Day 1: A NEW LOCAL FAVORITE
Julie and I awoke at 5am to an alarm I typically reserve for workdays at this hour. The sun was still not out yet and neither of us slept for probably more than 5 hours.
Yet despite our inclination to want to sleep in and rebel against the alarm, we knew today was the day we wanted to do Fish Canyon Falls, which was something we had never done before. But access to the falls was limited, and an earlier attempt to see the falls 3 weeks ago was cancelled due to rain. Their earliest shuttle was at 7am and we wanted to catch that shuttle so we could finish the hike and be back at the parents to watch the dogs before their gardeners arrived (since we were the only ones in the immediate family who weren’t out of town for a change).
We eventually left our rental home at 6am as the sun had still yet to break the horizon, but we could see some blue in the distance as sunrise was about to come out pretty soon.
We got to the parents’ place at 6:20am so we could feed the dogs before we continued on.
By 6:50am, we were at the Vulcan Materials car park. At first, we weren’t quite sure if we got to the right place because the road ended at a fenced area with uninviting “No Trespassing” signs but no indication that the hike was somewhere nearby. Fortunately, we drove past the gate with the intention of asking where the hike was, but that was when it became obvious that there was a huge unpaved car park with a handful of other cars and hikers here waiting for the van shuttle.
After we were done putting on our hiking boots, donning my daypack, and we both had our cameras, we signed in at the trailhead register, which was manned by an employee, and then hopped on the van. Inside the van, there were already five six other people plus a dog.
And as scheduled, the van took off right at 7am.
The van drove right through the quarry site for about another mile. It was like we were getting a ride through the work zone as we were surrounded by bare foothills with a few zigzags of gravel roads and hardly any vegetation in sight. But it wasn’t long before reaching the very end of the road where we could see another fence with an opening right at a yellow bridge above Fish Creek. It was right here that the vehicle stopped and we were promptly dropped off.
And as the van drove off, everyone except Julie and I hastily got right onto the hike. Julie and I took our time. I even managed to take a few photos of the trailhead area before we embarked on what we thought was going to be a pretty long 6-mile return hike.
It was about 7:05am when we crossed that yellow bridge and got right on the trail. And pretty much immediately it felt like we were in another world. Gone were the ugly scars on the landscape we had just left behind and we were amidst the silence of Nature and the Fish Canyon ecosystem.
The trail was generally climbing, but there were only a couple of very brief stretches of climbing so it never felt strenuous at all. And about 10 minutes into the hike, we saw a former site of a few cabins after passing by couple of signs regarding the history of the trail. According to the nearest sign, the cabins that were once here were overcome by fire and flood, which seemed to be a pretty familiar story in the Southern California landscape. Again, it makes us wonder whether those who choose to build in and develop in places like this (as well as in the Malibu area or other parts of the Santa Monica Mountains) as local government and a depleted California continues to pour resources towards protecting these homes against Mother Nature at all costs.
The trail continued onwards at times almost besides Fish Creek but at other times on narrow ledges where dropoffs drop steeply towards the creek below. Even though the trail didn’t quite induce any vertigo or butterflies the way the Kalalau Trail in Kaua’i did beyond Hanakapi’ai Falls, the trail was still narrow enough where I’m sure any bi-directional traffic would require someone to stop or get pretty close to the dropoff edges themselves.
At a little beyond 8am, we crossed a stream where lots of rocks and a log were strategically placed so we didn’t have to get our feet wet. And just beyond the stream crossing, it looked like the canyon was starting to close in. There was even an ephemeral waterfall that was flowing though the photo doesn’t do it justice.
A few minutes later, I encountered the first hikers from our group as they were heading back to the trailhead. I learned from the guy with the dog that it was only about five minutes more to the falls.
At 8:15am, Julie was already at the falls while I was busy taking photos from various angles before joining her right at the plunge pool at the base of the lowermost of the upper waterfalls. Fish Canyon Falls was actually 4 total tiers, but the lowest tier starts to disappear from view as the trail continues above it.
Knowing this, I took as many photos as I could at various angles, exposures, and brightness. Julie took the time to turn around and put up 5 fingers in my direction as she thought it was a 5. She was obviously impressed with this falls, and for her to give it a 5, that’s quite rare for a local waterfall compared with all the other excellent waterfalls we’ve seen around the world.
