Soldiering into an Old Haunt

Lewis Falls and the canyon we hiked in

5-January 2013: Complicating the scrambling we had to do, my parents were also having a little more difficulty than before since their joints were less flexible and more prone to pain. I guess that's something to look forward to with old age, and it further reminded me that family outings like these won't last forever. So we mind as well do as many of these as we can.

We did spot a couple of guys going the other way. However, their pants looked muddy and wet, and it made us wonder if we were in for something harder than we had thought going into this excursion...

All the inertia of the normal routine pointed to this being a do-nothing kind of day. We began with Tahia's usual morning routine (diaper, milk, breakfast, etc). By the time she was done with breakfast, it was almost 10am. Since Mom floated the idea on a call to us on Friday night to give her a ring if we were going to do one of these hikes again, we intended to do one of our old hikes that have haunted us for years for one reason or another (fire closures, mostly). But with this much inertia, we wondered if it was better to try hiking tomorrow.

Well, after checking the forecast for tomorrow, we saw that it called for a chance of rain. So that pretty much meant that if we were going to do anything this weekend, we had better be doing it today.

So we made the executive decision to just go for it regardless of how late in the morning we would be starting. And we gave my mom a call letting her know our intentions.

We eventually decided on going for Soldier Creek Falls (also known as Lewis Falls). It had been over 10 years since Julie and I last did this hike. In fact, we only had scanned analog photos as the evidence that we were there.

It seemed like forever since we last did it, and it wasn't totally our fault. Basically, the Curve Fire in 2002 resulted in the closure of the Crystal Lake area. When Mom and I tried to come here in the Spring of 2009, the road was still closed due to some washout. I was also sure the Station Fire of 2009 didn't do any favors for the re-opening of this place. So indeed, this place really started feeling like taboo.

After checking the road conditions and getting help from Mom to survey the snow (she lived within view of the San Gabriel Mountains and San Bernardino Mountains), we had a gut feeling that this hike should be doable despite my memories from long ago of having to scramble and stream walk within the dense shadowy canyon in which the falls was nestled.

Anyways, it was a good thing we called her when we did because she easily could've given my brother a call and go see their newborn.

So after some last minute preparations, we were finally out the door at 10:40am.

We still had to drive to my parents' place before we would head out, but en route, we saw there was still snow on the mountains that we were headed to. Fortunately, as Mom said earlier over the phone, most of the snow was pretty much on the very top of the range with most of the white on the top of Mt Baldy further to the east of where we intended to go.

Looking towards the snow atop the San Gabriel Mountains By about 11:10am, we made it to my parents' place, but it took them some time to get their stuff together and fit their stuff and themselves into our car. Tahia was with us so that excited my parents while also excited Tahia as well. The trunk of our car was quite full as we had to move all the baby stuff normally on the empty passenger seats to make room for my parents. Indeed, it seemed like we were going out camping or something.

Anyways, by 11:25am, we finally left my parents' place. It was much later than usual and I wondered if we might be able to finish this excursion in time for a late lunch. Oh well, regardless of late starts, now it was time to head for Lewis Falls.

We pretty much took the freeways there, which was still largely devoid of traffic. After about 15 minutes, we were at the Azusa offramp, and then we drove north on Hwy 39 (which started off as a bunch of traffic lights through downtown Azusa) right into the mountains. My parents floated the idea that next time it would be better to take Foothill Blvd, which would bypass most of downtown Azusa and cut the driving distance a bit shorter since the 210 freeway went southeast by the time it got to the Azusa offramp.

While on the mountain roads, there were a lot of cars we had to follow, which certainly made things feel quite a bit busier than before (when it seemed like we were the only ones on the road back then).

However, it seemed like the vast majority of the traffic crossed over a bridge and headed towards the east. And from that point on, it was pretty much just us and a car or two up ahead of us.

We bought ourselves a Forest Service Adventure Pass along the way at some OHV Station area. They didn't have Annual Adventure Passes over there so we settled for the $5 day-use one (we'd probably have to pick one of those up at REI). In any case, we figured this year might be a good year to do the annual pass given that it seemed like it was one of California's wetter Winters (though anything seemed like an improvement over last year's drought).

The OHV Station area we were briefly at seemed to have quite a few military humvees occuppied with uniformed personnel. We weren't sure why they were there as I wouldn't imagine there'd be a base out here where forest fires come so easily these days. But then again, perhaps there was some kind of training thing going on. Who knows?

The obscure trailhead for Lewis Falls at a hairpin turn on Hwy 39 At 12:35pm, we finally arrived at the familiar unmarked trailhead. Given how obscure this hairpin turn and trail was, I wondered how we managed to find this place when we first did this hike.

The gang gets started on the hike In any case, it took us some time to get ready. We had to change Tahia's diaper to ensure she wasn't too uncomfortable in the carrier. Meanwhile, we all carried jackets as it felt a bit chilly within the shadows of the trailhead. We also came prepared with hiking sticks and waterproof boots knowing that there would be a bit of a scramble since we remembered having to do such a scramble last time.

Going past one of the intact cabins Dad insisted on wearing the frame pack carrying Tahia. Although I had expected to be the one doing the carrier work, I didn't mind Dad enjoying some together time with Tahia on this hike. However, we were a little anxious about the scrambling parts that we knew would take place later in the hike. Nonetheless, I got to assume my other familiar role as the picture-taker while all five of us soldiered on by Soldier Creek.

Going up some steps towards the foundation of a cabin that was destroyed by fire Even though the this trailhead was obscure, the "No Fires" sign made for a good landmark. The trail climbed gently but immediately from the Hwy 39. After a few paces, the trail made a turn as it went around some cabin.

