But just as Mom and I were about to turn and walk downstream, Dad suddenly took a spill and fell belly-first next to the ground that we had stood on.
Dad immediately said that he was OK as he was trying to play it off, but we had to make sure he really was OK as he was still laying on the ground belly first…
After basking in the euphoria of last week’s successful visit to Etiwanda Falls (despite the parking challenges), I wanted to take the parents out on another waterfall hike.
However, this hike was for the Santa Paula Canyon Punch Bowls, and I knew that it was quite a bit more difficult.
That said, despite their advanced age, my parents were always game for whatever hikes that I was willing to take them to though I definitely had to be mindful of when the mind is willing but the body is unable to do certain things anymore.
In any case, even though I had done the Santa Paula Canyon Punch Bowls almost exactly one month ago, I was motivated to do this hike again to finally try to witness the Big Punch Bowl that the Fillmore locals told me about back then.
Similar to the Circle X Ranch Grotto, it was yet another repeat visit just to complete the overall experience before I could finally put my mind at ease about unfinished business.
Indeed, even though Mom and I made plans immediately after the Etiwanda Falls hike to do the hike this week, it was a month in the making.
So with the logistics all arranged and my parents (I was surprised that Dad wanted to come along since he generally preferred to golf over chasing waterfalls) game to start early, we were on for pursuing this adventure on Friday.
Thus, at 4:35am, I awoke to my alarm that Friday morning, where I didn’t get as much sleep as I wanted, but I treated today like it was a typical commuting day.
After all, I’d get up at this time every morning, have breakfast, and then get on with the commute to work (which I’m sure I had to mentally prepare myself for again as soon as the COVID-19 vaccination situation is all worked out).
The parents intended to show up by 6am so I had some time to finish off my kefir breakfast, then help with putting the load of dishes away from the dishwasher, and then help load the next batch so Julie and Tahia wouldn’t be seeing a mess when they wake up.
I also made sure that I had my camera batteries charged and I had properly set up my iPhone with Gaia GPS, which I failed to do last time when it ran out of batteries mid-hike.
Of course, I also wore my Garmin Fenix 6X Pro watch, which grew on me as a very capable GPS unit that’s always available no matter the situation.
Ultimately, with everything at the ready, my parents showed up at 6:15am, and after kissing Julie and Tahia goodbye (like I would typically do on my normal workdays), I headed out with Mom and Dad.
Always a major concern of mine when it comes to driving out towards Ventura County or beyond for a waterfall hike like this was having to go through LA’s infamous rush hour traffic.
I was worried that even the 6:15am start was getting to be a little late, but it turned out that Mom was using Waze on her phone and it kind of helped Dad navigate around the expected congestion spots near East LA (as opposed to staying on the I-5 the whole way).
Once we got past the congestion spots around where the 60 and the I-5 merged, we were then pretty home free as we took the I-5 all the way up to Magic Mountain in Valencia before then taking the 126 west towards Fillmore.
During the drive, my parents and I were catching up on what has been going on with their lives (including some more sensitive topics that they wouldn’t feel comfortable talking with Julie and Tahia about concerning life and death things).
There was one in particular that was concerning a family friend who had been in a coma for over four years now (after falling and hitting the back of his head a second time).
This was like the next reminder of how already one-third of the family friends in their generation had already passed on.
Indeed, I was also keenly aware of our expiration dates, but this kind of forced us to reckon with that reality, and that we really have to keep having outings like this to ensure life is fully lived with no regrets.
I could also tell that golf has been on their minds a lot because every place we drove past would remind them of a particular golf course they played at.
We also talked about one couple who they’ve been golfing with a lot because they possess similar proficiency so they were the most compatible as golfing partners.
That couple also has a daughter who lives in Austin, Texas, and of course my mind went towards their Snowmageddon situation from the Global Warming-induced polar vortex along with a selfish Trump-like government that pretty much paralyzed the state.
Apparently, that daughter wasn’t as badly affected as the rest of the state, but I have to believe that weird events like that are becoming the norm as we continue to screw with the environment in the name of chasing ill-begotten wealth at everyone else’s expense.
