"An Inconvenient Opportunity" (Holy Jim Falls - April 10, 2016)

Hiking to Holy Jim Falls during light rainHiking to Holy Jim Falls during light rain


10-April 2016: The drive south along the I-5 was as smooth as it could be for this time in the morning. We made such good time that we were within Mission Viejo and Lake Forest in around a half-hour, then we followed the familiar Alicia Parkway to Santa Margarita Road, then to Trabuco Canyon Road, and finally onto the rough Trabuco Creek Road. But it was only when we got to the unpaved road would we find out whether we were pushing our luck too far with making this visit so soon after yesterday's somewhat moderate rain (though it was a bit on the disappointing side in the grand scheme of things).

Sure enough when we got onto the Trabuco Creek Road, we saw there was still water puddles filling in the potholes. Plus, the road was muddy as expected so we knew that Julie's car was going to get quite dirty. But the start of the Trabuco Creek Road wasn't foremost on my mind. It was the really rough part after the concrete ford that I knew would be trickier as that was the narrower and really bumpy part...





It was about 8:55am when we left the house. I originally had planned for this to be a lazy weekend, but Julie was restless and wanted to get a hike in since we hadn't done one since South Central USA trip back in mid-March. Both of us had a lot of stuff to do (lots of chores, lots of work, lots of catching up to do, etc.), but Julie really insisted on pushing forward with doing either Holy Jim Falls or Cooper Canyon Falls (in the hopes of getting to this mysterious Buckhart Falls or something like that). In any case, we ultimately decided to do Holy Jim Falls since we hadn't done that one in at least six years. So we hastily left the house and went about on the hike thinking that we were getting a somewhat early start.

But as soon as we drove off and were on the road, I couldn't help but notice there were dark clouds all around us, especially towards the mountains to the north and to the east. Even though we could see the sun and some pockets of blue skies, I knew that the conditions here weren't necessarily an indication of the conditions in the foothills and mountains. So I started to wonder if Julie was pushing our luck with this excursion, especially given how rough and bumpy the Trabuco Canyon Road (to even get to Holy Jim Falls) would be. It was certainly not the kind of road to be stuck in the mud.

The drive south along the I-5 was as smooth as it could be for this time in the morning. We made such good time that we were within Mission Viejo and Lake Forest in around a half-hour, then we followed the familiar Alicia Parkway to Santa Margarita Road, then to Trabuco Canyon Road, and finally onto the rough Trabuco Creek Road. But it was only when we got to the unpaved road would we find out whether we were pushing our luck too far with making this visit so soon after yesterday's somewhat moderate rain (though it was a bit on the disappointing side in the grand scheme of things).

Sure enough when we got onto the Trabuco Creek Road, we saw there was still water puddles filling in the potholes. Plus, the road was muddy as expected so we knew that Julie's car was going to get quite dirty. But the start of the Trabuco Creek Road wasn't foremost on my mind. It was the really rough part after the concrete ford that I knew would be trickier as that was the narrower and really bumpy part.

Well, when we got past the familiar concrete ford, the road was indeed a little on the muddy side, but it wasn't like we were getting ourselves into trouble. As long as the mud wasn't so slushy that the wheels would get stuck, we'd be fine. However, with the clouds hanging above us, we were hoping that there'd be no additional rain during our visit. For any potential for heavy rain would most certainly cause us quite a bit of trouble.

Luckily for us, we made it to the familiar Holy Jim Trailhead parking at 10am. We saw a Cleveland National Forest Truck in front of us, and we were wondering if he was checking for National Forest passes? Anyways, as we were getting ready, we were concerned that the weather was drizzling. Whether this drizzle would turn into heavier rain or not remained to be seen, but we were keeping our fingers crossed that things wouldn't turn for the worse.



While Julie and Tahia were getting ready, I took the opportunity to walk a little bit backwards towards the Holy Jim Volunteer Fire Department. I noticed that there were some memorials placed at the base of some flagpole, and I gathered that they must have been key people either in the upkeep of the area or as volunteer firefighters who passed away. I don't think any of these memorials was dedicated to Cussin' Jim (the beekeeper who allegedly shot the last California Grizzly Bear for going after his honey). There was also some kind of dilapidated-looking brown shed nearby. I wasn't sure if that was in use, but I thought I saw a broken window here and there so perhaps it was left to be in disrepair.

So it took around 10-15 minutes to finally get started. We wound up following the "Holy Jim Trail", which had a signpost a little further up the hill to our left. The drizzle seemed to intensify a little (enough so that Tahia opened up the umbrella and tried to shield herself with it), and I really started to wonder if we'd be screwed now that we were very deep along Trabuco Creek Road.



As we were walking the start of the trail (which seemed like it was still on a 4wd road), there was the Cleveland National Forest truck coming through. We weren't sure if it was the same truck we had seen earlier, but in any case, we let him through and then we continued our walk as we went around a large puddle that he was able to drive through effortlessly with his high clearance vehicle.

