The highs and lows of Ontario & Big Horn Peak Trail

Peak Summited2020 Ontario Peak
Type of HikeDay hike
TrailheadIcehouse Canyon Trail
EncounteredWildflowers blooming, Fall foliage, Ripe berries
Road ConditionsRoad suitable for all vehicles
Bug StatusBugs were not too bad
Snow ConditionsSnow free
Trail ConditionsTrail in good condition
In honor of my 100th hike milestone, I decided to bag a few peaks to celebrate. I was on the Icehouse Canyon Trail, day permit in hand, around 5:50am.
I’m loving these headlamp starts. It really forces you to zero in on other senses and be fully present. The lively creek is gushing to your right and a few cabin lights dapple the darkness. The moon was either full or just about and visible for the beginning of the hike. That early, you’re blessed w the quietude of the forest. Sure, a few early birds passed by but for the most part it’s just you and Icehouse Canyon. And OMG, why have I not been to this canyon yet?!? Sooooo soooo gorgeous. Everyone said so but to see it yourself you realize it’s more than you envisioned.
I always have to remind myself to hike my own hike on these longer missions because it’s easy to fall into step behind faster moving hikers and gas yourself out or miss all the cool shit along the way. I let all nearby hikers pass for that reason.
The trail really is a mixed bag in terms of terrain. You’ve got sections of gravel big and small; a bit of clamoring over rocks; nice stretches of compact smooth dirt and then narrow sidestepping slope-hugging intervals with log hurdles peppered throughout. I’ve decided I’m am NOT a big fan of gravel and sand.
The stretch of trail to the Icehouse Saddle is shady and beautiful in the early morning. A pretty mellow climb up w the creek by your side for a good portion of it until you start gaining elevation. If you need a break, the Saddle is a nice resting stop. Be sure you’re pointed in the right direction since this is a launch point to multiple trails. Head to the right. Up and up. You come across Kelly Camp. Pretty chill little camp spot. This is about the last of your shady path.
You continue up to the Ontario ridge and you either go right to Ontario Peak or left to Bighorn Peak. I did Ontario first. After a meandering trail up and down and around you come to the peak. With its landmark dead tree at the top, I took my peak pics and my 100th celebration pics, ate some lunch, sprayed some SPF and relaxed for a bit w the chipmunks. Then off to Bighorn Peak. I was really hoping to see some Bighorn sheep up there but only saw a young buck. 🤷🏻‍♀️
Ok Bighorn Peak. Ugh!! Not my favorite. AT ALL. The climb was tough. The trail was way less traveled and a bit precarious in places and was very nearly just a straight up climb. There WERE switchbacks but narrow and steep. Barely any shade opportunities either. Its a short climb but a test of will after a few hours of hiking already under your belt and lunch in your belly. I’d been doing great pacing my water consumption up until now. The exposed climb had me draining my supply.😫 Once up there, there’s no sign (I knew this beforehand) and nothing really noteworthy. So I breaked for 5min, took my peak pic and got the hell out of there. I had lots of euphemisms for Bighorn once done: Big Grouch, Big Pain-in-my-ass, Big Dud etc. One and done!🤷🏻‍♀️
The climb back down to the Saddle was a breeze after Bighorn. It was definitely starting to heat up as the day progressed too. I knew there were springs I could refill my water at but my water bladder was getting low and so I altered my route back to ensure I could fill up. I intended to do the loop to Cedar Glen Camp but had no idea what the water situation was so better safe than sorry.
The return trip was single focused until I filled up at the spring but then I was able to take my tine and take in the sights in better light compared to the early morning trip up. More folks getting late starts on the trail. It’s amazing how many springs there are all over these mountains. I stopped along the creek a few times to get my feet wet and snap some pics. Just a gorgeous canyon, that’s for sure. 10hrs total later, back to the car, tired and sore but feeling accomplished. 3 more peaks to go for my 2020 challenge.🙌💪


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