Anyways, after taking the familiar 126 west through Fillmore and ultimately to the 150 at Santa Paula, we then took the 150 north to the familiar (but easy-to-miss) trailhead for the Santa Paula Canyon Trail, which we got to right at 8am.
So we made pretty good time in getting here (definitely much faster than the over 2-hour drive that I had to endure a month earlier).
Indeed, we were the first people here (probably at least an hour earlier than when I was here last time), and after ten minutes of gearing up, we then promptly went on our way onto the Santa Paula Canyon Trail.
We wanted to wrap up this hike in time for Tahia’s cousins’ piano lessons, which was supposed to be at 6:30pm.
However, with LA’s afternoon rush hour traffic, that kind of reminded me that we actually didn’t have a lot of time to do what we needed to do on this hike.
Nevertheless, since I had already done this trail last month, I knew what to expect and where to go.
So there would be no head-scratching moments, and I’d only focus on getting to the Big Punch Bowl while forgetting about the tall side waterfall I saw last time.
And I might reconsider doing the steep rope-aided descent to the Upper Punch Bowl (which I also missed the last time).
The momentum from the hike kind of sputtered a bit because Mom was having difficulty with her trekking poles shortly before the first crossing of Santa Paula Creek.
So Dad actually took one of the poles with a missing tip back to the car.
Meanwhile I helped adjust Dad’s pack (which was an Osprey Nebula; kind of like a nice cross between our Ozone 46 and the Farpoint 40) so it could carry a couple of the poles that weren’t immediately needing to be used.
While all this was going on, there was one couple that passed us, which kind of gave me the impression that perhaps today was going to be busier than my fairly pleasant and quiet outing a month ago.
Anyways, when we got to the first crossing, Santa Paula Creek was noticeably a little lower than a month ago, but it was still high enough to warrant help with the hiking sticks though technically they weren’t necessary on this day.
But you could never be certain, especially when it came to potential accidents as far as my parents were concerned so I was glad to have brought my pair of trekking poles (though I was wishing I had those foldable Black Diamond types by now).
After getting past the third stream crossing, we then went past the private property section where a pair of barking dogs made their presence known.
A comical sign that said “Never mind the dogs, beware of owner” drew some chuckles from us.
Then, we walked the familiar paved section through the avocado farm and then alongside the oil pipelines, which transported oil drawn from the “grasshoppers” in the area.
Mom and I recalled when I was a kid how I’d always chant something in Chinese whenever we’d see these things (something to the effect of “yet another commercial… commercial” or some kind of nonsense like that).
She joked how even after 40 years or so that I can still remember things like this, but it also highlighted how quickly time flies as we’re becoming even more aware of our expiration dates.
While on the topic of these oil derricks, Mom did notice on the drive up to the trailhead that the town of Santa Paula had an oil museum as well as some expensive homes on the foothills.
Putting two and two together, we concluded that this part of the Southland might be a surprising oil producing region, and that perhaps this town might still have some vestige of wealth from its apparent oil boom days of the past.
When we went beyond the last of the oil grasshoppers, we then crossed Santa Paula Creek for the fourth time, where we saw the couple that had passed us earlier on at around 9am.
They were chilling out on the other side of the creek, and the guy asked us if we were going all the way.
I told them that I intended to go all the way to the Big Punch Bowl and that I was here a month ago and had to turn back because I wasn’t as prepared.
He then went on to tell us that they were turning back already and wished us a good time out there.
We left it at that, but we wondered why they would come out this way, do about a mile of the hike, and then turn back without even getting close to the Punch Bowls…
Maybe something came up while they still had reception, and they had to abort their hike.
Whatever the case may be, we proceeded with the hike now knowing that we were pretty much alone now.
So that made for an even more relaxing hike, where we wouldn’t be needing our masks as much, especially since my parents had already gone their two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Even though the morning started off cool, as we followed Santa Paula Creek towards the more open part of the canyon, my parents got to a point where they needed to take off their jackets.
Indeed, it was already starting to heat up, and I had noticed that the shadows were noticeably shorter than they were when I was here a month earlier (and it was even earlier in the day than when I last did the hike).
Thus, we made pretty good progress on the long dry part of the hike as we were passing the time talking about political things.
