleats.
      • I believe they’ll work great on packed snow and ice.
      • I didn’t slip, but for hiking, they could benefit from longer carbide steel spikes.
  • ICETrekkers Diamond Grip Traction Cleats
    • Worked well on mixed terrain. I like the design of the cleats.
    • They seem to run small, but I will test them with a few different pairs of boots.
  • Hillsound Trail Crampon Pro
    • I really like the binding system. They can be put on or taken off quickly, which is useful on terrain where you need to change traction frequently.
    • The snow was very wet and sticky (perfect for snowballs) and the anti-balling pads worked great.

Other Gear

  • Hillsound Armadillo LT Gaiter
    • Breathe much better than my OR Verglas Gaiters.
    • Sizing seems to be a little on the small side, so you if you have large calves, plan on wearing them with insulated pants or are in-between sizes, I would recommend sizing up.
  • Katabatic Gear Helios 55
    • My pack, with all of the redundant winter traction I was carrying, was around 35 lbs. The pack carried the weight very well. I’m impressed.
    • Well designed/thought out pack. I will post a ‘first look’ style blog entry soon.
  • Minus33
    • Kodiak Expedition Full Zip Merino Wool Hoody
      • Used as my primary insulation layer on this hike. I only needed near the summit (very windy) and for about an hour on my descent.
    • Merino Wool Day Hiker Sock
      • In terms of feel and comfort, they are very similar to the heavyweight Thorlo socks I used for years, but with the added bonus of merino wool’s properties.
      • 6 hours of strenuous of hiking and no hotspots or blisters.  I aired them out after my hike and no stink or crust; I’ll wear them again before washing.
  • Hoka One One Tor Summit Mid WP Hiking Boot – Men’s
    • First hike with these boots. Super comfortable and my feet stayed dry and warm.
    • I’ve worn these 8-10 days to work over the last month:
      • The vibram soles have great traction, better than most of the boots I’ve owned.
      • With the sticky soles, I am curious about long they’ll last. They have about 10+ miles of snow hiking and 30+ on asphalt/concrete and still look new. It will be interesting to see how they hold up to the tough NH terrain this spring and summer.

3 Responses

  1. Ranger Bill

    To Cucamonga Peak in the winter requires you to go over Bighorn Ridge down to Cucamonga Saddle before heading up to Cucamonga. Here is where the fun begins, you have to climb to the the 2nd switchback of the trail…and have fun coming down from there if the snow isn’t right. At that point it is up the ridge.

    To avoid the downclimb from the 2nd switcher, we go do Lytle Creek Drainage to Cucamonga Saddle level and traverse back to it, having a GPS and a map come in handy for this. The 900′ descent can be dangerous and a postholing nightmare…do it at your own risk.

    Since between the Saddles is an avalanche zone, we will go back over Bighorn Ridge, unless some test crash dummy has put the trail in.

    This should be done by people with a lot of winter experience. I have only done it with people I know and trust…and I have done it in some very miserable weather.

  2. crash test dummy

    I put the trail in for you on Saturday, so you can now relax. — Crash Test Dummy.

  3. JG

    @KR:my snow climbing buddy and Crash Test Dummy. Still smiling at the awesomeness of the drainage and untouched snow up an down. We don’t need no stinkin’ switchbacks.