They echoed my concerns though they were quick to point out that the number of rescues tends to be directly proportional to what happened to come out on the socials.
Apparently, even chopper rescues were also a matter of volunteer labor (apparently uncompensated or maybe $1 as one jokingly said), and apparently a lot of what funds this effort came down to goodwill from donors who have money as well as taxpayers…
It was 5:05am when we awoke after snoozing my alarm, which was easy to do considering that it was still dark outside.
However, with both Julie and Tahia sick, whatever plans we had to do a family hike (maybe out to the Lake Elsinore area) was nixed.
Mom was also busy with garden work (or supervising whatever yard work that needed to be done) so it was just me left to do something.
And I decided that I mind as well get an early start (earlier than would be possible if I wasn’t doing this solo) to the Escondido Falls.
So after having a kefir breakfast (similar to if I was having a workday), I got the bare essentials in terms of water, gear, and I brought all of my shoes – Chacos, trail runners, and my hiking boots.
Julie got up and insisted that I bring a couple of tangerines as well as a jacket.
So with that, I headed out at 6:35am, which was still before sunrise (given the daylight savings time we had to do last Sunday).
In any case, traffic was as light as could be expected, and it was barely even 30 minutes when I got west of the 10 freeway and onto the Pacific Coast Highway.
As the sun was continuing to rise and it was essentially no longer pre-dawn darkness by this time, I could see the long shadows and some people already pulling into the parking lots at the beaches.
After all, today was forecasted to have beautiful weather, which was to precede a weak storm that was supposed to hit the Southland late tonight and into early tomorrow morning.
Eventually, I arrived at the corner of Winding Way and PCH, and the first thing I noticed was that parking before the Winding Way Road was empty!
I never recalled that this was the case in my prior visit, which was quite crowded, but apparently, you can’t park anywhere around the call box to the south or east of Winding Way Road.
It was about 7:30am by this time, and it was amazing to see just how many cars and hikers were already here (and that paid lot managed by the MRCA [aka the “conservatory”] was already completely full).
So I eventually decided to just carry my hiking boots in my day pack and just hike in Chacos until I get to the climb that went up to the upper waterfall, where I knew that traction there was more important.
However, there was a large group of Spanish-speaking people gathered in front of the portapotty, and I asked them (in Spanish) if all of them were waiting to use it.
They had a little chuckle and told me in English that there was only one or two of them waiting to use it.
So I patiently waited before I had to do my business, and then I finally started off on the hike about 20 minutes later.
Because I was doing this hike alone, I could go at a pretty decent pace, and it didn’t take long before I overtook the large Spanish-speaking group that I met at the MCRA parking lot.
After cresting the hill passing by the various “not-in-my-lifetime” homes, I then descended to the familiar trailhead where I had recalled that the old trail used to keep going on the road before descending into the canyon.
Well, these days, I’m guessing that you have to go down this muddier sloping path towards the creek as the easements and management of the property adjacent to the end of the road probably weren’t keen on having hikers that close all the time.
Anyways, when I got down to the first stream crossing, sure enough, it looked like I had no choice but to get wet (though I did notice a trail coming in from the right, which made me wonder if there was an alternate trail).
I didn’t hesitate to go forward since I was in the Chacos, but I did hear some voices of people to my right, so perhaps there might have been a makeshift “bridge” or something to balance on and get across the murky creek.
That said, it was a little unnerving not being able to see how deep the crossings were without trekking poles, which I didn’t want to unsling my pack and bring out.
Nevertheless, I found myself passing numerous people essentially going slow at the crossings as they tried to figure out ways to stay dry through makeshift bridges built by random people setting up deadfall crossings.
And so after getting through all of the crossings, I then found myself on a muddy path flanked by wildflowers where I saw straight away that there was a different between some native sunflowers and the invasive black mustard.
The last time I was here, there was an MCRA employee or volunteer who was whacking the black mustard, and he taught us how to identify them.
You see, the yellow sunflower-looking flowers and the black mustard looked similar, but the black mustard had a dark center.
