Saturday, March 21, 2015

Etiwanda Falls Hike - March 21, 2015

Etiwanda Falls - big falls, San Gabriel Mountains, San Bernardino National Forest
Gurgling, babbling, and dancing, two vibrant streams flow south from the rugged canyons of the east San Gabriel Mountains above Rancho Cucamonga. As the streams near the valley, they become one and the water cuts through granite bedrock and tumbles through a series of small cascades and vertical drops known as Etiwanda Falls. The life-giving water nourishes an oasis of alder, maple, bay, sycamore, willow, and a host of shrubs and wildflowers.

I’ve known of Etiwanda Falls for years, but with its diminutive stature and the less-than-glamorous dirt-road route to get there, it had never risen high on my hit list. But the first full day of spring begs to be celebrated by hiking to a waterfall. And since I’ve already visited most of the noteworthy falls of the San Gabriels, I decided I’d give Etiwanda Falls a visit. In going online to find a good trail guide, I found none. It reminded me why I started Dan’s Hiking Pages. There were lots of write-ups, but nothing that gives a clear and reliable description of how to hike to the falls. So after I pieced together various postings, I was ready to hike.

My friend Tom and I leave Azusa shortly after 7 AM on Saturday morning and head east on the I-210 freeway. The marine layer transitions to hazy sun. We exit on Dry Creek Blvd. in Rancho Cucamonga and drive north to the trailhead at the upper end of Etiwanda Avenue. There are dozens of cars parked along the dirt road but we are able to find a spot right up front.

Before us lies 1,200 acres set aside by San Bernardino County as the North Etiwanda Preserve, a habitat preservation consisting primarily of a unique Riversidean Alluvial Fan Sage Scrub plant community. The trail to the falls is a dirt road that heads north through the preserve, briefly crosses some private property, enters the San Bernardino National Forest, and ends at the falls. It climbs 700 feet in 1.6 miles. The route is entirely exposed so a hike would be brutal on a hot sunny day. Today’s forecast is for the mid-70s and so we will be fine, particularly with an early start.

7:50 AM - Begin hike. We wander up the rocky dirt road. The temperature is pleasant. The rugged San Gabriels dominate the horizon before us. After a few minutes we take a short side jaunt to check out the kiosk pavilion. It has several signage displays providing information about plants, animals, and history. The vandalism and trash is unfortunate. Back on the road we continue north. There are lots of people on the trail.

The surrounding sage scrub plant community is alive and vibrant. The richly textured patchwork of shrubs include mountain lilac, white sage, black sage, California sagebrush, chamise, deer weed, scale broom, California buckwheat, hoaryleaf ceanothus, yerba santa, and chaparral yucca. Much of it is in bloom, with the mountain lilac being particularly showy. We enjoy identifying plants and smelling the wonderful aromas of sage. Lizards scamper along the ground and butterflies flutter through the air.

The climb is steady. The rock-ridden road makes walking a little tedious. Behind us, the view of Pomona Valley is far reach but muted by the marine haze. Saddleback pokes above the marine layer in distant Orange County. I’m curious and about loud engine noise coming from the valley to the south. It kind of sounds like aircraft engines. Oh, could it be the speedway? Tom says that NASCAR is in town this weekend, so I bet that’s what it is. We reach a half mile maker at 8:24. It’s made of thick iron and has the characters cut out in relief, so it would be very difficult to vandalize. It states the elevation at 2247’.

8:25 - Four-way junction, 0.514 mile from the start. A stone pillar has a sign pointing left (west) with a hiker icon, and a sign pointing right (east) with a picnic table icon. The official preserve map does not show the road that continues straight northward since it exits the preserve boundary. We turn right (east) and walk about 50 yards to the edge of wash to look down into the canyon below. The water flowing down East Etiwanda Creek would have tumbled over Etiwanda Falls, about a mile upstream. Back at the junction we continue north. In about 50 yards we pass through an open gateway. The climb gets steeper. Our pace is casual as we enjoy good conversation and stop to admire plants and soak in the beautiful scenery.

At 8:53 we pass a junction where a road heads east along the base of Prominence 2917. It’s been registered as a provisional summit on, so in my preparation I wondered if there was a route to the top. From Google satellite view, it appears that the thick brush forms an impassable barrier. And as we walk along, I can’t see any reasonable route through the hostel vegetation to the summit. We pass along the east flank of the prominence as the topography becomes hillier. There are a still scads of people coming and going to the waterfalls. The prevalence of graffiti is a strong refutation of the theory of evolution. The leaves of alders and sycamores in the creek far below shimmer in the morning sun. My eyes are drawn to surrounding peaks and wonder if they have names and ways to reach them.