Not long afterwards, we went into what appeared to be a community of cabins. A few of these cabins looked new, and quite a few of these looked like they were in active use. We weren't sure if these were occupied by residents or if they were rented out for visitors or both.



I recalled in our last visit that this trail had quite a few creek crossings that involved getting our hiking boots wet. But when we encountered our first couple of concrete fords while hiking amongst these cabins, one was dry and another barely had water in it. So I knew that the creek crossings should be far easier and less wet than they were when we last did this hike with my Mom some 6 years ago or so. Boy, there was quite a bit about that hike back then that we couldn't quite remember. So this hike provided us an opportunity to jog our memory cells a bit and create new memories as we were determined to do a better job documenting our experience this time around.



Anyways, we were beyond the cabins and past the familiar gate marking the official start of the Holy Jim Trail at 10:25am.



Anyways, in my mind, the easier stream crossings had to make our progress go more quickly than the last time we did this hike when I recalled there being more non-trivial stream crossings. However, as we were going further along in this hike (in the drizzle), I came to the realization that this hike was a bit more uphill than I had remembered the last time. I guess that just goes to show you how faulty memory can be (as well as how poorly I must've taken notes and documented our last visit here).



So all the uphill hiking kind of put Tahia in a bad mood. I'm sure the drizzle didn't help. But as Tahia was lagging and slowing us down, she started to ask that we carry her (she had this way of doing it by giving us this whiny sound while throwing both her arms at us as if we were going for a hug). Of course, she outgrew the child carrier so carrying her in that way was no longer an option. And we certainly weren't going to have her draped around us while hiking with all the poison oak around us. So the bottom line was that she had to suck it up. But Julie and I tried to find ways to keep her engaged (especially with some of the wildflowers she'd pick for her).



The trail continued its gradual uphill ascent. I knew that on the way back to the car, it would be easy going, but as long as we kept going uphill, it made this hike a bit longer than what we remembered. And indeed, after the last stream crossing (which was a little tricky due to the amount of slippery rock scrambling we had to do), we would finally make it to the base of Holy Jim Falls at 11:20am. It took us just under an hour from the gate at the trailhead, and a little over an hour from when we left the car. If this hike was indeed 1.5 miles each way (Ann Marie Brown's book said 2.5 miles round trip), this was a very slow pace. It made us wonder if the trail length was counted from the gate instead of the actual car park.



Well, the one memory we did have that was accurate was that this was a tiny waterfall. When Julie and Tahia rock hopped their way right up to the base of the falls, I could easily see that it was probably around 15-20ft tall. The flow was also a little on the thin side (maybe reminiscent of how we would normally experience Monrovia Canyon Falls) so we pretty much spent a few minutes taking our photos as well as people shots. Unfortunately for Julie, she left her iPhone in the car so she couldn't document the experience on it.



By 11:20am, we left Holy Jim Falls and headed back the way we came. Now, the drizzle started to give way to a little sun here and there, and the clouds didn't seem as low as before. Plus, the hike was mostly downhill as expected, so it felt like were making good progress on the return hike.



When we returned to the cabin community, Tahia was paying a little more attention to the plants nearby. She especially checked out the rigid plants nearby the cacti. It was clear that these were drought-tolerant plants (we weren't sure if they were native), but in the case of the rigid plants, it looked like the leaves were designed to funnel any moisture towards the middle (where we'd imagine the hard plant needed it the most). Amazing what you can learn just by paying attention to how Nature does things.



We had also encountered our first mountain bikers on the trail, which happened while we were within the cabin community. I recalled that the last time we were here some 6 years ago, there were many more mountain bikers in addition to the higher streamflow.



Anyways, by the time we finally got back to the real busy car park (good thing we got here relatively early), it was 12:10pm. So even the return hike took about 50 minutes long, despite our seemingly quick progress going downhill (as opposed to uphill on the way to the falls).

For two hours round trip, there was no way this hike was as little as 2.5 miles round trip or even 3 miles round trip! Now, I'm thinking something more like 3.5-4 miles round trip (though our GPS trip log says 1.6 miles each way, but that doesn't include the elevation profiles). If I had to harbor a guess, this hike was probably around 3.6 miles round trip, where perhaps 2.5 miles of it was beyond the gate and the remaining 1.1 miles (we're talking round trip distances here) were probably walking between the community of cabins.

Five minutes later, we left the car park and went back on the bumpy road back to civilization. Eventually at 1:05pm, we made a stop at the Irvine Spectrum so Julie could try out this healthy eating spot called LYFE. It was drizzling on and off while we were in the Irvine Spectrum, but at least we were indoors while all the weather was going on. And eventually by 2:40pm, we were back at home, where we could finally unwind on this Sunday afternoon...

...well, not really. We still had a lot of chores and errands to do before we would return to the rat race...




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