I hope this does not become a trend. What I am about to tell you about this trail is not the most encouraging news. What was supposed to be a five mile in and five mile back hike turned into a thru hike due to a series of potentially dangerous situations. But first, let's start with the basics.
Middle Fork Trailhead is a trail that starts in Lytle Creek, California in the San Bernardino National Forest. There are two camps along the trail which require permits and are both near streams. You can continue on this trail and make it to Icehouse Saddle which takes you to more trails leading to Cucamonga Peak, Baldy, and a few other peaks as well. We wanted to make it to the Saddle and then turn around, we were seeing what the trail was like because on a future visit we wanted to start at Middle Fork, get to the Saddle, summit Cucamonga Peak, and then come back down into Baldy Village and have someone pick us up.
The trail started with a quick and steady elevation gain. This first part of the trail is rather unforgiving as you are in the sun throughout it but can hear water in the wash below you to the South.
This part of the trail is also full of parts like what you see above. You're hiking along the edge of a canyon where snow melt and rain can often fill and flood the canyon in winter. We hit several points on this trail where it goes over (or used to go over) an area that is clearly a waterfall during the rain and snow season. This trail would be nearly impossible in heavy rain or possibly even during snow melt. But the areas where the trail has washed out are still passible and really interesting to see.
The trail eventually gets close to the stream but as you get closer be warned, the gnats on this trail are out of control. We usually are not bug spray users, in fact we don't carry any in our packs. This trip changed our minds about that. For long stretches the gnats were so thick we communicated mostly with grunts because opening our mouths to speak was not an option.
Once we passed the stream crossing, things got bad. The climb became intense again, which wouldn't have been a problem, except that parts of the trails have been eroded by rock slides. We came to a bend in the trail, the trail was maybe six inches wide. As we continued around the bend we realized just how precarious things actually were, the rock slide damage was more then we had been able to see and with an 800 foot drop to one side and loose unstable rock to the other and no way to turn around, we went ahead.
We had to make a choice, turn around and go back over a part of the trail we never should have attempted to begin with, or go forward and find another way home. We knew when we got to the saddle the trails there could take us to Mt. Baldy Road where we knew enough people that we could probably hitch a ride down to the Mt. Baldy Lodge, get food, and call for a ride back to our car on the other side of the mountains. We took out our map just to make sure there was not any other option for getting home, had a snack, and headed towards the saddle.
We made it down Icehouse Canyon quickly, it's a trail Chris is familiar with and hikes often. Once we got to the parking lot a group of hikers were nice enough to offer a ride to the Lodge so we could call for family to pick us up and get some food. At that point, a burger and fries had never tasted so good.
If it had not been for the rock slide erosion making this trail dangerous, this would be an incredible trail. We saw maybe one person the entire day until we made it to the Saddle. The views are breathtaking and the hike is an awesome challenge. Most of the trail looks forgotten and untravelled, which was part of its initial appeal. There were points where we could look back down the canyon we were climbing up and see all the way to the high desert. Unfortunately, unless I hear of major improvements to this trail, it is not one I would risk again.