Flatland and Mountain Training for the Mt. Whitney Day Hiker

 

During the winter of 2012 we took a little 10 mile, +3,800' to Ontario from Ice House Canyon Trailhead. I told a friend I was totally gassed after this hike. His response was, "It's not the miles, it's the kind of miles." This trip was not on the trail through Ice House Canyon to saddle then through Kelly Camp, it was up Falling Rock Canyon with a stop at Sugarloaf Peak then back on the snow covered ridge to saddle then down the trail. Keep this in mind when you are planning your training program this year. You can cobble together 22-mile day hikes with 6,000' of gain in SoCal but you ain't going to come anywhere close to 14,500'. Those SoCal miles are not Eastern Sierra miles.

 

Over the years we have advocated for a trip to the Sierra or anywhere there are mountains substantially higher than 11,500'. These are different kinds of miles. In the Eastern Sierra you are starting at near 10,000' on most trips or you get there very quickly and stay there for a long time. Places my friends and I have used in the past have been White Mountain, Mt. Langley and Cirque Peak.

 

White Mountain a great trip for beginning hikers. It's on a road, above the treeline, you can get to early in the year because of its location and has a starting elevation of 11,635'. It's the easiest of the 14ers. It will give you an idea of what it like to make a 1,200' summit push to 14,246'over a short distance. Mt. Langley is a tough 22-miles because of the sandy trails and sandier approach from 12,300' level. It's getting to 12,300' that can be a problem in the early summer. New Army Pass is usually block by a cornice at the top to well into July...we have been over it 4th of July weekend after a dry winter and Army Pass, the preferred route of travel is blocked by snow usually into mid to late August. Another way to get to Langley is through Cottonwood Pass but it involves cross country travel. We have crossed Cottonwood Pass in mid-June without winter tools a few times...YMMV. From the PCT, it's cross country to Cirque Peak, around the Cirque to the top of New Army Pass then onto Langley. Cirque Peak is a great trip on its own or you can add some miles by looping out over Trail Peak...one of our favorites for it ungodly views.

 

In February 2006 I sustained multiple injuries while having a bit of winter fun on the MR. One of the injuries required surgery which knocked me out of action for 10 weeks. I was determined to come back from this set back in better physical condition than I've been in the the last couple of years. Thus a new program...more running and a very serious use of local mountain trails to build aerobic capacity, endurance and to shorten recovery time.

 

I'm not going to kid you, even after the injuries and surgery I was starting my conditioning from a decent base, within 7 weeks of starting this program I was able to stand on 12,900' Cirque Peak but it was not an easy trip for me.

 

The basic program is this...for flatland training I try elevate my heart rate to average of ~85% of max 4 to 5 times a week running while building the duration of these runs from about 20 minutes to 60 to 65 minutes a week before I am off to Mt. Whitney. My normal run include 3 or 4 hill climbs of 100 or more vertical feet. On Saturday's I hike...aggressively. That mean my average heart rate will be in the 75% of max range during the ascent.

 

I view day hiking as a means to end, that end being able to backpack high mileage days above 10,000' in the Sierra. So, day hiking in the local mountains is exercise, most of the time. I chose a trail which is close to home that has a lot of possibilities attached to it as my "base line" trail.  What I wanted to establish here was a high base line level of fitness. I defined that as being able to go up 2,650' over 3.5 miles from 5,000' to 7,650' at 2 MPH without stopping. At this level you will be passing all but a very few people going up the trail and while building good aerobic capacity.

 

Why do I think this program will work for the day hikers out there? After 4 months of this program, the first month of which I was babying the surgically repaired injury, I found the big hike we did prior to day hiking Mt. Whitney in 1999 to be a walk in the park....16 miles, +4,600'+. I felt I could have easily, errrrr, semi-easily done 22 miles at Mt. Whitney that day.

 

What you get out of this program will be directly related to what you put into it, both on the flatlands and in the mountains.

 

Also, I use a heart rate monitor during flatland training and all day hikes. During flatland training, it allows to exactly how hard I am pushing and during day hikes it allows me to keep my pace within my aerobic range...something I've always had a problem doing. Keeping yourself with your aerobic range is one of the key factors in a successful day hike of Mt. Whitney.

 

This program follows...


