Day 1 (December 31, 2021 – Los Angeles, California): “Guy Group and Gal Group”
It was 6:30am when Julie and I awoke, where it was unusual that we had to get up this early over the past holiday week between Christmas and New Years.
The plan for today was to fit in some waterfall hikes because we had been getting some pretty good rain over the last couple of weeks.
Knowing how Global Warming had been shortening our winters in the past, this could be the last of the rains for the rest of the winter season! so we wanted to do some new waterfalls (i.e. those we hadn’t done before) that required timing.
So that’s when I had this idea of pursuing at least San Juan Falls and Ortega Falls, especially since I knew we were going to be joined by Wendy’s family who weren’t as familiar with the harder hikes. However, I’d solo going to Chiquito Falls, which I knew was a much longer hike.
That said, it still took some time to get ready, where Julie and Tahia really were slow, and so it wasn’t even until about 8:20am when we finally got into the car and headed out.
Now the original plan was to get to the San Juan Loop Trailhead by 9am so I might be able to do my solo hike after hiking with them to at least San Juan Falls. The rest of the group would then go to Ortega Falls and maybe the Ortega Oaks Candy Store or something.
Moreover, we hoped to get to a beach to see the sunset before the year ended, which was a desire that our friend Wendy wanted.
However, we got texts from Wendy’s family (who were going to join us for today’s activities) that they weren’t going to make it until closer to 10am.
I wasn’t sure how long Chiquito Falls would take (though I knew it was over 9 miles round-trip of hiking), but I had a feeling that it was going to be tight to finish off the hike and still meet them for sunset at the nearest beach.
We googled the sunest time and learned that sunset was officially around 4:54pm, so there wasn’t much time to get what we needed to make that desire possible.
Anyways, we ended up getting to the San Juan Loop Trailhead at 9:20am, where we showed up to the Ortega Oaks Candy Store to pick up a couple of Forest Service Day Passes (for today and to pick one up for Wendy’s family).
My left achilles had a nodule that I was afraid might get me closer to rupture over time, but the last podiatrist I spoke to said that it would be something I’d have to live with for the rest of my life barring surgery (which was something I didn’t want).
In any case, by about 9:55am, Wendy’s family finally showed up, and it took some more time for us to get ready for the hike.
It wouldn’t be until about 10:05am when we finally started on the trail, which was surprisingly not that busy.
The hike was pretty short as we took the more northern route of the loop, which eventually descended towards the overlook of the familiar San Juan Falls.
Thinking that the previous heavy rains would revive the falls, I was hoping it might flow better than it did when we were last here some 5 years ago.
But when we finally got to see it at around 10:25am, we could see that it was nearly as thin (maybe slightly thicker) than it looked on that first visit five years ago.
So we spent most of our time taking pictures of the waterfall against the morning sun, and I took a brief moment to take the short trail down towards the San Juan Creek, which surprisingly looked like it had less water in the creek than before.
And then by around 10:45am, we had our fill of the San Juan Falls, and then I was getting ready to split up with the group to pursue Chiquito Falls.
But I didn’t want to subject Wendy’s family nor the rest of my family to do the long hike over a waterfall that I knew was small. Still, I wanted to see what the appeal of the hike was as well as see fewer people and less graffiti.
As I started to head out, Van (Wendy’s husband) wanted to join me on the hike (maybe to keep me company or to avoid some of the dramas from his kids fighting).
And as we were getting further away along the San Juan Loop while leaving the women behind, Konnor (Van’s son) caught up to us and wanted to join us, too.
But whatever the case, their decisions were made, and it was pretty much the guys going on the long hike to Chiquito Falls and back while the gals were headed back to the car to pursue Ortega Falls, and then have lunch at the In N Out in San Juan Capistrano.
We told them in advance that we should be back some time between 3-4pm though in the back of my mind, that was already kind of sporty since we really had less than 6 hours to finish everything (more like 5 hours, which might be possible if we rushed).
Anyways, Van, Konnor, and I continued down the San Juan Loop as the trail followed a ledge and then started to descend.
But it didn’t take long before I noticed some kind of informal spur trail near some sounds of falling water as we were approaching one of the descending switchbacks. Could there be another waterfall in this excursion?