I had to believe that the black mustards were essentially “Home Depot Specials”, where someone in the residences nearby must have thought it was a good idea to bring in exotic plants for their own home and gardens.
And well, it doesn’t take much for such plants to spread their seeds, and before you know it, you have an invasive species elbowing out the native wildlife here.
Anyways, after getting through the muddy interlude, I then found myself witnessing the upper drop of the Escondido Falls right ahead, which was looking as voluminous as ever.
By about 8:45am, I made it to the base of the lower drop of Escondido Falls, which also looked as wide as I had ever seen it.
Moreover, it was blasting mist around its base making it a bit cool and wet, and I wasn’t particularly in the mood to cross the creek and see this falls from the other side.
The falls itself was in partial shade so it wasn’t idea for photographs, but on a day like today, I figured that it was more about the experience rather than the photos.
Nevertheless, the path was still slippery and steep, especially given the loose dirt acting as ball bearings, and those people in trail runners or sneakers had a much harder time keeping their balance while I didn’t have as much difficulty.
Then, the path went more to the left, where I saw that there was another eroded slope with a long rope set up to help keep the balance I guess (though I didn’t really need it on the way up, but I’d imagine they’d help on the way back down).
After getting above this rope, I got to a little bit of a ridge where I could get a nice view back down towards the Pacific Ocean in the distance while also seeing the context of the impressive upper drop of the Escondido Falls.
Again, this waterfall was in partial sun, which was non-ideal for taking photographs (unless you have an iPhone which does a better job of postprocessing-on-the-fly to equalize the lighting).
So I got my fill of this spot before making the final muddy and narrow-ledge-clinging approach to the base of the waterfall, which was as misty as ever.
Now, since I was wearing boots, I wasn’t feeling changing and going across to the other side for a different view.
Now, I used the rope to go backwards, which was a lot easier than what a couple did before me trying to go down face first, where one lady kept slipping and falling on her butt.
Once I got down past the rope-aided descent, I met up with the large hiking group that I met at the portapotty, and I helped them to take a picture.
Then, I descended the last of the steep and slippery slopes, always looking for a buried rock as a foothold, before making it all the way to the bottom right behind the couple that was struggling.
I made it back down to the lower falls at around 9:45am, where there was a faint rainbow near the base of the falls though it was hard to see (let alone capture in photographs).
There were still a handful of people trickling in to the base of this waterfall, and I knew that it was a matter of time before this place would resemble a party scene like what you’d expect at Eaton Canyon Falls.
Aside from looking over my shoulder and getting a few glimpses of the waterfall’s upper drop from the trail, I once again got through the muddy stretches, greeted passerbys (most of whom cared to return the gesture), and then got back to the crossings.
Again, there seemed to be large groups of people waiting around each of the stream crossings because they tried to figure out ways to stay dry.
In one instance, there was apparently poison oak where a makeshift deadfall bridge was set up, and some guy was freaking out about needing some kind of product to get the stuff off.
Nevertheless, I just went through each of these crossings no problem, and it didn’t take long before I returned to the Winding Way Road.
So I asked them some questions that I had regarding this hike.
One, I asked whether they were all volunteers, which they confirmed, and it also made me a bit worried about how unsustainable this arrangement could be for people who willfully put themselves in trouble without preparations.
Apparently, even chopper rescues were also a matter of volunteer labor (apparently uncompensated or maybe $1 as one jokingly said), and apparently a lot of what funds this effort came down to goodwill from donors who have money as well as taxpayers!
The other question I had for them was the question of private property between the lower falls and the upper falls.
One guy said that it was only this year that the area was under the watch of the MCRA conservancy as the previous owner (who didn’t want it to be known that he owned it) apparently sold it or gave it up (that part wasn’t clear to me).
So that kind of answered the question in my mind whether people going up to the upper falls was trespassing or not, and now it seems like a “go-at-your-own-risk” kind of deal (except when volunteers have to bail people out that get into trouble).
These were good things to know, and it gives me a lot more respect for these people willfully giving up their free time to actually volunteer their weekends at places like these.
Of course, the one thing that I was worried about was the sustainability of all this, especially since they confirmed that there was no plans for a “pay-for-your-use” model, which I think has to be the way to go.
