Unrecognizably Different

The rugged wilderness of the San Gabriel Mountains


7-March 2009: It has been about six years since our last trip to Switzer Falls. Back then, it was during a disappointingly dry winter so the falls itself was disappointing despite it being February. Well, that was 2003 and this was 2009. Still, a month ago we were wondering if we were in for yet another dry winter and a nasty, prolonged drought. But then came a very wet February and that set the stage for today's short but sweet outing into the Angeles National Forest beyond La Canada/Flintridge.

We left the home at around 9:15am. It was yet another day of nice weather and we figured it would be pleasant hiking weather, especially since we're supposed to be springing forward the clock an hour tonight. Even though this often signalled the onset of Spring (it used to take place in April), I often wondered what's the point of springing forward and falling back. I've heard the reasons from energy savings to agricultural reasons to serving as a reminder to change your smoke detector batteries, but really, it seems like it's all a crock. Why couldn't they just stick with Pacific Standard Time or Daylight Saving Time for the whole year? That'd remove some confusion I figure. But I guess it is what it is and we'll leave it at that.

Anyways, we managed to get to the Angeles Crest Highway 2 without too much incident. There was a little bit of traffic on the I-5 due to some lane closure that looked as if they forgot to remove the cones because nothing was going on there.

The drive up the mountain road seemed a lot more scenic than when I remembered back in 2003. Maybe it was because we had already been there before so I was less concerned about finding the trailhead and more concerned about enjoying the scenery.

Indeed, the mountains encompassing the Hwy 2 beyond La Canada/Flintridge were quite rugged yet surprisingly alluring. We could see in the vegetation where fire had been previously, but we also noticed numerous slanted lines of mountain contours cutting into the morning haze. As the road ascended higher, there were glimpses of panoramas of the Los Angeles basin between the mountains amongst that morning haze (before the pollution haze rears its ugly head). Still, it already felt like a getaway from the urban jungle and the drive already felt more liberating than the last time.

At a little after 10am, we found the Clear Creek Station where we noticed a sign indicating Adventure Passes were sold. Since we didn't buy one from any of the outdoor retail stores prior to this spontaneous trip, we made a brief stop to buy one.

Shortly afterwards, we got to the Switzer Picnic Area just a quarter-mile further on the right, got past the deep gutter, then past the gate and descended towards the already busy car park at the end of the spur road.

At the Switzer Falls car park Fortunately, we found a spot not too far from the trailhead and proceeded to put on our hiking boots and our backpacks and get going on this cool, sunny morning.

It was a little bit chilly, but I knew when we start moving it'd warm up considerably.

At the Switzer Falls trailhead The first good sign that things would be different on this trip was that the creek ran audibly by the car park. We knew that meant we should be in for a better waterfall experience than six years before when the falls were practically trickling. In fact, I couldn't even remember hearing the creek throughout that hike back then.

We probably started the hike at around 10:15am. Just as we started, we noticed a ranger driving down the narrow connecting road to the car park we were at. It looked like (just like last week at Sturtevant Falls) that he was here to make sure parked vehicles displayed an Adventure Pass.

So that makes two weeks in a row that we've witnessed this after nearly several years of not seeing this before. I wondered if it's because resources were tight in this economy and enforcing the rules is easier than wasting what few resources park services usually had on letting people get by with freebies while utilizing the land. Or maybe because this happened to be a popular place (like last week) and was worthwhile to enforce as a revenue generator.

On the peaceful trail Anyways, the walk seemed to be a lot quieter than we remembered it back then. Maybe it's because we started an hour or so earlier than we remembered?

The trail was mostly quiet only broken by the sound of the creek and the occasional hikers (often with their dogs) going the other way. It was also mostly in shade so we tried to keep warm with our motion while still basking in the peace of nature. It was quite nippy out here, but the cool air also meant the air was fresh and the scent of desert and alpine vegetation filled our noses.

Trying to stay dry when crossing the creeks The flowing creek did slow us down because there were now numerous stream crossings. I guess we took for granted that we thought it was an easy trail (again based on our last experience) so we didn't bother bringing our hiking sticks.

That was clearly a miscalculation.