They were especially pointing out how the Western media tended to criticize various things about the Chinese government when it came to human rights, lack of freedom, unfair international trade, and the environment.
And yet, the Western governments couldn’t seem to control things on their end as far as pollution, corruption, intolerance towards people who think differently, etc.
While I was processing all of this, I did have to temper how much of the Kool-Aid effect people get from repeated messaging from whatever sources of news that they get their info from.
That said, they did make some very valid points about how China seemed to bring up their population (except perhaps the Uighurs and Tibetans, in my mind) as well as their unilaterally address the environment.
I recalled when Julie and I went to China back in 2009 how they were definitely rapidly advancing their infrastructure far beyond the stagnation that we’ve been experiencing here in the US.
In my mind, all this pretty much boils down to which rich, influential persons’ side of the story you buy.
Nevertheless, I definitely got the sense that China seemed to be progressing in a singular direction.
On the other hand, we have this split direction between agendas put forth by the liberals and conservatives.
None of these agendas actually address the root causes of the problems – market distortions that detract from basic principles of what everyone should be having (a healthy environment, accountability, closed-loop economy, clear and concise laws, etc.).
The ills that plague the US echoed the dysfunctional politics that they said was going on in Taiwan, and they wondered how much of that might have been the meddling of political affairs by the US as they might have treated Taiwan as sort of a strategic puppet.
In between all this political speak, they also told me a rather comical story of how someone who was in the Taiwan military actually escaped from Kingmen Island while floating on a basketball and went to China.
Apparently, he was now their environment minister (at least that’s what I thought I heard), and how he was helping them correct their reputation of being the worst-offending polluters in the world.
Since Dad and I played basketball a lot, we could appreciate how painful it must have been when Kingmen no longer allowed basketball at the base.
As we passed the time with all these mind-provoking topics, we ultimately climbed up to the Big Cone Camp by 10:30am, which was definitely making pretty good time compared to my first visit.
Not surprisingly, when we looked down at the main Santa Paula Canyon Falls, it was still partially in shadow though it wasn’t in nearly as much shadow when I first came here at this time of the morning a month ago.
We didn’t linger at the camp for long and we proceeded down the continuation of the trail, which then descended to the side creek.
But this time, having learned from my last mistake when I first came here, we followed the trail slightly upstream before picking it up on the other side to resume our climb.
As we were doing this, we saw that there was another group of young kids that was also descending and probably likely going to pass us.
I thought to myself that we were probably going to be sharing the Santa Paula Canyon Falls while we’d be momentarily resting down there.
After getting up to the top of the climb, we then looked out for the side trail descending to the main waterfall below.
It turned out that we actually took a parallel false trail that was noticeably steeper and lacking of that rope that I had expected to see.
But after the parents had struggled with the descent (due to the slippery pebbles on the eroded sections of the slope), we realized our mistake when we saw the other path next to it from the bottom.
Anyways, by about 10:50am, we finally arrived at the Santa Paula Canyon Falls, where we had it all alone (though we did except those kids to join us).
We took the time to set up the tripod and take some people shots (even though the shadows didn’t do us any favors), and I was semi-relieved that I didn’t notice any new graffiti by this waterfall as I had feared.
We also snacked a bit to refuel knowing that there was more hiking to go beyond this, and I had it in my mind that we should come back here when the lighting would be better in the afternoon.
It wasn’t until 11:15am when we were finally done with the break, but we were quite surprised that the kids never made it to the waterfall the whole time.
Did they go the wrong way? Or did they continue past this waterfall in pursuit of the other punch bowls?
Whatever the case may be, we proceeded to go up the way we should have gone down in the first place, and then we resumed going further upstream on the main trail above Santa Paula Creek.
Knowing that the lighting wasn’t favorable for check out the upper punch bowls, we kept going.
We also examined the steepness of rope-assisted “path” leading down to the upper punch bowls, and they definitely looked quite precarious and steep to even try to pursue.
While I’m aware that some people have done that descent, I already started to reconsdier doing it later on when we’d come back.
Still, the big punch bowl was on my mind as the main goal of today’s hike, and I was quite concerned about how difficult that would be, especially for my parents.