I didn’t think to bring up anything about tagging though that also figures into the sustainability of maintaining places like these versus the amount of people coming in and having an impact.
Eventually by about 10:45am, I was back at the car, where now the parking situation at the Escondido Falls was pretty much full as expected.
Heck, there were even people circling around trying to wait out someone leaving so they could take that spot.
Indeed, if you’re going to go to this waterfall on a weekend, you have to get an early start or just get lucky (or creative, I guess) with the parking situation.
It was getting pretty hot by this time of the day, and I it took some time to load up my car, which was strategically parked so I could continue going west in the direction of Kanan Dume Road.
I had entertained the thought of calling it a day already, but since I was already here, I wanted to check out the Newton Canyon Falls, which I hadn’t done since 2010, I think.
But the thought of just doing it today instead of waiting for who knows when was too great to pass up, so I eventually started to drive off at 11:05am.
Sure enough, it didn’t take long before getting to the traffic light at Kanan Dume Road, and then I headed up the scenic road with a long passing lane eventually leading up to a tunnel.
I knew from the past that the trailhead for the Backbone Trail was near this tunnel, and just as I showed up, there were heaps of cars on either side of the road.
Luckily for me, there was one person who just pulled out as I showed up so I took her spot on the parking lot side right at 11:15am.
And then I proceeded onto the familiar Backbone Trail, which was quite scenic even if it was a bit noisy from the Kanan Dume Road being so close by.
I knew that it wasn’t a long walk to get down into Newton Canyon, and sure enough, after the Backbone Trail bottomed out over some kind of bridge (which I noticed from a distance with water gushing out of its holes beneath), I saw the familiar spur trail.
Now, there was a sign that said the path was unmaintained, and the language seemed stronger to discourage you from going down towards the Newton Canyon Falls, which I could definitely hear at this point.
So I went ahead past the sign and then down some now-fainter trails though the first obvious trail descended to the creek and then degenerated into a deadfall scramble.
However, I knew from before that the descent wasn’t that bad, and so I backtracked until I found the faint trail that continued further downstream before seeing another faint trail that descended to the creek.
It turned out that there was a middle-aged Asian guy (maybe a little older than me) who was surprised to see me.
He was taking pictures and enjoying this spot, and he was telling me that he noticed this falls from the trail above and had to find a way to get closer.
So I guess this little waterfall was still a little bit of an off-the-beaten-path adventure, but I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before people start making their way down here again.
Regardless, he headed out and then I had the falls to myself where I tried my best to document the experience even though I was pretty much looking right into the midday sun at the falls.
I scrambled closer to the other side of the waterfall where there was a bit of drippage on the neighboring cliffs along with lots of poison oak growth (which I was trying to be real careful not to touch).
And at least, there was a rock cliff that helped me to block out the midday sun momentarily so I could at least document the falls from this vantage point before exploring a little further downstream.
But before I knew it, they were gone (probably somewhere further downstream), and I was going to head in that direction hoping that the adventure to find the other waterfalls in Ann Marie Brown’s book wouldn’t be too dangerous.
So I did that, and tried to follow along some ledges that were manageable for the most part, as they got me past some tiny waterfalls and cascades, but soon enough, I had to get past some fairly nasty deadfalls full of ants.
There were a couple of dogs that went right up to me and barked as if I had invaded their territory, but the owner of the dogs calmed them down (the same lady and child).
Once I got past the deadfall obstacle, where the ants were everywhere and pretty much got on me (and they were biting), I ultimately got to the top of a cascade that they were chilling out at (it was around 12pm at this time).
The woman introduced herself as Austin and her daughter’s name was Zoe, and I introduced myself to them in kind.
They were really friendly (almost unusually so), and perhaps there was a bit of shared enthusiasm for being down here in a rather obscure spot in Newton Canyon, where few people would go.
Maybe it was because I already was one of the few people within Newton Canyon, and it’s uncommon to be sharing this experience unseen by the many people doing the Backbone Trail.