The base level of fitness you want to reach here is to make the saddle in <1:45 without stopping for anything before moving further up the mountains. My current best here is 1:18 and staying within my aerobic range, taking it easy, 1:28

 

Icehouse Canyon Trailhead to Icehouse Saddle
Distance: 7 miles Round Trip
Trailhead Elevation: 5,000'           High Point: 7,650'
Location: San Antonio Canyon
Permits: Permit picked up at Mt. Baldy Visitors Center, Mt. Baldy Village...This requirement is universally ignored
Maps: Mt. Baldy and Cucamonga Peak 7.5' USGS Quads
Water: Columbine Spring at 2.3 miles
Directions: Exit 210 at either Mountain Ave or Base Line Rd. and head north the road funnel in to Mt. Baldy Rd. The trailhead is a couple of 2 miles above the Mt. Baldy Village before the road starts to switchback up to the Mt. Baldy Ski Area.

Description: This is our base line hike and it lends itself to the that job. The trail has a fairly constant rate of gain, up about 700'/mile and the there are mile markers all visible along the trail at 1, 2 and 3 miles...there is another one for 5 miles but that is for the Chapman Trail which also takes you to Icehouse Saddle. If you are in reasonably good shape you will reach the saddle in 1:45, this means including any stops to catch your breathe. A few of my hiking partners can do this in 1:15 to 1:20 range...they have all reached the summit Mt. Whitney.

 

If you travel up this trail on a Saturday morning as we do most weekends you will see hundreds of people as the wind their way up the trail to Icehouse Saddle, where most end their ascent. The first 1.3 miles is forested, along Icehouse Creek and delightful. At .9 is the trail junction for the Chapman Trail. but just keep going the mile marker is a a little further up the trail on the left. At 1.3 miles its creek crossing time, this usually isn't a problem even during the spring melt, you are now entering an area we call The Rock Garden. At 1.5 miles is the welcome to the Cucamonga Wilderness sign about a .1 mile further up the trail is a seasonal creek to cross near Lost Creek Canyon, it is usually dry by late May. From this point, the trail makes its way  toward the lower slopes of Timber Mountain but just before it reaches its slopes is the 2 mile marker on the left. On the first ramp up Timber before the switchback turn is Columbine Spring at 2.3 miles, the only easily accessible water on the upper mountain most of the year. Now, the trail switchbacks toward the Upper Chapman Trail Junction at 2.9 miles where you hang a right and continue to ascend to the saddle.

 

There are many reasons we recommend this trail, especially for newbies, it is always crowded on the weekends, it is difficult to get lost because you are in a canyon and it is well signed and the mileage markers, which are great for our purpose.

 

Once you are comfortable with going to the saddle, it is on to Timber. Use a 2:10 base line for Timber Mountain.  My best time here is 1:43, staying within my aerobic range 2:09

 

Icehouse Saddle Trailhead to Timber Mountain, Telegraph Peak, Thunder Mountain and Baldy Notch
Distance: 9 to 14 miles Round Trip
Trailhead Elevation: 5,000'           High Point: 8,985'
Location: San Antonio Canyon
Permits: Permit picked up at Mt. Baldy Visitors Center, Mt. Baldy Village...This requirement is universally ignored
Maps: Mt. Baldy, Telegraph Peak and Cucamonga Peak 7.5' USGS Quads
Water: Columbine Spring at 2.3 miles
Directions: Exit 210 at either Mountain Ave or Base Line Rd. and head north the road funnel in to Mt. Baldy Rd. The trailhead is a couple of 2 miles above the Mt. Baldy Village before the road starts to switchback up to the Mt. Baldy Ski Area.

 

Description: See the above for the first part of this trip.

 

Leaving the saddle you hang a left and go up to flat at 4.2 miles where there is a signed junction for the summit. A quarter mile later you are standing on "Chapman" Mountain...or so the sign says with it's good views.

 

A variation for the the hard core is to go directly up and down the ridge line to Timber. This will get you heart pumping on the way up and make your knees mad at you on the way down.

 

You can extend this trip to Telegraph for 14 miles or making a Three "T's" trip by going over Thunder Mountain down to Baldy Notch and down a forest road to Manker Flats...we usually pay the $8 and take the ski lift. We do not time the trips beyond Timber.

 

If you feel uncomfortable away for the crowds you may not want to go beyond Timber. However, once you summit Telegraph, the whole route to Baldy Notch and the ski lift is visible.

 

We hate this trip and rarely utilize it. There are a lot of downed trees beyond Kelly Camp and the destinations are not appealing. This trip is for endurance, we try to stay within our aerobic range the entire trip.

