Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Crazy for the Grovel

This past Saturday, whilst other SoCal hikers were doing laps on the Cactus to Clouds trail, I set my sights a little lower.  Inspired by reading Crazy for the Storm, an autobiography primarily about surviving a plane crash on Ontario Peak, I thought I would have my own (hopefully less exciting) adventure on Ontario Peak.  Incidentally, Crazy for the Storm is an excellent read, in part because you are never sure if the author will live or die.  After all, the book could literally be ghostwritten.

My plan for the day was to grovel up the Sugarloaf Ridge route on Ontario Peak. Turnout for the hike was less than desired, but I set off alone anyway from the Icehouse Canyon parking lot at 6:00 AM. After about 15 minutes of walking on the well-maintained trail, I headed off-trail up the aptly named Falling Rock Canyon.

While I was picking my way up Falling Rock Canyon, I heard the sound of, um, falling rocks. Their source was the little guy pictured below, who I think was a Bighorn Sheep lamb.

I knew that at some point I had to climb out of the canyon to the right toward the saddle between Sugarloaf Peak and Ontario Peak.  I almost got suckered into a steep, narrow chute, but continued to a broad scree slope leading up to a clearly discernible saddle a few hundred feet above.

Ascending the scree slope was not nearly as bad as it could have been, as the rocks in a shallow chute on climber's left are larger and mostly stable.  I have certainly experienced worse slopes in the San Gabriel Mountains.  From the perfectly shaped saddle, I followed the ridge -- which is comparable to Register Ridge in terms of distance, angle, and quality -- to a sandy, brushy plateau.

Turning around on the plateau, one is confronted with an outstanding view of Mt. Baldy.  Just above the plateau, a maintained trail is intersected and followed west to the summit.

From the summit of Ontario Peak, I found myself scanning the slopes below for remnants of the 1979 plane crash, wondering which steep, icy chute Norman Ollestad was forced to descend.

Back on the saddle between Ontario Peak and Sugarloaf Peak, I found a certain Aerosmith song running through my head before realizing why.  The tune energized me to confront the scree slope descent, which is described as "a real ankle bender. Really loose, and about as fun as a trip to the dentist."  To my delight, the scree skiing from the saddle down to Falling Rock Canyon was excellent.  I descended about 500 vertical feet on soft sand in about two minutes.  The trick is to descend about 100 feet skiers left of the line of ascent.  But just when I was starting to think that the entire Sugarloaf Ridge route was a classic, Falling Rock Canyon began seriously aggravating me.  The rocks in the canyon are loose, and on several occasions I stepped on an ostensibly secure rock which shifted, resulting in painful ankle abrasions.  One stable-looking rock turned out to be a trap door through which I fell about two jarring feet.  Because of the loose nature of the rock on the lower half of this route, it is probably best done solo or with at most one other person. 

Returning to the parking lot at 11:30 AM, I once again tainted an aesthetic experience in the mountains by visiting the public restroom. 

The northern aspect of Ontario Peak (8,693 feet).  The Sugarloaf Ridge route is clearly visible to the trained eye.

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