As we continued on with the hike, we went along the narrowing trail as it went through some spaced out boulders before making a steep (and slippery) climb up towards the next backpacking campsite.
There was one tree that had a lot of bees buzzing around it, and having seen Naked and Afraid, it made me realize that there was probably some honey inside that tree, but we had to be careful about pissing the hive off.
Beyond the second backpacking camp, we then got to my turnaround point at a hidden waterfall at 11:45am.
This time, we noticed that there was a rope set up on the left side of the waterfall before us, but it was dicey enough that Mom and Dad weren’t going to go any further than this.
So I went ahead and proceeded to walk around the base of the plunge pool of that intermediate waterfall, and then I went onto the smooth and slippery slope hugging the left side of that pool.
I definitely had to do a little crawling since I couldn’t stand up and try to maintain balance (let alone grip) on this sloping ledge, but I eventually got to the rope so I could at least not have to put all my weight on the precarious footing.
Once I got up to the top of that intermediate waterfall, I then saw immediately that there were pools as well as more rope set up (this time on the right side of Santa Paula Creek).
At this point, I had to take time to sit down, unzip the leg part of my pants, take off my hiking boots, take out the bag containing my Chacos, and then stowe the boots back into my pack.
Not wanting a repeat of my Grizzly Bear Falls misadventure, I took my phone out of my pant pockets and put it on my shirt pocket.
Even as I took all of these precautions, I saw how narrow and steep the dropoff was where the rope had been set up to try to avoid getting wet.
I shook my head and thought that at some point, I’m going to have to bite the bullet and allow myself to get wet.
Anyways, finally by about 12pm, I was done preparing myself for this upcoming obstacle and whatever else was further upahead (hoping that what I’ve done was sufficient).
So after crossing the creek atop the intermediate waterfall that I had just scaled around and above, I then grabbed onto the rope and clung onto the ledge until I got to the dicey part that I was concerned about.
Since I knew that Chacos had inferior grip compared to my Vasque boots, I was shaking my head doubting that I could stay dry through this stretch or at least without getting hurt.
After what seemed like forever, I finally gave into my doubts and just jumped into the pool seeing that it at least shouldn’t be any deeper than my thighs (or so I hoped; fingers-crossed).
Once that was done, I saw that there was some splash that caused the bottom part of my camera bag to get wet, and apparently the underside of my pack as well as parts of my pants were wet, but it still seemed like the important stuff like the camera was unscathed.
Next, I held onto the ropes and carefully made my way up to the next obstacle, which was this seemingly insurmountable vertical jumble of wedged boulders.
There were no immediate footholds to propel myself on to get up and over, and it was definitely too slippery to attempt some other kind of climbing maneuver while I still had my backpack on.
Eventually, I settled on trying to use the many ropes tied here as a foothold (it seemed like someone had made a loop for just that purpose).
I then saw a shorter rope that I could use to pull myself up on.
Only once I managed this delicate maneuver with the ropes did I finally get to a part where I was belly-first on top of the boulder jumble, but now I felt like I was stuck.
I had a hard time trying to turn myself around as it seemed like my backpack was also in the way of the tight confines that I was in.
As I was slowly trying to figure out what moves I could make to at least sit and turn around, I heard my Dad calling out to me.
When I finally turned around and noticed where he was (apparently, he got up to the top of that intermediate waterfall where I changed shoes), he saw me struggling and said that if it’s too difficult that I should abort and turn back.
But just as he said that, I was already on my way to create a little space for myself and finally get up onto my feet so I could continue further.
I think that relieved Dad for the moment, but I kind of knew that however far this punch bowl was, the whole time I was alone, my parents would be worried.
Anyways, after that obstacle, it was considerably easier to rock hop or wade across shallow sections of Santa Paula Creek as I carefully made my way further upstream (especially now that my feet were exposed to the elements).
I saw that there was another attractive intermediate waterfall that I could get around, and then I saw that there was a high vertical cliff up ahead with what appeared to be a rope hanging from a tall tree.
Could this finally be the big punch bowl that had eluded me the first time I did this hike (and that the locals let me know about)?