 

Icehouse Canyon Trailhead to Bighorn Mountain and Ontario Peak
Distance: 12.5 miles Round Trip
Trailhead Elevation: 5,000'           High Point: 8,693'
Location: San Antonio Canyon
Permits: Permit picked up at Mt. Baldy Visitors Center, Mt. Baldy Village...This requirement is universally ignored
Maps: Mt. Baldy and Cucamonga Peak 7.5' USGS Quads
Water: Columbine Spring at 2.3 miles
Directions: Exit 210 at either Mountain Ave or Base Line Rd. and head north the road funnel in to Mt. Baldy Rd. The trailhead is a couple of 2 miles above the Mt. Baldy Village before the road starts to switchback up to the Mt. Baldy Ski Area.

 

Description: See the Icehouse Canyon Trailhead to Icehouse Saddle for the first part of this trip.

 

Once you reach the saddle you are left with a choice, you can follow the trail through Kelly Camp working your way to Ontario Ridge before you head west or go straight up the ridge from Icehouse Saddle to Bighorn...if you have route finding abilities this is a pretty interesting trip. The standard route is around Bighorn Mountain, through Kelly Camp to Ontario Ridge where you make a decision what peak to do first.

 

Most will opt to do Ontario first. All you do is head west past 3 or 4 intermediate high points you will swear are the summit. Eventually, the trail leads to a summit, which is no big whoops. Take a break, have something to eat and head back towards Bighorn. There are a couple different ways off of Bighorn, down the ridge to Icehouse Saddle or down a few drainages that will deposit on a trail, if you have route finding abilities these are a pretty cool way to go, you never know what you might find...like seeing two bears, four Bighorn Sheep and a coyote during a trip in October 2008.

 

This used to be on my never to do again list because you had to climb over or under a lot of big-ass downed trees. The current population of these trees is one. Therefore, this now back in my rotation of things to do when exercising.

 

 

 

Cucamonga Peak is the most beautiful peak setting in the San Gabriel's and the views are great, too. This trip is great for the day hiker because you go up 1,200' in mile from Cucamonga Saddle to the peak. For distance, you can go on to Etiwanda Peak...a small pile of rocks not worth going to a 2nd time. This trip is for endurance, we stay within aerobic range the entire trip.

 

Icehouse Canyon Trailhead to Cucamonga Peak, Etiwanda Peak
Distance: 12 to 18 miles Round Trip
Trailhead Elevation: 5,000'           High Point: 8,859'
Location: San Antonio Canyon
Required: Permit picked up at Mt. Baldy Visitors Center, Mt. Baldy Village...This requirement is universally ignored
Maps: Mt. Baldy and Cucamonga Peak 7.5' USGS Quads
Water: Columbine Spring at 2.3 miles
Directions: Exit 210 at either Mountain Ave or Base Line Rd. and head north the road funnel in to Mt. Baldy Rd. The trailhead is a couple of 2 miles above the Mt. Baldy Village before the road starts to switchback up to the Mt. Baldy Ski Area.

Description: See the Icehouse Canyon Trailhead to Icehouse Saddle for the first part of this trip.

 

Cucamonga Peak is the most beautiful peak setting in the San Gabriel's and one can be one of the most challenge if you choose to make that way.

 

Leaving Icehouse Saddle you will pass a trail junction for the the Middle Fork of Lytle Creek, if you descend you are making a mistake. Over the next 1.25 miles the trail rocks and rolls and gain about 100' until you arrive at Cucamonga Saddle. This is where the fun and games begin. From here to the peak you will ascend 1.25 miles and 1,200'...this will serve you well on the 97 Switchbacks. About a mile up, and it does seem like more there is a signed junction for the peak. You can head now...and call it a day, or head over to the pile of rocks known as Etiwanda Peak, another one and done peak...remember this is exercise. Two miles later you will be on this minor peak.

 

On the way back there is another junction for Cucamonga Peak, entering from the east take it to summit Cucamonga some of the best city views in the San Gabriels. When you are ooohing and ahhhing head down the drainage between the twin summits on Cucamonga in a .25 mile it will put you on the main trail.

 

Your last option is when to get to the The Chapman Trail Junction. You can extend this trip an other couple of miles by taking the gentler high route back down giving you an 18 mile day if you visited Etiwanda Peak.

 

On to bigger things....

This can get boring so, we move over to Mt. Baldy...another 5 minutes up Mt. Baldy Road

 

Mt. Baldy is most likely the most visited of the "SoCal Glamour Peaks" because it is the most accessible of the three. So, if you are looking for solitude here think winter or night hiking. The busiest of routes to the top is The Ski Hut Trail and it is work. As hard as I try, I haven't been able to average 2 MPH to the top.

