El Escondido del Escondido

Looking up at the upper tiers of Escondido Falls in the Santa Monica Mountains

14-April 2012: I couldn't help but think how Mom and I missed out when we tried the scramble but didn't quite make it three years ago. Still, Julie and I relished this experience - the scenic allure, the adventure it took to get here, the ability to finally see what just about everyone else (it seemed) was able to see...

After a pair of storms this past week, Julie and I decided that we should go ahead a take a chance on a hike that I personally had been waiting a long time to redo - Escondido Falls. I almost thought it wasn't going to happen this year given how little rain we had received throughout the Winter, but it seemed like we were getting most of our precipitation late this wet season, and so we figured that the timing couldn't have been any better as we were about to revisit this waterfall right after the clearing of the latest storm.

As usual, our daughter was our natural alarm as she was already up and doing her baby talk in her crib some time around 7am. I was the last of the family to get up, but eventually I did at around 7:30am.

After going through the obligatory milk feeding, diaper changes, and preparations for ourselves to do today's hike, we left Tahia with Julie's mum and proceeded to leave the house at about 8:30am.

We thought we were getting a pretty early start (though I swore we could leave the house much earlier in our pre-child days), but since we weren't bringing her, I figured we did pretty well.

Apparently, we didn't leave the house soon enough because as we were cruising along the 10 Fwy, we ran into traffic some time around 9am. What gives?

We weren't sure if there was an accident or not, but there were three CHPs somewhere before the 405 interchange, and whatever it was, there wasn't much to see (though that didn't stop the lookie-loo slow-down).

Leaving the packed car park As we continued further west as the 10 became PCH, we were met with another bit of a traffic slowdown roughly 20 minutes later. This time, there was some kind of work being done in the middle of PCH and they shut down a lane in each direction.

It wasn't until about 9:35am when we finally made it to the Winding Way trailhead. The car park was already full and there were even a few cars that were parking along the busy PCH. Nonetheless, we managed to find a spot in the main lot.

Going up the familiar Winding Way Road Afterwards, we donned our hiking boots (anticipating a muddy and wet hike like last time), and promptly went up the familiar residential road amongst multi-million dollar estates. Sometimes Julie and I wondered what the residents here must be thinking given all the traffic that passes by right in front of the homes. I'd bet they're not all that pleased.

Gorgeous ocean views In any case, the breezy sunny morning was beautiful. All along the paved ascent, we could look west towards the blue skies hovering over the white-capped Pacific Ocean. Meanwhile, the bright morning sun was shining brightly to our left somewhat against our line of sight, but it was still a picturesque morning and wonderful way to start off.

Start of the official trail at a different spot than last time As we traversed the apex of the Winding Way Road, we then made the familiar descent towards Escondido Canyon. The first thing we noticed was that the old trail we took last year (which continued on the paved road to its end) was no longer available. We now had to go right into the muddy descent into the canyon itself.

We figured that there must've been a new owner or some kind of new agreement between the city and residents to close off the old trail, which would've passed real close to the last house on this road.

So in any case, at 10:05am, we put our hiking boots to use as we were sloshing our way down the somewhat slippery and muddy trail. We were met shortly by our first stream crossing, which was pretty easy to traverse. But it dawned on me that the volume in the stream we crossed must've been a good sign as the falls we were about to see surely must've benefitted from the rains as expected.

Once we reached a fork in the trail, we knew to turn left to continue on the familiar trail, which would cross the stream probably another 4 or 5 times before getting to Escondido Falls. Going right at this fork would've taken us back on the old trail towards the end of the paved road. I'm sure those who haven't done this trail before might've had a headscratching moment there about which way to go. So I guess experience paid off for us this time around.

The muddy trail And as expected, the slightly uphill hill was mostly uneventful save for some muddy spots all throughout the walk. We saw one girl's regular sneakers get ruined by the mud.

I guess it was either coincidental or kind of ironic that both times I've done this trail with Julie, it was muddy and shortly followed rain storms.

The thought did cross my mind that it might also be a bit slippery in pursuit of that elusive upper waterfall, which was the main reason why I badly wanted to redo this hike. Plus, given how muddy it was, we were very glad that we didn't bring Tahia.

The familiar lower falls At about 10:35am, we were back at the familiar Escondido Falls.

So we took the obligatory photos and movies of this part of the falls though we couldn't help but notice a stench of sulfur in the air.

What's with it with sulfur and waterfalls these days?

Last week, we were at Paradise Falls in Thousand Oaks and took a whiff of the same thing. Now, this waterfall had a hint of the poop smell.

We speculated that in both cases, the residences further up the drainage must be sending their sewage into the drainage we were in. We doubted there was some natural volcanic activity. Regardless, there was no way we'd even consider putting any of this water in any of our orifices.

Starting the steep ascent Although this waterfall was familiar, somehow it didn't look all that familiar. Apparently, the trajectory of the water looked a little different. Plus, there were more tree branches blocking the view of the waterfall's upper sections of this lowermost tier. I guess it just goes to show you that in Nature, things are dynamic and constantly changing - even in as short as three years.

Nonetheless, knowing that we came here on a mission, we didn't linger for long at the lower waterfall. We did enough of that last time. So we promptly made our way up the familiar steep path - the same one Mom and I took three years ago.

Tricky rope-assisted traverse Sure enough, the path got progressively steeper as I remembered it. With the slightly muddy footing, it was also as dangerous as I remembered it. We were very glad we didn't take Tahia on this excursion.

After a short climb up a tree hugging an exposed rock in a gully, we were then confronted with a familiar rope that was tied here to make it easier for hikers to scramble across a particularly slippery and steep traverse. A fall here could've been pretty disasterous as it'd no doubt have us tumbling right back to the base of the lower waterfall.