Well in order to get there, I still had to climb onto a ledge (where some spray-painted arrows provided a hint), and then I got up to the base of the huge plunge pool before me.
I kind of knew that this must be the large punch bowl that people were talking about, but I still couldn’t see the cascading waterfall from here.
So I still had to cross Santa Paula Creek one last time, and then I had to carefully cling onto the opposite ledge before I finally stood on a somewhat “wide” boulder with a nice clean view of the cascade and the punch bowl before me.
While the midday shadows kind of made photographing the place a bit of a challenge, at least I finally got to see what this place was all about for myself.
Unfortunately, the cascade didn’t have a whole lot of water (at least not nearly as much as the main Santa Paula Canyon Falls), but it was still flowing fine (though it might be a bit dicey to try it as a water slide; something I wasn’t going to attempt anyway).
Nevertheless, as expected, this punch bowl was huge despite the more limited flow on the cascade here.
It was as the locals had said the last time I was here, where it was a huge swimming hole nearly wall-to-wall within this secluded canyon.
And while I did see unsightly graffiti as well as some amounts of litter, I did feel a sense of accomplishment as to finally witnessing this spot.
Indeed, when I got up to this big punch bowl at about 12:15pm, the whole time I was worried about my parents worrying about me so I didn’t linger much longer.
I did what I had to do to document the experience, and then I scrambled back at 12:25pm, where I was especially anxious about how I might get back down that obstacle that I had a hard time with earlier on.
So with that, I carefully made my way back to the obstacle again, and once I finally stood on the slippery and partially-wet slab beneath the rope, I then slowly made my way backwards to the pool.
I then waded about thigh-deep into the pool before I found a submerged slab that would get me at least step past the deepest part (which was probably closer to waist-deep).
Once I got onto that slab with a very large step, I then carefully made my way back to the top of the intermediate waterfall and rope.
By this time, Dad must have made his way back down already because I was all alone here, but I did hear some sounds of a rock dropping into the plunge pool below me.
Was someone else here? Or was Dad skipping rocks?
If it was the latter, I never knew Dad skips rocks.
Anyways, once I got around the blind corner while still carefully making sure I didn’t slip and fall into the deeper pool beneath me, I then saw Dad (who sure enough was the one skipping rocks).
Soon thereafter at 12:40pm, Mom joined us, and we were once again back together again now that the hardest part of this hike (at least in my mind) was over with.
We had a little celebration picnic of more lunch items that Mom had prepared so I had another meat bun as well as some oranges and celery.
And then at 12:55pm, we finally started to leave this spot and head back towards the main Santa Paula Canyon Falls.
We still had to get over some smooth-rock obstacles as we made our way out of this secluded cove before we picked up the main trail again (which I’m guessing was part of the Last Chance Trail).
But just as Mom and I were about to turn and walk downstream, Dad suddenly took a spill and fell belly-first next to the ground that we had stood on.
Dad immediately said that he was OK as he was trying to play it off, but we had to make sure he really was OK as he was still laying on the ground belly first.
Checking that he didn’t break a wrist (since it looked like he broke his fall with his arms), Dad got up and it seemed like he was also walking OK.
With all this talk earlier in the day about how their friends were either passing away or were becoming debilitated due to old age, I was thinking that we really had to be even more vigilant about not having an emergency situation way out here in the backcountry.
Even with our backup first-aid kids (Mom always brought one ever since her slicing accident at the 2nd Kanarra Creek Falls) and I always keep one in my pack, if Dad couldn’t move, we’d have a real problem here.
So with some degree of relief (but no less anxiety), we then proceeded back on the trail as we made it past the Cross Camp, and then we had to descend the narrow and slippery trail back down to the level of Santa Paula Creek again.
Dad said that he fell because he didn’t have enough grip on his shoes so that was definitely on our minds as we were descending the steepest parts of the trail, where the loose pebbles and erosion definitely made for surprisingly slick conditions.
Mom was also gingerly descending the trail with the aid of the pair of trekking poles that I loaned her (she was liking the ones I used), but she was also quick to point out that I was using Chacos and kept asking if I wanted to change shoes.