 

Manker Flats to Mt. Baldy via The Ski Hut Trail
Distance: 8 miles Round Trip
Trailhead Elevation: 6,250'           High Point: 10,064'
Location: San Antonio Canyon
Permit: None Required
Maps: Mt. San Antonio 7.5' USGS Quads
Water: San Antonio Creek at the Ski Hut...seasonal
Directions: Exit 210 at either Mountain Ave or Base Line Rd. and head north the road funnel in to Mt. Baldy Rd. The trailhead is a couple of 4 miles above the Mt. Baldy Village approximately 1/4 mile short of the ski lift.

 

Description: This trip is constantly goes up at a rate of 800' to 1,100' per mile. It starts on a road which takes you to San Antonio Falls then makes a switchback trending northeast once the road makes a slight turn to the north look for a trail to your left it is very easy to miss. The trail contours the mountain all the way to The Sierra Club Ski Hut at 2.5 miles, where most will take a break.

 

The trail then crosses Baldy Bowl where there is some ambiguity when the trail is on talus. Once across the talus the trail angle of ascent steepends to well over 1,000' per mile up to a ridge at ~8,900'. Now, it is on to an even steeper climb on decomposing granite, which can get treacherous during the descent. You will get a short respite when you top out here at about 9,600'. As you approach the peak, look for a pole sticking up on the horizon...this is approximate location of the summit, which comes in handy if this area is snow covered.

 

We suggest you eschew continuing on to Baldy Notch and its ski lift and return the way you came to toughen your knees and feet for the 6,100' descent which is Mt. Whitney.

 

My best time to the top is 2:19

 

 

Register Trail Variation: As you leave the road and start up the trail to the Ski Hut you will see a metal register box to sign in beyond the box to your right is a trace trail heading up Register Ridge. This will put you on the Devil's Backbone Trail at ~9,200'. This is very, very steep, figure about +2,400'/mile. Once a route it is now completely trail...if you can do the Skyline Trail you can do this. We also recommend you utilize Ski Hut Trail for your return trip because of the slippery pine straw which covers a great deal of this route.

 

Mt. Baldy...The Bear Valley/Manker Flats Loop
Distance: 12 mile Semi Loop
Trailhead Elevation: 4,000'           High Point: 10,064'
Location: San Antonio Canyon
Permit: None Required
Maps: Mt. Baldy, Mt. San Antonio 7.5' USGS Quads
Water: Bear Canyon Creek at Bear Flats and San Antonio Creek at the Ski Hut
Directions: Exit 210 at either Mountain Ave or Base Line Rd. and head north the road funnel in to Mt. Baldy Rd. Leave one car at Manker Flats and the other at or near the Visitors Center in Mt. Baldy Village

 

Description: This trip start at either the visitors center or at the church across the street from the Mt. Baldy Inn and works its way through a what is essentially a street pass a bunch of cabins until you get to a trail. The trail is really easy and straightforward until you get to Bear Flats. A this point the trail winds it way through heavy chaparral and if you don't have long pants on your legs will be cursing you for your apparel choice. The other thing that occurs at Bear Flat is forest goes away making this a very hot trip even when the temperatures are relatively mild.

 

At ~7,000' the chaparral gives way to open forest and you can unzip the legs off your convertible pants. You are now on the ridge which leads to Mt. San Antonio and its twins....West Baldy and Old Baldy 2...10,064' summit. As you climb the forest gets progressive thinner and you are more exposure to the wind that is usually a part of this trip. Eventually you make to the trace trail to West Baldy...the nicer of the twins, where the trail turns east to Old Baldy and its crowds.

 

After having a bite to eat hunkered down behind a wind block it's time to head back. This is where you find out there are no easy ways off this mountain. We usually choose to go down the Ski Hut Trail because we left one of the cars at Manker Flats ;-). Actually, we go down here to as a compromise. It is our opinion there is no good reason to put your knees through the help of a 6,000' descent when it isn't necessary, believe us when we say 4,000' down will get your knees attention and the Devils Backbone is no fun especially getting down to the Harwood/Baldy Divide on the decomposing granite of Mt. Baldy.

 

The Wimp Variation...Go down the Devil's Backbone Trail To the Ski Lift at Baldy Notch. You will find out the walk down the ski slopes are not exactly a pleasant experience. Make sure you bring the $10 for the lift or there is another 2.2 miles for hiking on an ugly ass forest road.

 

On to even bigger things...

San Antonio Canyon gets boring, too, so, it's over The San Gorgonio Wilderness.

