It wasn’t until almost 9am when we awoke. Basically a phone call was what woke us up considering we hadn’t slept until 2:30am last night. That was because we were celebrating a friend’s graduation from Art Center, and we dined and socialized almost until midnight.
Anyways, I knew our day started a bit too late to attempt the long drive and hike to Emerald Falls on Sespe Creek. It was an excursion we looked forward to doing, but the 10-mile hike and the nearly 2-hour drive all the way to Fillmore was enough to make us think about an alternate hike.
By about around 9:40am, we had left the house and decided on going for Hermit Falls. Unfortunately, we knew it shared the same car park as Sturtevant Falls, and thus parking would be a very unpleasant experience given our late start.
Nonetheless, we pushed forward through relatively light traffic. And by about 10:30am, we arrived at the familiar Chantry Flat Car Park and Pack Station. Sure enough, lots of cars were already parked throughout Santa Anita Canyon Road. Even more vehicles were trying their luck at finding a parking spot in the limited car park space at the Pack Station.
Of course, we were there just to get our Forest Service Pass to display on our vehicle. When Julie finally paid her $5 to pick one up, she got back to the car where I was waiting at the car park in the shade. I wasn’t about to make the same mistake last time where we got separated.
Just as we were about to start moving, a group of hikers decided to cross in front of us and block our progress. And it was just then that a big white pick-up truck pulled out of a parking out up ahead in front of us!
But the people in front of us took their sweet ass time getting to their cars and by the time we could finally get through, an orange SUV went the wrong way and snatched that spot right in front of us!
I guess it just wasn’t meant to be, but it’s moments like this that makes us dread the whole parking situation no matter where you go in Los Angeles. I guess we’ll just have to go back down Santa Anita Canyon Road and look for a pullout and extend our hike by probably a mile or so.
It wasn’t until about 10:40am. A mile-post marker by the trailhead at Chantry Flat Road said something like 1.73. The nearest milepost marker where we were at said something like 1.23. That meant we had to hike a half-mile just to even get started on our hike!
Well, it was exercise we wanted, and that’s exactly what we got!
As Julie and I walked along the road, we saw other people in the same boat making the awkward walk along the road to the car park. One guy was walking the other way, and it was clear that he was a Forest Service guy looking to issue tickets to parked cars not displaying a pass.
The familiar walk past the gate blocking Chantry Flat Fire Road (which was paved) went pretty quickly as we went past one switchback (where there was the wise sign saying, “May Your Search Through Nature Lead You To Yourself”) and then junctioned with the signposted First Water Trail at the second switchback.
So from this point on, we’d be in unfamiliar territory as we left the pavement and onto the narrow single-lane dirt track offering views of Big Santa Anita Canyon below as the trail itself switchbacked a few more times with some intermittent shade.
The first thing Julie and I noticed while walking this path was how quiet and uncrowded it was. Definitely more of the peaceful naturesque experience we cherish. The most prevalent sound we noticed was the loud sound of falling water. Could that already be Hermit Falls?
The descent continued on pretty uneventfully as we rejoined the shade of the forest flanking the creek. As the trail flattened out, we were right by a flood control dam with a false waterfall going over it. It quickly became apparent at that point that perhaps the loud water sounds we had heard higher up on the trail were probably these false waterfalls. We certainly hoped that Hermit Falls wasn’t one of these fake waterfalls.
Next, we had to cross the creek, which was a little tricky without hiking sticks. We did manage to get across with minimal wetness to our Gore-tex boots.
But then, the trail went in both directions and we weren’t quite sure where to go. I was too cocky about this hike to bring our waterfall guidebook. Now maybe I was wondering if we should’ve brought it all along because we now had a 50-50 shot at going the right way.
So we ended up going upstream (to our left) following a backpacker that was further ahead of us. By the time we walked past a primitively bridged stream crossing and between a couple more cabins, we caught up to the backpacker at another stream crossing. Then, I initiated a dialog with him.
“Excuse me,” said I. “Is this the way to Hermit Falls?”
The backpacker turned his head and pointed the other way. I guess we had gone the wrong way after all.
“Is it one of those fake waterfalls over a dam or is it a real waterfall?” said I.