The descent itself was a little steep and overgrown (and I think I got caught on one branch somewhere on this descent), and I even managed to slip and fall (though I caught myself so it wasn’t a hard spill) on one rocky stretch.
But by about 11am, we made it to a small waterfall that was making all the noise, but it was a nice little secluded spot even though the falls might not even be 10ft or so.
Plus, there was a tree leaning across the falls making it even harder to see and photograph.
After having our fill of what I dubbed the “Lower San Juan Falls”, we then scrambled back up to the San Juan Loop Trail, and then continued the descent until it went along San Juan Creek.
Eventually at about 11:25am, we reached a signed trail junction with a bench, where the San Juan Loop veered to the left while the Chiquito Trail went to the right.
Almost immediately, we had to cross the San Juan Creek, but there was enough water in there that it was going to inundate our hiking boots. Fortunately, we found a trail-of-use going to the left where we then rock-hopped across the stream.
Once on the other side, we then continued along the Chiquito Trail, which pleasantly followed a feeder stream of San Juan Creek (which I think is Morrell Canyon).
It went along a somewhat flat stretch alongside the creek before crossing the minor stream after around 3/4-mile from when we left the San Juan Loop. Then, the trail made a pretty long ascent (said to be about 1400ft over the next 2 miles).
At least both Van and Konnor were educating me on how people make money off this “meta” world though I still think you tend to hear about the 1% of the people that might be able to make lots of money but you never hear about the 99% that can’t.
In that way, I thought all this Roblox talk was good to know as far as trying to get in the mind of my daughter’s addiction, but it really does feel like the younger generation sees social media in much the same way we saw computers and the internet.
It’s like we’ve become the old generation that are a bit out of touch with the younger generation, and their lingo and mentality has evolved to the point that it’s almost like they’re speaking another language.
I had already loaned him one of my trekking poles for balance on the stream crossing, but I loaned him my other one so he can try to take some of the pressure off his toes, especially on the downhills.
While we were starting to ascend above the vegetation, which started off as some trees before thinning out to some bushes and ultimately more prickly desert vegetation, we started to notice the Ortega Highway in the distance.
While I knew that there were probably going to be quite a few more people over at Ortega Falls since it was so close to the road, we were enjoying the subtleties of the scenery around us.
There were lots of these interesting-looking boulders strewn around the mountain that we were climbing as well as some interesting vegetation (like a stalk of a tree that looked like dried up Venus fly trap or something).
We even started to notice scat on the trails, and we wondered if they were from coyotes or other mammals that were present in this part of the wilderness between San Juan Capistrano and Lake Elsinore.
For most of the entire hike when we left the San Juan Loop Trail and ascended on the Chiquito Trail, we didn’t see another person.
That started to change when we got near the apex of our climb just as clouds started to roll in and give us some relief from the sun.
By the way, it was a good thing we did this hike in the winter time because this would be brutally hot and sun-scorched in the summer!
Anyways, as the trail started to go around a bend, we met one woman who was hiking by herself as she was headed the other way. That was the first person we saw, and for a moment, we thought she was the only person we’d see on this trail.
However, as we made the descent for the final 3/4-mile, we encountered a few more parties of people heading back up.
As we got closer to the bottom of the descent, there was even a family of four trail-running that caught up and passed us.
At that time, we already started to see the Chiquito Falls across Lion Canyon, and while we saw that it was flowing, it wasn’t flowing by much.
Still, it hastened our pace and when we finally got to the trail junction at the end, we then veered south to join that family that beat us to the falls.
Then, we saw that it was a bit steep and vertical to get to the bottom of the falls, but we found a worn use-trail that was set back to our left so we could more safely get a bit downstream of the falls, and then skirt alongside the stream back to the falls.
Finally at 1:30pm, we made it to the bottom of Chiquito Falls, where we spent a good deal of time (maybe about 30 minutes) having a snack as well as taking a few pictures and videos.
As expected Chiquito Falls was pretty small (perhaps 15ft is being generous) but it was high enough that you definitely didn’t want to jump down from its brink.
So Konnor, Van, and I had ourselves a mix of tangerines and seaweed though Konnor and Van were having Oreos and something that looked like Cracker Jacks.