 

Surprise, Surprise no Mt. San Gorgonio...permits are a first class pain in the ass to get. The trips which follow can be self permitted at Mill Creek Ranger Station before it opens, San G must be permitted in advance or in person.

 

Angelus Oaks to San Bernardino Peak
Distance: 16 miles Round Trip
Trailhead Elevation: 5,950'           High Point: 10,649'
Location: San Gorgonio Wildernes
Permit: Yes at Mill Creek Ranger Station
Maps: Forest Falls and Moonridge 7.5' USGS Quads
Water: Limber Spring about 6 1/4 miles into the hike, Columbine Spring at 4 miles is seasonal


Directions: Exit I-10 at University in Redlands. Go north to Lugonia (Rt. 38) and head east to the town of Angelus Oaks. Once in Angelus Oaks make a right at trailhead sign and take the forest road about 1/4 mile back to the trailhead (last year it was ok for a passenger car).


Description: This is our favorite trail in the San Gorgonio Wilderness. Although the trip up can be spectacular the return trip is to be savored. The trail steeply switchbacks up the western flanks of SGW an open fairly flat area of manzanita. From here to through Manzanita Flats is the easy part then it's time to climb again.

Up through mostly open forest to the peak. First intermediate destination is Limber Bench, if you didn't stop for a bit at Manzanita Flat this is the place. About .3 mile from the trail camp is Limber Bench Spring right at the crook of the switchback, this is the only reliable source of water in this part of the world. Now more long switchbacks until you reach a point just before Washington's Monument, make sure you stop here because the views are spectacular. Now, on pass the monument, unless you want to stop at a pile of rocks, to the peak. The trace trail is on the far side of the peak but you can cut up any time once you reach the peak, this is where a GPS comes in handy. If you want a bit more distance head over to San Bernardino East Peak, this will had another 2 miles round trip.

If you get a permit for San Gorgonio via Vivian Creek go for it, we don't like dealing with the hassle of a permit or the south slope heat during the summer.

 

Why here and not South Fork Loop of San G.? It is easier to permit than the South Fork Trail, it is a prettier trip, there are less people, more gain, the views are outstanding most of the way and there four relativity easy summits along the way...excepting Shields which is an ugly ass rock pile.

 

Angelus Oaks to Shields Peak
Distance: 22 miles Round Trip
Trailhead Elevation: 5,950'           High Point: 10,802'
Location: San Gorgonio Wildernes
Permit: Yes at Mill Creek Ranger Station
Maps: Forest Falls and Moonridge 7.5' USGS Quads
Water: Limber Spring about 6 1/4 miles into the hike, Columbine Spring at 4 miles is seasonal


Directions: Exit I-10 at University in Redlands. Go north to Lugonia (Rt. 38) and head east to the town of Angelus Oaks. Once in Angelus Oaks make a right at trailhead sign and take the forest road about 1/4 mile back to the trailhead (last year it was ok for a passenger car).


Description: See the San Bernardino Peak description for the first 8 miles of this trip.

 

Leave San Bernardino Peak down its eastern flank and hook up with the trail to SB East. The trail travels across a broad ridge and gives you the opportunity to summit San Bernardino East, Anderson (the pick of the litter) and Shields. This is a pretty straightforward trip on trails but you will usually not see too many folks above Manzanita Flats.


Trail Notes

 

Another local trailhead we will utilize is Vincent Gulch to Mt. Badden-Powell and beyond. Since B-P is north facing you will see snow on its upper reaches in June during a heavy snow year. This is one of the better trails in SoCal with a constant gain of about 700'/mi. over 4 miles to summit.

 

If you are going to start this program in the winter, forget about time and concentrate on keeping your heart up. Winter is a season of constant changes, on with the jacket, off with the jacket, snowshoe on, snowshoes off, crampons on, crampons off, snowshoes on, etc. The packs my friends and I carry for a very nasty winter day hike rival our summer backpacking loads. If you choose to go out in the winter you will have a lot more fun.

 

Lastly, it our opinion if you starting your training from the position of a habituated substantially overweight zero exercising couch potato it will take you approximately a year and half to get ready to day hike Mt. Whitney successfully, remember the actual trail hiking season is about 2 months after a winter where it snows a lot or if winter is late arriving. That is the position we started from in 1997 and we barely made it to the top...and for that matter to the bottom. If this describes you and you are are set on hiking this trail lower your expectations. Trail Camp or Trail Crest are very good goals for someone late to the party.


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Date of Last Change: 2/26/12