But for the most part, they weren't too difficult and we did manage to keep our socks dry. But I'm sure the hiking sticks would've helped and sped us along. Still, I guess it was a good exercise in balance and a little bit of problem solving.

Julie ponders how to get across this crossing without getting her feet wet I think we counted at least six stream crossings or so by the time we got to a signed fork on the trail. To our right was another stream crossing with an ascent immediately thereafter. It seemed to hook up with both the Bear Canyon Trail as well as the Gabrielino Trail (which sounded familiar as I swore Sturtevant Falls was near that trail too). To our left was unsigned and I reckoned it would lead to the top of Switzer Falls (which was later proven to be a correct reckoning). We were also sure there wouldn't be a good view of the falls that way.

So anyways, we took the right fork as we did six years ago despite witnessing many people taking the left fork.

And afterwards, this part was quite familiar.

Upper Switzer Falls seemingly with a seemingly more obstructed view than before The trail ascended up a few switchbacks before hugging the cliffs as it wound its way into the exposure of the warming morning sun.

It wasn't long before we started to notice the upper waterfall down below us behind some chain-linked fences tere to keep you from falling into the dangerously steep and rugged canyon below. I swore the view of the Upper Switzer Falls was more obstructed than six years ago. But nonetheless, we could see that the falls did have a healthy flow and it was still somewhat visible though I can imagine the Upper Falls getting more difficult to see as time goes on unless nature decides to clear the dry foliage with fire.

A view of the Upper Switzer Falls I don't think I had seen before As we proceeded further along the trail, I did notice a small opening in the view leading to an angled look at the upper falls, which was something I didn't notice before.

The panoramic trail as we proceeded to descend towards Bear Canyon As we continued further along the hike, we were presented with a very panoramic view of the rugged San Gabriel Wilderness. For some strange reason, I couldn't figure out why we didn't remember this scenery from our last trip because it was quite scenic and reminiscent of something you might find in Kings Canyon National Park in the Sierras of Central California.

The panorama further along the descent leading towards the Lower Switzer Falls Anyways, we followed the cliffhugging trail which then forked into a descent leading into Bear Canyon, which we figured got its name because there must have been some California Black Bears roaming this area when it was first named. Once we got to the bottom of the canyon, we headed back upstream towards the trail's end where we knew the Lower Switzer Falls would be.

Trying to stay dry in some more stream crossings And given the numerous stream crossings at the beginning of this hike, it wasn't surprising that there were more down in this canyon. Again, this was nonexistent in our previous time on this trail. Still, we weren't complaining. The rushing water was a very welcome sight!

An out-of-place machine left by the creek But one thing that wasn't a very welcome sight was what appeared to be some machine that was left by the creek. I wondered how long ago this was left there as it had that old school quality rustic quality you might find in museums or something. I wondered what purpose this fulfilled before it was ungraciously retired here.

At the Lower Switzer Falls Finally at around 11:30am we reached the base of the Lower Switzer Falls. This time, the falls were a bit thicker but there were also a few fallen trees at the plunge pool (again, something I didn't remember from last time).

We took our time taking photos at the falls before we noticed a bundle of bees (or wasps?) nearby some rocks. Recognizing the potential danger of this situation, we didn't linger for too long and headed back up towards the trailhead.

Another look at the Lower Switzer Falls Even though it was a bit warmer by this time of day and the hike back was mostly uphill, it seemed like pretty good exercise and it wasn't quite as taxing as say the last bit of the Sturtevant Falls last week. Maybe the cooler temperatures (probably in the 60s instead of the 80s) had something to do with the comfort level.

We also noticed many more people headed the other way so apparently we beat the peak of the rush.

All in all, we were glad we redid this hike. Much of it was unrecognizably different, but we still enjoyed the relative peace and calm that came with today's excursion. This contrasted sharply with our experience six years ago as well as our somewhat tense experience (especially with the parking) last week.

By the time we got back to the car at around 1pm, we motored back down into the city and fulfilled Julie's desires of having a lunch at Porto's in Glendale as well as our first walkabout at the newly opened Americana shopping mall, which seemed a lot like the Grove (aka the old Farmer's Market).

We looked forward to coming home and resting for the remainder of this weekend, but we weren't thrilled about losing an hour of sleep thanks to us having to spring the clock an hour forward tonight.




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