As I was busy taking more photos, another hiker showed up behind me. He mentioned to me that this falls wasn’t flowing last year when he was here in July. Clearly he was thoroughly enthused about the nice flow this time around.
After a short steep descent towards the plunge pool where Julie was already sitting on a log, I joined her and took even more photos while trying to soak in this impressive scene. Sure it was a bit of trouble to coordinate and finally see this waterfall (one that I wasn’t aware of until one of the people in our group mentioned to me about this falls during a backpacking trip to Big Pine Creek last July), but we sure were glad to have done it.
Unfortunately with this being so close to Los Angeles, we did notice some graffiti around the falls and around the sitting area where we were at. That kind of put a damper on things, but the falls itself was pretty awesome and did its best to keep our minds off the urban blight invading sanctuaries like this.
At around 8:30am, we were on our way out. The hike turned out to be shorter than we thought, but perhaps the reported 6 miles round trip we saw on another website included the van shuttle. So the actual hike itself was probably between 3 to 4 miles round trip.
As we were hiking out, the morning sun was definitely creating pockets of hot air and cold air within the canyon itself. Most of it was still in shadow, but it quickly started heating up when we were exposed to the sun.
Still, we the early morning light did create some nice photo ops of Fish Creek flanked by thin trees dripping with dew as well as some opportunities to pay more attention to the ubiquitous poison oak present along so much of the trail.
Continuing along in our exit, we did notice several groups headed to the falls. At first, it was at least three large groups of what appeared to be Boy Scout-led parties of a dozen or more. One even looked like a large adult group. And as we continued onwards back to the trailhead, we saw even more large groups of hikers as well as smaller groups and even families or those walking their dogs as well.
Indeed, this was a popular hike despite the access restrictions. And we were at least glad that we didn’t have to do any tricky maneuvering to pass in the most narrow stretches of this trail.
By 9:20am, we were back at the trailhead where it was very busy and there were about three trucks in the car park (but none of them were for transportation). We weren’t sure if there was a limit to the number of people on the trail at one time. So we asked one of the employees there if this was the case. He just told us that all they were just enjoying the trailhead, which sounded a bit strange to us, but different strokes for different folks, I guess.
Then the curiosity got the better of me so I asked the same employee what they’re quarrying here.
“They used to quarry granite,” he said.
“You mean the kinds that go on the granite countertops in kitchens?” I replied.
He chuckled and said, “I wish. That would be nice, huh? Nah, this take the granite and reduce and mix it so it can become material for pavement.”
Shortly thereafter, a van showed up to drop off even more hikers. We took that van back to the car park where we returned at 9:25am. I didn’t get a chance to ask what the quarry operation is doing now if they’re not quarrying for granite no more. But I guess I could read up on that somewhere else, eventually. Anyways, as we got off the van, we noticed quite a long queue waiting to get on the van we just got off.
“7am,” we said.
And with that she got on the van, and there were still lots of people in the queue who’d have to wait for the van to come back. We sure were glad we got the early start!
And so ended our dayhike excursion much earlier than anticipated. So with that early start and finish, we went over to Monrovia where we decided to have an early lunch at Din Tai Fung for some soup dumplings. We figured we had some time for this bit of indulgence (even though they’re pretty expensive for Chinese food; dumplings no less) before returning to the parents to watch the dogs before their gardeners arrived (who’d definitely make the dogs freak out with rage).
At least that gave us a little time to catch up on a little rest (via the food coma), giving the dogs some love since we hadn’t seen them in over a month it seemed, and watching some Elite Eight (NCAA basketball) action to see who’d be going to the Final Four this year…
Day 2: ALMOST PUSHING IT TOO MUCH
Julie and I didn’t awake until 7:30am. Considering that we didn’t sleep until almost midnight last night, I guess last night was the time to try to get back some sleep against our sleep deprivation. Nonetheles, we wanted to squeeze in another hiking excursion while feeding the dogs one more time. So that thought got us going, and by 8:30am, we were finally out the door.
By 9:05am, we were done feeding the dogs. Now, it was time to continue eastwards towards Mt Baldy for we wanted to re-visit San Antonio Falls (something we hadn’t seen since the Spring of 2005).
