July 26, 2017 at 9:45 am #389736Philip YParticipant
My hiking partner and I hiked from the Middle Fork Trailhead to Commanche Camp on Saturday, July 22nd. Opposite of Icehouse Canyon, this trail approaches from the east out of Lytle Creek.
Our hike really started on Monday when I called the Front Country Ranger Station. By calling ahead I found out that, unlike Icehouse Canyon, the permits are not available at the trailhead. You have to go online to http://www.cucamongawilderness.org . Fill out a permit, then either mail or FAX to the Front Country Ranger Station. The bottom of the form says to send to the Mill Creek Ranger Station at the FAX listed. This is not correct! The actual FAX number is 909-887-3989 and it goes directly to the Front Country Ranger Station in Lytle Creek. It takes 3 to 7 days to receive your permit in the mail. If you opt to pick up your permit, keep in mind that the ranger station is closed on Tuesday and Wednesday. If you are starting early (before 0800) like we did, call the Ranger Station to confirm approval and ask that they place the permit in their mail box. Located near the south end of the circle drive (it is not next to the building or at the front entrance).
The trailhead is about 4.5 miles from the Ranger Station on Middle Fork Road. Once you turn onto Middle Fork Road it quickly turns into a dirt/rocky road for the last two miles to the trailhead. I do not recommend attempting this drive in a car. You should have a truck or other high profile vehicle. I drove my Chevy 3/4 ton, 2wd and had no problems. Lots of deep ruts and large rocks that can easily damage your vehicle. You can park here on the dirt road, but you still must display your Adventure Pass. So, if you are hiking in a group, plan where to park or stage vehicles and carpool. Or, add 4 miles to your hike.
Some other things to note about this hike. Other than the trailhead, none of the trails or campsites are marked, so know where you are going before you start the hike. Obviously bring a map and a compass and know how to use them. It is a less travelled trail, so there is some overgrowth on the trail. We stepped off at 0625. The first six tenths of a mile has an elevation gain of about 440’. At this point the trail forks. The path to the left leads down to Stonehouse Camp, about three tenths of a mile. The trail to the right is the upper Middle Fork Trail. We took the trail to Stonehouse Camp to explore, but be aware there is a lot of poison oak that you cannot avoid hanging over the trail and lots of bugs. You will also need to cross the creek just past the camp and the trace trail coming out of Stonehouse Camp is a little tricky to pick up. After about four tenths of a mile this trail does merge back with the upper trail.
As you near the upper trail you will be travelling northeast on a switchback. Take the sharp left heading west on the upper Middle Fork Trail. After a short distance you will pass the Cucamonga Wilderness sign. There are also a few rocky slope areas on this portion of the trail. So, be careful. Eight tenths of a mile past the merge you will come to Third Stream Crossing Camp. More bugs! This is about 1.2 miles from the Stonehouse Camp and the elevation gain is only about 760’. Lots of water here, so this would be a great place to top off your water supply both going up and coming down. I believe there is a waterfall somewhere near here but we didn’t go looking for it.
Next, you will travel south/southwest 1.6 miles to Commanche Camp, with an elevation gain of about 800’. This is where we stopped ate lunch and then headed back. There are several areas that you will cross along the way where the trail is on a narrow slope and the rocks are very loose and prone to slides. As we were hiking out, my hiking partner, was walking in one such area and as she passed a huge amount of rocks began to slide and ended up covering the trail. SO, hike with caution in these areas. There were a few small trees over the trail which are easily navigated. At one point though, the trail stops and there is a large amount of rubble and trees in front of you. It is difficult to tell which way you should go. We went up to the left and then around to the right. The trails picks right back up on the other side of the rubble and trees.
Icehouse Saddle is just another 1.7 miles south and then west, and about 1660’ more in elevation gain.
We stopped and had lunch at Commanche Camp and then headed back out. As we were descending, we got off trail and found ourselves in a rather precarious position on a rocky slope. So, we just backtracked to the switchback that we missed. Why did we (I) miss it, because I was too busy telling stories and wasn’t paying attention to the trail. It got very warm coming out in the exposed areas. My guess would be upper 80’s, low 90’s. There was on occasion a nice cool breeze that help. My hiking partner and I carried 5 litters of water each. I drank about 3 litters and had some electrolytes. We ended up with 8.39 miles and a total elevation gain of 2424’. It was an easy slow day for us. We took our time and enjoyed the views.
Next week the plan is to hike this trail to Icehouse Saddle and then continue on to Cucamonga Peak, so for us it was a good idea to hike the lower portion of the trail in advance. We will take the upper trail next week and skip Stonehouse Camp.July 27, 2017 at 7:58 pm #389837Natalie CParticipant
Waterfall…would that be Bonita falls? Hey BTW your detailed report here is SA-WEEEEET!July 28, 2017 at 7:01 am #389842Philip YParticipant
Thanks Natalie! No, Bonita Falls is a few miles east of the Middle Fork Trailhead. I believe it is about a 3 to 3.5 mile hike, going south toward South Fork Lytle Creek.August 7, 2017 at 2:54 pm #390544Aiden & Alon WiedenmanParticipant
That info on the process to get permits was really helpful! Thank-You!August 16, 2017 at 2:01 pm #391165Aiden & Alon WiedenmanParticipant
We did this hike last weekend all the way to the peak. Philip’s report is spot on, although we didn’t have any significant trouble with poison oak. We had the trail entirely to ourselves until we hit Icehouse Saddle. That coupled with the rustic/minimal maintenance of the trail added to the sense of really being in the wilderness! Water flow is really strong at 3rd crossing and weak at Commanchee. I wouldn’t be surprised if it dries up by the end of the season at Commanchee.September 15, 2017 at 9:35 pm #394145R WParticipant
I was Philip’s hiking partner for this hike, and the poison oak was in the trace trail to Stonehouse, which like Philip I do NOT recommend you take. We did not see poison oak on the main Middle Fork Trail. The stream crossing there ate one of my hiking poles – the bottom snapped off when I extended it to cross over some slippery rocks. The stream was flowing fast even in the summer and looked clear but you never know.
Also as Philip said, exercise caution on the scree slope crossings. I literally weigh 100 lbs and was super cautious on that rocky slope that slid behind me. It was clear when we came across it that there had been a big slide in the recent past. I am eternally grateful Philip lent me his poles after the stream ate the bottom half of my one! We did try a bit to look for it, but it was probably halfway to the Pacific the water was really moving! It was like snap, and BOOM! It was gone! They were old anyways, but were nice Black Diamond ones and had logged hundreds of miles with me.
I joked with Philip that this hike was my Rock, Boulder & Scree Training 201 class – there was so much of all of those there! An adventurous and fun day, and thanks to Phil for being a great and knowledgeable hiking partner and guide!
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