However, from this spot, the water was rushing and going down the cascade quite profusely, and I really wasn’t feeling like going down this cascade to continue further.
But I could see from the fast-moving current as well as how I can’t see the bottom of the stream (so it’s hard to tell the stream depth), today just wasn’t going to happen without risk that was well beyond my risk tolerance.
So I took some time to document the experience (even though it might have been a little awkward to do it in front of them), and then I wished them well as I still felt like I could do other kinds of exploring along the Backbone Trail before heading out.
So by about 12:30pm, I got back to the Backbone Trail, and then I decided to keep hiking the Backbone Trail just to see if there were other waterfalls within Zuma Canyon that I might be able to see from this trail.
The trail itself was still scenic as I was pretty much looking across and along Zuma Canyon, but this trail was also a lot busier with lots of people back and forth.
Clearly, there were opportunities to extend the hike, and maybe there might even be a loop hike option or something, but I told myself that I wanted to see if there are hidden waterfall opportunities along the way.
Well, sure enough as I got deeper on the Backbone Trail, I saw that there was a loud double-barreled waterfall deep within Zuma Canyon that seemed a lot more legit than the Newton Canyon Falls that I had seen earlier.
This also seemed like it was worth going down towards the falls someway somehow, but I couldn’t find an obvious way to get down there nor did I notice any faint trails or worn paths from people who might have done just that before.
So after checking out the falls from a distance and noticing other cascades spilling towards it, I then proceeded further north along the Backbone Trail eventually getting to Zuma Creek, where there was a footbridge going over it.
I had entertained the thought of stream scrambling downstream to get down to that double-barreled waterfall, but it didn’t look like there was a suitable path along the stream’s banks to get down there.
I got to this bridge at around 12:50pm, and I figured that was about as far as I was going to go before turning back.
As curious as I was about continuing further to see what else this trail had to offer, I also knew that the further I went, the further I’d also have to hike back, and I was getting hunger pangs from not having a meal besides kefir.
Anyways, I headed back the way I came and got another look down at the “Upper Zuma Canyon Falls”, which is what I’ll dub it since I knew Ann Marie Brown called the elusive waterfalls downstream of Newton Canyon Falls as the Zuma Canyon Falls.
And the whole time I was trying to look for clues on possible ways to get down to that waterfall, but I didn’t really see anything that was palatable except for a rocky ridge that would have gotten me closer to the brink of that waterfall.
But I couldn’t tell if it would be too steep and overgrown on the other side of that rocky ridge, and so I kept moving on.
By about 1:30pm, I finally made it back to the car, where there were more parking spaces that opened up around me, but it was still quite busy here.
As I was loading up the car and getting out of my wet trail runners, I changed back into Chacos, had the tangerines that Julie made me bring along, and then by 1:40pm drove back towards PCH and then along it to get back to the 10 freeway.
Eventually by about 2:30pm, I made it to the familiar Versailles, where there were a couple of parking spaces (since it was kind of an odd hour to be having lunch now), and I decided to dine in while also getting food to go.
During the meal, I was busy texting Julie as I was trying to take to go orders, and then Julie texted me photos of a couple of things that broke in the house – the dryer door and the microwave.
The latter didn’t make me happy (and it pissed off Julie) because apparently Tahia got too aggressive nuking a single piece of cauliflower that ended up hilling the microwave (I had previously thought she had put in foil or something reflective like that).
Regardless, I guess we’ll just have to dip into her red envelope money to fund the replacement microwave, and then be on with our business, but that might cause us to not eat the Versailles leftovers for a few more days…
And with that, I left Versailles (a very satisfying meal that always hits the spot though I didn’t get yucca frita this time), and drove off at 3:15pm.
For some stupid reason, the iPhone routed me in an unexpected direction getting onto the I-405 freeway at Sawtelle, which had some stupid left turns and short lights that caused backups, and I wondered if I was better off just taking the 10 to the 5 home!
Regardless, I finally made it home at 4:15pm, and that pretty much was it for today as I was pretty tired while both Julie and Tahia were sleeping for the most of the day to try to get over whatever bug they had caught yesterday or the day before…
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