Using Julie’s old Corolla, we pushed eastwards towards the Claremont area. Eventually, we’d get off Base Line Road, then drive north on Padua Road, which seemed to pass through a new suburban development area. We wondered why Ann Marie Brown‘s directions didn’t include this more direct route towards Baldy Village on Mt Baldy Road (she had us taking Euclid, then Mountain Ave, before getting onto Mt Baldy Road, but that would’ve meant we overshot eastwards before heading west towards the mountainous road).
But that’s when it dawned on us that perhaps Padua Road didn’t exist when our version of the book was published. The new housing developments here was pretty indicative of the encroachment of land development and urban sprawl towards once wild areas at the foothills of the San Gabriels.
When we finally got onto Mt Baldy Road, the road climbed pretty steeply considering this was supposed to be a pretty fast moving road. It certainly seemed a bit less developed that I remembered it five years ago. But when we got past Baldy Village (with plenty of places to pick up Adventure or Recreation Passes), the road really climbed steeply with lots of 10mph hairpin turns.
Eventually at about 10am, we saw the Manker Flat Campground around the divided Mt Baldy Road. The divided part was something I remembered from the last time, and it was reassuring to see that my memory didn’t fail me here. But the steep winding mountain Mt Baldy Road for some reason wasn’t as memorable until now.
When I turned off the ignition, I heard some bubbling from within the front of Julie’s car. Some white smoke was also coming out of the sides of Julie’s front tires as well as some protruding from the cracks in the hood.
Again, nothing indicated overheating on the panel. However, all of the signs sure seemed to point to overheating! I guess perhaps we pushed Julie’s car a bit too hard on this go-around. Perhaps I should’ve used a lower gear to climb.
In any case, Julie and I donned our boots and expected similar conditions to our first visit. That is, we expected to walk on an unpaved but flat road leading to an overlook of the falls with a pretty worn section of track leading to the base of the falls (which we avoided).
But right off the bat, I noticed that Falls Road was paved as it went through the gate preventing public vehicles from going through. The gate was nothing new, but the paved road didn’t seem to jive with my memory. Plus, the road looked pretty well-kept, which was surprising considering the types of rain storms (and snow in these parts I’m sure) we had been experiencing this Winter.
We eventually passed by a couple of driveways with vehicles on them. They looked private, and that totally explained why the road looked pretty well-maintained. But then again, we never remembered seeing cabins here the last time around. I guess lots can change in five years.
On the bright side, it was certainly less busier and crowded than it was five years prior. Plus, there was more snow around the falls, which wreaked havoc on the light meter on my camera given the amount of intense sun reflected back towards us by the snow.
After getting our fill of the overlook, we decided to continue onwards to the base of the falls. We gingerly but successfully traversed the worn section of track we were afraid of last time, and ultimately walked a short section on snow before getting right to the base of the falls.
There were a handful of other couples that started showing up after us, but it definitely felt much quieter than last time. We lingered a bit longer looking both up at the falls and back downstream towards the canyon opening out to the LA basin in the distance.
Eventually when we had our fill of the falls, we headed back to the car while being passed by a couple of other hikers who wore crampons on the boots to perhaps do some snow hiking (or that they were already done with their excursions). Perhaps there was more to the trail past the falls overlook, but we were already content with the falls.
By 11:25am, we were back at the car and proceeded to drive back down the hill eventually getting to Little Saigon for some quick Vietnamese food. The drive down Mt Baldy Road was a bit more frustrating than on the way up because there were drivers that refused to use pullouts while holding back the traffic behind them. At least I didn’t worry a whole lot about the car overheating since gravity took care of most of the work thereby relieving the engine of doing anything terribly arduous enough to cause a breakdown up here (not a good thing).
As for the drivers who held everyone up, they obviously were either city drivers who didn’t know better about mountain driving etiquette (as well as the law) or they were just stubborn jerks. Whatever the case, we’d eventually make it to the Brodard Restaurant at 12:30pm. Sure it was prime lunch hour and the place was packed (looked like they remodeled, but didn’t efficiently use their new space yet so the waiting area was still quite congested), but the rolls hit the spot.