Walking by some trees with black bark showing that the fire went through here We wondered if it was spared by the Curve Fire in 2002 and the Station Fire in 2009 (not to mention other fires that might have passed through in between). However, this cabin looked like it was renovated or rebuilt recently so maybe it only appeared that way when it fact it wasn't as unaffected as we might have thought.

Not long thereafter, the trail passed by another fresh-looking cabin. We could see some evidence of fire in some of the neighboring trees (due to the black trunks at their bases) so that further fueled speculation on our part of whether this cabin was spared or rebuilt.

Definitely had to watch out for Tahia's head when low branches and fallen trees like this were obstacles Beyond the second cabin, the trail persisted past more trees where we noticed black bark. There were also the some of those familiar water pipes both along the trail and accross it. I recalled last time they were more conspicuous, but this time they seemed to be less visible.

Walking past the foundation of the last cabin Next, the trail would climb up some stairs leading up to a third cabin foundation. This particular cabin looked like it was torn down. However, I wasn't sure if it looked that way because someone was about to rebuild it or if the parts of the cabin we saw left behind were basically indicative that this cabin was destroyed and wouldn't be back.

It wasn't long before we reached the end of the established uphill trail shortly after the next and last cabin foundation (what appeared to have been a former site for the fourth cabin).

Everybody bent over to scramble At that point, the trail then crossed Soldier Creek. And it was right after this creek crossing that the scrambling adventure began.

Although there were still faint trails hugging cliff walls just off to the west side of Soldier Creek, there were plenty of fallen trees and low-hanging branches where Dad really had to watch out for Tahia's head.

Another hairy section where everyone had to balance on fallen logs to proceed I recalled in one spot, Dad had to crawl under a fallen tree.

In another stretch, Dad had to balance himself on a pair of logs that appeared to be used to traverse a small gap.

First look at Soldier Creek Falls or Lewis Falls The whole time we were scrambling, Tahia enjoyed herself. For some reason, she seemed to like thees hairy moments where she would be rocking back and forth oblivious to the danger she was in, especially due to us scrambling amidst fallen trees, gaps, dropoffs, and prickly vegetation.

It kind of reminded Julie and I of the time just a few weeks ago when a real bumpy flight that was supposed to be 10 minutes turned out to be about an hour due to bad weather that pretty much made everyone on board anxious except Tahia as she was the only one laughing and enjoying the turbulence.

Complicating the scrambling we had to do, my parents were also having a little more difficulty than before since their joints were less flexible and more prone to pain. I guess that's something to look forward to with old age, and it further reminded me that family outings like these won't last forever. So we mind as well do as many of these as we can.

Last stream crossing before we were right before the falls We did spot a couple of guys going the other way. However, their pants looked muddy and wet, and it made us wonder if we were in for something harder than we had thought going into this excursion.

In any case, we would eventually make it to the familiar old waterfall haunt at about 1:30pm.

Dad and Tahia checking out the Lewis Falls Just like before, this waterfall was pretty small, and with our renewed intentions of rating all the waterfalls we've visited and posted them on our website, Julie and I immediately started evaluating this waterfall and thoght it was either going to be a 1 or 1.5.

Meanwhile, we spent quite a bit of time here taking family photos while also staring at the falls, which featured some pretty mossy colors beneath the somewhat 30-40ft falls (I doubt this waterfall was 50ft tall as reported in some of the literature).

Angled view of Lewis Falls We probably spent a solid 20 minutes or so at the waterfall. Tahia seemed to enjoy herself though this time she didn't point out the waterfall herself like on previous excursions she was on with us.

It wasn't until around 1:50pm that we finally pried ourselves loose from this place and started heading back towards the car. The sun was shining brightly when we started, but it was noticeably starting to become muted under the light layer of clouds that started to build up over us.

Starting to hike back On the return hike, progress seemed to be much faster than on the way up.

We were pretty much home free after this last stream crossing In any case, the whole time we were doing this hike, I suddenly realized that our experience this time around was much sunnier and less shadowy than I remembered on our first trip. Then, it dawned on me that perhaps a lot of the tree cover we experienced the first time around was burned away due to fire (though it was also more overcast the first time around).

Walking past the cabin foundation nearest to where the scrambling started In fact, we started noticing the extent of the fire damage by realizing that the surrounding mountains seemed to be a bit bare.

Eventually we made it back to our parked car at 2:10pm.

Passing by the first cabin again It had been a rejuvenating outing, and it was hard to believe that it might have been nearly a year or so ago when my parents joined us to do an outing like this (that last time was a failed waterfalling trip to Fuller Mill Creek Falls near Idyllwild).

It seemed like much longer than that, but I guess outings like this reminded all of us of how enjoyable it was to reconnect with Nature and ourselves.

And so by 2:20pm, we finally left to do the fairly long curvy drive back downhill. The whole way, we were following a caravan of motorcycles. Mom was pointing out times when they came to this area when I was too young to remember and apparently recalled specific spots where they stopped. I wondered if we might be doing the same thing with Tahia since I was certain she wouldn't remember these outings.

And it wasn't until about 3:20pm when we were back at my parents' place. Lunch would have to wait because the Earthen Restaurant (a Northern Chinese place with a bit of a Korean twist, which we hadn't eaten for a while) was closed at 2:30pm and wouldn't reopen until 4:30pm.

So we decided it was going to be a well-deserved lunner.

And we were already talking about which hike we were going to follow up this excursion with for the next time...

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