The Three T’s Trail

Looking west from Telegraph Peak toward Mt. Baldy

Looking east and north toward the high desert and the San Bernadino Mountains

The Three T’s Trail is a roller-coaster of pain. From the very start to the very finish, this hike fed me more than I could chew. I’d like to say I breezed through this trail like a boss, but I’m afraid that the best I was able to manage was administrative assistant. Anyway, this trail features epic views along a ridge of peaks – Timber, Telegraph, and Thunder – that all conveniently begin with the letter “T.”

Distance: 16.4
Elevation Gained: 4,950′
Difficulty: Strenuous
Time: 8:45
Critters: None

Get there like this.

Note: You will need an Adventure Pass to park at Icehouse Canyon. It would also behoove you to arrive early, especially on Memorial Day.

To think there was a point during the day when I was considering “tacking on” Mt. Baldy, which would have added at least another 5 miles and another 2,100′ of elevation gain. I’m sure I could have done it had I been feeling a little better physically, but today just was not the day. Saying that I “cut it short” is comical, because this trail felt like one of the longest I have ever hiked. This trail is  no walk in the park.

The day started off innocuously enough at beautiful Icehouse Canyon. For the first mile or so, I got to walk beneath alders, maples, and cedars along side a bubbling creek. Old cabins dot the trail, giving the area a decidedly rustic feeling. Of course, the tranquility quickly becomes a cacophonous din later in the day as Icehouse is probably one of the most popular hiking spots in the L.A. area. And for good reason. It’s a gorgeous place.

You pretty much start climbing from the moment you step out of your car. The grade ranges from moderate to steep to moments of “you’ve got to be kidding me.” There are very few stretches of flat trail in the San Gabriel Mountains. This makes them a phenomenal training ground and a terrible place for a lazy stroll. Fortunately, I had big plans, so I trudged along dutifully up the canyon as the vegetation transitioned from riparian trees to mixed-conifer forests and manzanita.

This stretch, along with the views from Telegraph Peak, were probably my favorite parts of the entire hike. It’s never a good omen when the first 4 miles of a 16 mile hike are the best parts, but, as you will find out, this hike was the victim of my own bad planning. The climb is steep through Icehouse, but after Santa Anita Canyon, I can’t think of anywhere in the San Gabriels more lovely than this place.

I reached the saddle just as the sun was reaching a high enough angle to come down the canyon. I got a lesson in lighting here, as the foliage in the trees was set aglow, and suddenly the forest became enchanted. This is precisely why I am willing to get up at 4 am, drive two hours, and climb 2,600′ in 3.6 miles. Early birds really do get the worms.

There are a number of options at the saddle, and I chose the up-down-up-down-up-and-down-again Three T’s Trail. This trail traverses three separate peaks, although Telegraph is really the only peak that feels like you are on a mountaintop. Timber Mountain has some great spots for camping, but the views are obstructed by trees. Thunder Mountain has some good views, but you’ll also find a ski hut and a ski lift atop the summit as part of the Mt. Baldy Ski Resort.

You should be aware going into this hike that “up and down” means gaining 700′ of elevation to the first peak, losing all of that and then some, gaining another 1,300′ to summit Telegraphy, losing about 700′ of that, and then climbing up another 400 or so feat to get to Thunder Mountain. This is a lot of gain and loss to experience over 5.5 miles of trail, and this is the primary reason why I said Screw It to Mt. Baldy. There just wasn’t going to be a way on a day when I wasn’t at my best. That said, the views to the east of the San Bernadinos and the San Jacintos looming like shadowy islands in a sea of clouds was definitely worth the price of admission alone.

Things took a turn for the poop as I descended Thunder Mountain on an endless, unshaded fire road. This road meanders down to Baldy Notch and then continues all the way to Manker Flat at a consistently moderate grade, which makes it a relief from all the up and downing on Three T’s. However, the monotony of this kind of hiking is only rivaled by being baked on a warm day at altitude. I don’t enjoy being hot on hikes, and from the moment I reached the Notch, I was warm. I didn’t get cranky, which is a nice turn because usually I get a little cross when the weather is too warm for my liking.

Finally, my bad planning came into effect. I had made it to Manker Flat, but I still was 3 miles away from my car, which was separated from me by a winding, sun-blasted road. I contemplated boulder-hopping my way down San Antonio Creek, but I feared that my knees wouldn’t take the punishment. I walked down the road for about two miles until I saw a gorgeous looking grove of alder trees. Alders are definitely my favorite riparian tree, and any opportunity to walk beneath them is a good one. However, I wouldn’t be “walking” in the usual sense. I had just committed myself to a mile of boulder hopping through spider webs, dead leaves, and uneven terrain. So much for caring about my knees.

But you know, it could have been worse. It could have been asphalt on a hot day. Instead, I spent a good 45 minutes rambling around under a green canopy along running water. All in all, this was a pretty mixed experience for me. The San Gabriels are a dramatic and powerful place, and yet every hike I take here seems to be gluttony for punishment (save the fantastic stretch of PCT between Islip Saddle and Mt. Baden-Powell and Santa Anita Canyon). It’s good punishment, sure. However, I contrast the way my body feels right now against how it felt from last week’s hike at San Jacinto. I felt great after that hike. Recharged, energized, and relaxed. Now, I just feel like I’m going to keel over and sleep for 12 hours.

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