“Oh, it’s a real waterfall,” said he. “It’s between Cabins 1 and 2. If you see Cabin 1, you went too far.”
“Thank you, ” said I appreciatively.
And with that, Julie and I headed downstream with a purpose. Eventually, we’d get past a reassuring sign that said, “First Water JCT.” That sign pointed the way to Hermit Falls and said it was still another 3/4-mile further downstream.
Eventually, we’d get to a rocky area where we saw some people up ahead doing a precarious rock scramble. Apparently, we had found the Hermit Falls at this point, but the only bit of the falls we could see and experience at this point was the uppermost tier, which was a dinky 5- or 10ft drop with a bit of a swimming hole. The stream continued beyond that towards what appeared to be a larger drop below.
Unfortunately, there didn’t seem to be a safe way down. So Julie and I evaluated our situation (despite the fact that a family had already made the scramble down) and scrambled up a gully that joined up with a narrow trail. We then continued on that narrow trail and eventually found a cabin that was labeled “1”. Recalling what the backpacker had told us, I guess we had gone too far.
There didn’t look like there was an obvious way of getting to the base of Hermit Falls so apparently we had to go back to where we were at before and make another evaluation as to whether we should make the scramble down to the base of the falls.
A Korean family was going the other way looking for the same thing we were. Except they continued onwards towards Cabin 1 and possibly the end of the First Water Trail.
Back at the top of Hermit Falls, I decided to take the initiative and head towards the shaded but steep rocky gully. I saw the family that was before us earlier make the scramble down to the base going this way. That family was still down there by the plunge pool amidst the unsightly graffiti that seemed to plague the scene.
I guess the silver lining behind the vandalism is that quite a few other people made it down there previously. Even though they’re probably thugs or pot growers cultivating the weed illegally and using the tagging as some kind of territorial marker. Who knows?
The first tier of the scramble was steep, but certainly doable in a sit and scoot manner. I’m sure Julie could do this one, but somehow I got the feeling that she shouldn’t try because some upper body strength is necessary to pull oneself up in a particularly vertical section.
The next tier of the scramble was even trickier. This time, my foot couldn’t touch the ground and I had to do a little bit of a leap of faith. Of course I worried about how I’d get back up, but I figured if a family of four already made it down here, it couldn’t be that bad could it?
Then the next tier of the scramble was even steeper and dodgier. This time I had to wedge myself between rocks and hope my arms were strong enough to hold myself up in a controlled way before I made another leap of faith to the next flat part below.
Once I got down that, I wasn’t terribly straight forward to get to where that family was at the base of the falls. The view still wasn’t satisfactory from here so some additional scrambling was necessary. But I was a little fearful of a dropoff into a rocky crevice below where the rock walls looked vertical and slick. And a bad fall here could easily mean search-and-rescue time.
Eventually, I got to the plunge pool area amidst the graffiti-defaced rocks flanking the water. And there was the falls itself before me sliding at an angle that reminded me of Switzer Falls.
The father of the family smiled at me as I smiled back. Apparently he acknowledged the difficult scramble it took to get down here.
Anyways, they were busy swimming and sun-bathing. I was blissfully taking photos and movies (with the camera Julie lent me) as she was sitting precariously on the top in plain sight.
After getting my fill of the falls, it was time to make the ascent. Of course, I was worried about whether I could make it back up or not, and by the time I got back to the tricky scrambles, my fears were founded.
There was no obvious path to make it back up the vertical walls I had descended. When the father of the family saw my difficulties, he came over and we exchanged in a dialog as to how he was able to do it in the past (assuming he had done this before). Ultimately, he said I had the right idea on my approach to the scramble. Fortunately, I had found a foothold on the opposite wall where I could launch myself up and onto a real precarious ledge where I pushed myself up with my upper body before crawling onto the flat area above.
Was it all worth it?
I doubt it. But at least we could say we’ve done Hermit Falls, finally. But in retrospect, when a waterfall in Ann Marie Brown’s book doesn’t have a photo, we can now say that it’s a bad sign!
The rest of the hike up to our car was hot and sweaty but mostly uneventful (except for some wildflowers blooming alongside the trail) especially considering what we just had to go through for this waterfall. It wasn’t until about 1:40pm that we made it back to our car. Now, it was time for a late lunch at Julie’s mom’s.
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