Even though I knew that the grip of Chacos on trails like this weren’t stellar, I was stubborn in my thinking that I could change shoes and rest more easily at the first waterfall once we get down there.
When we finally got past the tree with the bees and then towards the top of the upper punch bowls, Dad had another slip-and-fall, but this time, he was on his butt.
I think this planted more seeds of doubt within Mom and Dad about wanting to return to the first waterfall.
In fact, this also made me decide against attempting to go down the rope-aided descent to try to get a more level view of those upper punch bowls.
Seeing how difficult it was to get to the big punch bowl as well as the two spills that Dad took, I wasn’t about to push my luck any further.
Still, by the time we got to the junction with the descent back down to the main Santa Paula Canyon Falls, I then descended to the first falls again (in my Chacos), and I was once again surprised that I was all alone at this falls in good arvo lighting at 1:30pm.
After taking a few obligatory shots of the falls, I then had a seat and changed back into my hiking boots while stowing my Chacos away.
As I was doing this, there was one couple that showed up at the falls though they didn’t stick around for too long unless they were heading back down to some other kids whose voices I heard futher up the side stream feeding Santa Paula Creek.
Anyways, without Mom and Dad down here to take more photos, I didn’t want to keep them waiting, so I wrapped up my obligatory shots before I headed back up to the Last Chance Trail where Mom and Dad were waiting.
The fact that they told me that they hadn’t seen another person the whole time, that convinced me that the other family that I saw must have taken the wrong (and much more difficult path) to get to the main waterfall.
Anyways, we were on our way out at 1:45pm, and we were still motivated to try to beat the afternoon rush hour traffic while also trying to honor the piano lessons schedule, where the kids were supposed to attend at 6:30pm.
We had projected that we’d be back at the car at 3:30pm or so, and that perhaps that we might still be able to meet those obligations despite the uncertainty of the drive duration.
Regardless, we made it back to the Big Cone Camp at 2:30pm, where we saw from there that there were at least 4-6 people still down at the main Punch Bowl.
We also noticed that there was another cross high up on the hillside here, which must have been for another loved one who lost his or her life here.
That further reminded us of how inherently dangerous Mother Nature can be without a healthy respect and fear of her (which would compel one to take the necessary precautions to prevent problems).
And aside from one more fruit break (this time to finish off the tangerines as well as grapes and cucumbers), we would eventually make it back to the trailhead at 3:45pm.
We were actually passed by that family that was at the Lower Punch Bowl when we got to the paved part alongside the oil pipelines, and there was actually another family that was headed up to the Punch Bowls that late in the day.
But other than that, it felt like an invigorating outing, and I could tell from my parents’ expressions that they too enjoyed this day.
Of course, we now had to get out of the Santa Paula traffic, which was actually not as bad as it was when I first did it a month ago.
So when we got back onto the Hwy 126 heading east to the I-5, it went by fairly smoothly before we then took the I-5 down to the 210 East.
From there, once we got towards Arcadia, my parents then took Rosemead Blvd, which was right when the 210 East traffic really came in force.
And then we took local all the way to the 60 Freeway east, where we eventually got to picking up Josh and Soph, and then we took the carpool lanes all the way home where Tahia could join her cousins for piano class while I could take my stuff home for dinner.
During the drive home, Josh expressing his desire to want to go on the road trip where we might go out to Boise (he pronounced it “Boys”) instead of another skiing trip for their Spring Break.
Mom and Dad also expressed wanting to do that road trip and not wanting to babysit the dogs while Joshua’s family would go on their ski trip.
It really seemed like Josh was into waterfalling while the girls weren’t, and it definitely planted in my mind that we should involve him on more of our hikes.
Anyways, Mom and Dad also got some takeout food so they could eat at our place.
By about 6:30-ish pm, we were all enjoying our belated dinner while conversing about the day with Julie and while the kids were at their piano lessons.
Indeed, the timing was pretty much spot on in terms of the typical Friday routines, and we were having this interesting mix of Taiwanese takeout food along with Indian food that Julie had picked up for their dinner earlier on.
With all our sore bodies and uplifted spirits, we were looking forward to relaxing the rest of this weekend…
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