Spontaneous Escape

Looking at the Pacific and possibly Catalina Island

8-February 2009: It had been a very dry winter even despite some sporadic storms that showed up in November and December. But we knew January was unusually warm and was pretty much a dud in terms of rainfall. So when the last three days had been raining pretty hard and continuously, I figured this ought to revive some local waterfalls. After all, it hadn't been since around this time last year that we did a local waterfall. So what the heck? Why not go for it on this Sunday morning?

Actually, I had anticipated a break in the storm on Sunday so I gave Mom a call on Friday night about this possibility. Of course, she hadn't done one of these excursions since last year and she jumped at the chance to do this with us.

But when Sunday morning rolled around, it was raining where we were at (albeit lightly), but where Mom was at further east, it was pouring! In fact, she called us and thought we might have to cancel the day trip.

But I had hawkishly followed the weather and knew things were calming down a bit in the coast. And since we intended to do a couple of waterfalls out in the Santa Monica Mountains, I paid particular attention to some webcams and satellite/radar images on the web. When I relayed the somewhat reassuring news to Mom (the webcam photo actually showed some sun breaking through!), I managed to convince her that we should still go for it.

So by 8:35am, Julie and I left our home and headed to the parents'. And by 9:15am, both Mom and Dad as well as Julie and I carpooled together and headed off to Malibu.

As we were on the 60 Freeway heading west, Julie spotted a couple of deer grazing right off the freeway in the Hacienda Heights area.

"No way!" said I, but there they were in plain sight!

I guess that's kind of reassuring to see that deer still exist in this part of the Los Angeles basin. Even though they're completely surrounded by houses, industry, and a freeway, I guess they still managed to survive. I used to scoff at the deer signs on Colima Road, but now I'm gonna take them a little more seriously when passing through the area.

At the car park By 10:25am, we finally arrived at the trailhead for Escondido Falls. The turnoff for Winding Way was really easy to miss (especially considering how fast the flow of traffic usually is on Pacific Coast Highway [or PCH]), and in fact we missed it the first time.

Heading up Winding Way The car park was already full so Dad parked off to the side of the lot. The clouds were still dark and I feared that maybe some of those clouds might dump their load on us as we hiked.

No choice but to walk Still, onwards we moved on. And so we hiked the first mile along the paved residential road amongst some multi-million-dollar estates all with ocean views. I was particularly drawn to a property with a massive solar array in its garden. I wondered to myself whether that resident is moving the meter backwards big time! If only all Americans (let alone Californians) put something like that on their rooftops...

Officially in the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy As expected, it was quite cold given the overcast conditions accompanied with some light sprinkles as well as a chilling ocean breeze. But it didn't take long before Julie and I started to get hot with the exercise and took off our outer layers.

At the official trailhead After the road peaked with a view into what would turn out to be Escondido Canyon, the pavement descended a little further past some more residences before continuing past an assuring sign for the Escondido Canyon Trail (something about Edward Albert).

At the bottom of the descent There were some real muddy spur trails going past a Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy sign and Mom pointed out that fact. But we stuck with the paved path.

Right at the bottom of the hill, the pavement ended and we turned left to follow the flowing creek upstream.

Trying to keep our feet dry on these creek crossings Right away, we noticed the trail was pretty muddy, but not as bad as the initial shortcut to the bottom of the canyon from the pavement. Adding to the complications were several stream crossings (we counted five of them).

We managed to keep our feet dry and not pick up too much mud through these crossings. Perhaps a little more challenging was trying to stay on course as there were numerous forks that conspired to lead us astray.

Meanwhile, there were lots of people coming in and out in both directions so apparently this was a rather popular trail.

Skies still threatening rain as we hiked in Escondido Canyon There wasn't a whole lot going on in the trail besides the creek crossings and muddy spots to keep us on our toes. But as we got beyond the third or fourth crossing, the sun started to come out.

That was pretty reassuring.

However, what wasn't was that my Camelbak bladder was leaking and I could feel the cold water wetting my behind uncomfortably.

The falls Eventually at around 11:30am, we finally arrived at Escondido Falls.

While I had read about this waterfall being the tallest in the Santa Monica Mountains, we really didn't get to see a whole lot of it. The views of the upper tier were mostly hidden behind trees and cliffs. Supposedly, that upper tier is said to be roughly 150ft. The lower tier was something like 40 or 50ft tall.

More of the Escondido Falls The wall on the lower drop was covered in colorful moss giving this tier a bit of character. The upper drop seemed to be mostly rocky.

After taking whatever photos I could from the usual spot at the end of the trail, I couldn't help but try to find a way to peek at the upper falls. So after seeing a fairly obvious but steep "trail" going up, I decided to go for it.

Scrambling up to seek out the upper falls But given the rather damp and muddy conditions, I was getting discouragement from the rest of the family. Still, I was determined and Mom ended up accompanying me since she didn't want me to go up there alone.

The path (which was really a gully) quickly became a steep scramble and with each step we took, the less confident we were that this was worthwhile. Some parts were slippery and some required using both hands and feet.

Eventually, after getting past a part with a rope-assistance, I got to a graffiti on a rock near a cactus. There, I had hoped we found the upper falls, but then beyond some narrow ledges with scary dropoffs, the "trail" seemed to disappear into some pools in a narrow slot.