Steep climb after the rope-assisted traverse Then, after the rope-assisted traverse, we had to do a little bit of steep climbing up a combination of rocks and dirt. If we didn't have mud on our hands and pants by now, we sure had it at this point. There was a couple standing at the top watching us struggle to go up though they were being courteous waiting for their turn to go down this hairy section. Our turn would come soon enough when we return from the falls.

Where I got stumped last time So now we were right back where Mom and I were at three years ago. I wasn't sure what I was thinking back then, but for some reason, I couldn't find the way to continue. But this time around, the path to continue didn't seem so elusive. Even Julie had no trouble finding it and continuing, and the trail she took didn't look at all that hidden. I guess you live and learn...

So onwards we continued along a pretty narrow ledge where we were careful not to fall into the dropoff on our left.

Narrow ledge Then, we were confronted with another short stream crossing on slippery rocks. This time, we saw a small cascade as we made the traverse. And being the waterfall documenters that we are, we took a brief moment to capture it.

A hidden middle tier cascade en route to the upper falls An amused lady who was going back down told us that there was a bigger and better one further up. Of course we already knew that but in her mind, she must've thought that we were nuts to think this was it. Funny how acts can be perceived and misunderstood so easily by others.

Next, we had to go up an even steeper and tricker climb. It was tricky because our muddy boots had to grip some rocks which were very easy to slip off of. On top of that, all four limbs needed to be used to hold onto the rock-wall-like obstacle before finally pulling ourselves further up and out of this particular hazard.

Finally, the upper falls! We let a trio of young ladies go down this obstacle before we made the attempt as a guy was graciously and patiently waiting for us to figure out how to do this obstacle.

Once Julie made it up with me right behind, Julie wasn't sure if we should've gone left or right, but another lady nearby merely said smiling, "follow the poison oak."

So we dutifully did though we were very conscientious of not grabbing onto them. "Leaves of three, leave them be," we kept telling ourselves.

Someone managed to make it up to a grotto After a few more minutes of scrambling between tall reeds (sawgrass?), we finally joined about a little less than a dozen people who were already here. It was about 10:50am or so when we got here.

At last, we finally made it to the elusive Upper Escondido Falls!!!

Indeed, we were face-to-face with the mossy sprinkly waterfall that was swaying with the wind. The overhanging moss decorated the mini grottos beneath. And you put all these pretty unique attributes together, and we could totally see why this was one of the more popular local waterfalls people routinely Yelp about.

Angled view of the upper falls Plus, we could also see how photographing this waterfall was a bit difficult given the height of the grotto-walled waterfall before us and how close we were to it.

There were already a couple of people in the water. One guy actually climbed up into one of the grottos and let the spray from the falls shower him.

I couldn't help but think how Mom and I missed out when we tried the scramble but didn't quite make it three years ago. Still, Julie and I relished this experience - the scenic allure, the adventure it took to get here, the ability to finally see what just about everyone else (it seemed) was able to see...

Graffiti - not a good sign So we took our time taking photos and movies. The lighting was a bit difficult for decent people photos, but we took such photos anyways.

It was about 11:20am when we finally pried ourselves away from this spot. It was just in time as another wave of weekenders were trickling in.

As we were leaving, I couldn't help but notice some plastic bottles as well as some graffiti. Julie noticed it too.

Last look at the upper falls before going back down I wondered to myself how much longer this spot would be enjoyable before the irresponsible acts of others would ruin it.

As usual, going down seemed to be much faster than going up, but it was no less difficult. We employed the sit and scoot technique (in much the same way that we applied for scrambles like at Angels Landing in Zion).

After a brief scenic part where we could get a fairly high-level vantage of the Escondido Canyon below us, we waited for a trio of folks making it up that very part where we struggled earlier just past the rope. But this time, we were ones watching these folks.

One of the girls asked us if they were almost there. We told them that there was still one more similar obstacle to what they just did, but the upper waterfall was so worth it.

Now that it was our turn, we once again employed the sit-and-scoot technique to at least get down the slippery rocks and mud.

Next, we were back at the ropes. This time instead of using the saw grass to hold on to, we used the rope and employed the Half Dome technique where we had our backs to the open and making like we were rappelling. The ground beneath us was still a bit wet, muddy, and slippery, but sure enough we got by this obstacle.

Finally, back at the lower falls! There was still one more to go, which was along a tree-root growing against a steep rock in a gully. Once again, we employed the sit-and-scoot technique to get down this last obstacle.

And in what seemed like forever, we finally made it back to the lower waterfall at 11:40am (only 20 minutes). There were about four people enjoying the falls from down here though I wondered if they were some of the same folks that had already made it to the top.

Back at the Winding Way Road In any case, the hardest part of the hike was over and now we could cruise along the trail back to the trailhead. The ground seemed less muddy than it was this morning though it definitely seemed like the afternoon wave of hikers were making their way to the falls as we easily saw at least 2-3 dozen people in all. Some looked like athletes, which I suspect might be from the nearby Pepperdine University.

Descending towards the car park At 12:30pm, we were finally back at the car. There was some dude that was parked where we couldn't get out, but fortunately, the driver was still in the car and he got out of our way as we left.

The satisfying adventure was over, and both Julie and I celebrated with a lunch at Duke's Malibu.

We were once again reminded of how much of a rip-off some of their foods were, but we weren't going to be denied our Hula Pie - even if that one dessert would undo all the calories that we managed to burn on this hike.

In contrast to this morning, traffic was light when we left Duke's and made it back home at 2:40pm - though we did take the 405 and 105 on the way back instead of the 5 and 10.

All in all, it was a great day. Next week, we expect to bring Tahia along again. But it won't be quite the adventure that today's excursion turned out to be...

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