I know with the way my joints have been responding to me, I had to refrain from inflammatory foods as I have to keep asking myself whether a particular food is worth the cheat?
Anyways, after having our fill of Chiquito Falls (most the people we saw here were already leaving or have already left except for two Chinese mountain bikers), we bouldered up towards the ledge above the top of Chiquito Falls.
It wasn’t easy maneuvering, but I could see how even this can be fun for the bigger kids provided no one has a bad accident.
After having one last look down at the Chiquito Falls from a ledge by its top, we then headed back out on the Chiquito Trail at 2pm.
By this time, I was having doubts about returning to the San Juan Loop Trailhead and then driving down to Capistrano Beach in time for Wendy’s New Year’s Eve sunset.
And while it was too late to entertain this thought now, in hindsight, Wendy should have left the keys with Van so the gals could carpool to Capistrano Beach for the sunset and not have to wait for us.
Anyways, by this time, the clouds definitely took over the skies even though there was no rain in the forecast when we had set out. So this was a bit of a surprise.
We saw God beams in the distance during the ascent, and I wondered if the beams were due to rain or just drizzle or what. That said, I didn’t have emergency rain ponchos.
When we got back up to the top of the initial climb to do the long downhill descent, it was already well past 2:30pm.
We then embarked on the long downhill, and as we got down to the bottom, it was starting to sprinkle.
At least the precipitation was only as bad as a sprinkle, and it as kind of feeling cool because we were doing a lot of physical exertion.
After crossing the San Juan Creek again, we finally made it back to the San Juan Loop at around 3:45pm.
But instead of completing the San Juan Loop as I had originally planned, I saw that the southern part of that trail followed the noisy Ortega Highway and it seemed to be a bit longer than just going back the way we came.
So we just opted to go back up the way we came so we can stop by the San Juan Falls with the cloud cover one last time.
As we were doing this, we started to see some people going in the opposite direction again, and that was when we realized that the whole time, no one was around us until we were back on this popular part of the hike.
By about 4:20pm, we finally made it back to the San Juan Falls after noticing some big aloe-looking plants across the ravine.
As expected, with the even lighting, San Juan Falls was easier to photograph, but I couldn’t help but wonder if it already started to have lower flow now than it did this morning.
After having my fill getting the even-lighting shots and videos of the San Juan Falls (now that I didn’t have to look against the morning sun), we then made the final approach to the trailhead parking lot.
Along the way, after driving in the darkness of the Ortega Highway (which was surprisingly dangerous considering how fast people drive this road, especially at night), we ultimately got to the Houston’s in Irvine at 6pm.
Unfortunately, the wait time there was on the order of 90 minutes to 2 hours. So Julie thought we could kill some time shopping at the Mother’s Market there.
However, they were closed early for New Year’s Eve and we just missed their 6pm cutoff. So there went that idea of killing time.
Eventually, we settled on eating at this Panini Kabob Mediterranean Grill right across the street from Houston’s, and they didn’t seem busy at all.
While we were wondering if they weren’t busy for a reason, the food was actually not that bad.
Their hummus was creative (though Julie thought they could put olive oil in them) and their beef kabobs were really juicy (almost Raffi’s like).
Tahia enjoyed her chicken pesto panini, which was pretty good (albeit a bit of a wheat cheat), but the portions were so huge here that we ultimately took a lot of food home.
Still, the overall dinner was about $70 which was probably going to be half the cost of Houston’s (of what we were going to order probably), and we even got back in the car by around 7:15pm.
Had we insisted on forcing a dinner at Houston’s, we’d still be waiting to be seated! Not only that, but we’d have to stick it out over there because they didn’t have a pager or text system so you’re pretty much a hostage there for all this time!
What an archaic system!
So with that, we drove the relatively moderate traffic back home, and we got there at around 8pm.
That was just in time to get cleaned up and for me to try to get caught up on today’s events now that I had to get busy processing all this new content.
We all stayed up until the New Year’s, and while it was easy to give into FOMO (fear of missing out), we actually didn’t mind staying low key on this day because of COVID (especially with this Omicron variant going around).
While hospitalizations from this variant seemed to be far less than that of the Delta variant, we didn’t want to be taking chances, especially since we were going to have another gathering with the family this coming Sunday…
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