Looking down at the canyon as our consolation prize for failing to find the upper falls That was the straw that broke the camel's back, and Mom and I decided this wasn't worth it. So I tried to console myself with a view of the canyon below us.

A pair of ladies also followed us and pretty much came to the same conclusion. So they headed back down first. Mom was worried about the steepness of the trail on the way up and how difficult it'd be on the way back down.

Zoomed in but distant view of the upper Escondido Falls After a little bit of a struggle (Mom took a wrong turn and we had to backtrack up a very steep and scary slope), Mom and I eventually got dirty, overcame the acrophobia from the steepness, and slowly made our way back down the way we originally came up.

From that point, we quickly headed back to the car park. All the while, I tried to get whatever views I could of the elusive upper falls from the trail.

The elusive upper falls of Escondido Falls It was about 12pm at this point, but we could see lots of people heading to the falls at this point. No question about it. This was a very popular trail.

Now my butt was getting soakingly wet as apparently my Camelbak bladder might have been leaking beyond reasonable repair. So we just dumped the water our of my pack. Yeah, I know it's wasteful, but some things inside my pack were getting wet now.

Looking back at Escondido Canyon It was good thing we didn't need that much water today, but I was bummed that perhaps my Camelbak bladder had to retire at this point after maybe four or so years of dutiful service.

At 12:40pm, we were back at the paved part of the trail. By now, the sun was very bright and cold winds seemed to give the air a crisp cool freshness.

Looking back at the road descending to the trail We couldn't help but notice some hikers taking a shortcut and making it back to the pavement ahead of us. So that was what all those erroneous trail forks were for!

Million-dollar views of the oceanWhen we were back onto Winding Way amongst the affluent homes, the air was so clear that the ocean views were stunning! We were even able to see Catalina Island in the distance, which was something I wasn't really accustomed to seeing considering how fog usually blankets this coastline and also how pollution might be further obscuring the views with its brown haze.

On the Winding Way It's times like this that remind us why the best time to go hiking is probably after a clearing storm.

By 1pm, we were back at the car.

Almost back at the car park It seemed that the car park was much more crowded than when we initially arrived. Again, this attested to the popularity of this trail. I wondered why we hadn't done this one before if it was so popular?

Since we were already in Malibu, I convinced everyone that we ought to go do a second hike for La Jolla Canyon Falls. But since we hadn't had lunch yet, we made a quick stop at this roadside joint called Malibu Seafood.

Catalina Island in the distance There, we munched on some fish tacos, ahi burgers (too bad they don't sear it), fries, and clam chowder. Very refreshing!

All the while, we were checking out the dirty ocean water full of seaweeds and what looked like red patches in the water (red algal blooms?). No wonder why they tell you to stay out of the water after storms as we're witnessing firsthand the aftermath of storm drains dumping lots of gunk right into the ocean!

We also spoke via cell phone to my brother who was back at the parents' place watching the dogs and running errands. He said it was pouring rain back there still. He was a bit incredulous when we told him it was sunny and partly cloudy out here in Malibu.

Anyways, a little after 2pm, we left Malibu Seafood and headed northwards towards La Jolla Canyon. All the while, we were enjoying the ocean views as we drove along Pacific Coast Highway (PCH).

The hefty day use parking fee By 2:35pm, we were at the La Jolla Canyon Trail. The $5 day use fee was rather steep, but we did the right thing and fed the self-help drop box (I believe it was called an "iron ranger").

As we walked into the canyon, we couldn't help but notice that the creek was seemingly dry. Clearly, that wasn't a good sign.

Hiking within La Jolla Canyon But since we made it all the way this way, we mind as well continue on and see if there is a waterfall. After all, it had rained heavily the last few days and surely there must be some water in this waterfall, right?

The dry waterfallBesides, Julie and I had seen some creek mouths go dry when further upstream, there were actually falls! I held out hope that perhaps most of the water went into the sand bed or into the vegetation somehow.

All that's left is a stained wall Anyways, 20 minutes later, my worst fear came true. La Jolla Canyon Falls was dry!

So I took the obligatory photos, endured the snickers and jeers from Julie and Dad, and headed back to the car.

Looking down into the canyon from the supposed waterfall With the shadows getting longer and the afternoon giving way to evening, the return downhill hike was brisque along with some observations of some native desert vegetation (attesting to how dry this area is) as well as some evidence of fires.

Shadows getting longer as the afternoon gives way to evening By 3:25pm, we were back at the car and it was time to head for home. We decided to just follow PCH into the 10 Freeway. The drive along PCH was thoroughly enjoyable with the afternoon light and clear air all amongst the backdrop of beach and ocean scenery throughout as well as quite a few people enjoying the beaches, bike paths, and restaurants.

By around 5pm, we got to the parents' place, where we joined up with my brother for a bit of a Northern Chinese family dinner.

All in all, it wasn't a bad way to spend a Sunday with the parents and with Julie. In fact, I've learned that these types of spontaneous escapes tend to stick with you as they're a break from the monotonous routines we easily get into. And I'm sure I'll be having reveries of this Malibu excursion for a long time to come...

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