As we reach a tributary coming in from the left (west) we are greeted with plants we’ve not experienced yet today: poison oak, mule fat, canyon dudleya, bigberry manzanita.

9:23 - Water transport feature. The preserve has various remnants from when early settlers used inventive was to tap and transport precious water for their ranches and farms. Today the transport is primarily by steel pipes. This grate-covered concrete box with water rushing through it is part of today’s water transport system. We are near the falls and we can hear the gleeful voices of visitors enjoying the setting. A use path heads into the brush and provides a means to access the canyon below the falls, but later we find that it is treacherous. We take the road as it veers left and curves back around. The view back toward the hazy valley is framed by the canyon. Our pace is still slow as we look at plants. The road terminates at the shady creek above the falls.

9:45 - Etiwanda Falls. What a delightful setting! A canopy of trees provides a welcoming oasis. There are lots of people sitting on the rocks eating, playing in the water, exploring, and generally enjoying the sylvan sanctuary. The falls from this vantage point are simply puny and consist of water cascading down a chute-like series of rocks dropping only about 15 feet. Beyond that pool the water pours over a lip and drops about 10 feet into another pool. The water then disappears over another lip into a deep gorge out of view. To see that falls will require some concerted effort and is not for the casual walker or faint of heart.

After hanging here awhile, we heard there is another falls up the creek. Two streams join here and we follow the path up the stream on the left (west). We carefully avoid the abundant poison oak. Eupatory and blackberry display their white flowers. The babbling brook is soothing to the ears. In less than 10 minutes we reach another waterfall: another cascade flowing down rocks into a pool, dropping about 20. This is really nice and we are the only ones here. We climb the rocks on the right to get above falls. The canyon walls are steep with textured rocks and varied vegetation. Color wildflowers accent the scene. We climb up stream a couple more minutes and find another waterfall. This one drops virtually about 7 feet into a pool. We hike a little further but decide it’s time to head back.

11:00 - Start back. We retrace our steps, carefully climbing over rocks and dodging poison oak. We encounter another group climbing up. We are really enjoying ourselves but the trash, graffiti, and carved-up trees are saddening. We arrive back at the main falls at 11:27. Still lots of people here. We take more pictures now that the falls are in the sun.

Etiwanda Falls - big falls, San Gabriel Mountains, San Bernardino National Forest
Back on the road about 65 yards from the creek, we decide to climb down the steep slope using a narrow path through the brush. We climb down and down being drawn by the hope of a good view of the big falls. We end up next to a huge oak tree high on the sheer wall above the creek and have a splendid view of the falls. The presence of a large graffiti tag at the bottom of the falls indicates that that location is reachable, probably from downstream. Our perch is somewhat precarious. Tom inadvertently dislodges some rocks that tumble down the shire rock face and crash to the canyon floor. This is not a good place to be. We carefully climb out and are relieved to reach a safe place. We take a use path back to the water transport feature.

View south, North Etiwanda Reserve, Rancho Cucamonga
After catching our breath and chatting with a young couple, we start back at 12:15. There are still people coming up the road and it’s beginning to get warm. We stroll down the rocky road and enjoy wildflowers Lupine, en route from Etiwanda Falls, North Etiwanda Reserve, Rancho Cucamonga and expansive views. We pass the four-way junction at 12:58. The valley before us is still muted by haze.

View north, North Etiwanda Reserve, Rancho Cucamonga

1:30 - Finish hike. It’s about 78 degrees, but it seems much hotter.

Dan Simpson and Tom Sanchez at Etiwanda Falls, San Gabriel Mountains
Epilog - What a nice outing to celebrate the first full day of spring! A vibrant plant community, beautiful wildflowers, sweeping views, rugged mountains, fresh air, sunshine, a woodsy sanctuary, and some charming waterfalls. It’s unfortunate that San Bernardino County and the Forest Service are negligent in dealing with the graffiti and vandalism. They need to remove the graffiti weekly and work with law enforcement to catch these criminals. There is a lot of the North Etiwanda Preserve I have yet to explore, including 10 interpretive stations. I certainly see why this place is so appealing to the locals. icon

icon  See Waterfalls of The San Gabriels at Dan's Hiking Pages

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Van Tassel Ridge Hike - March 15, 2015

This trail is at risk to be forgotten and abandoned, but it indeed offers a vigorous workout, solitude, rugged chaparral, and a splendid ridgeline with grand views. The trail is the third section of the old Fish Canyon access trail that climbed high up over Van Tassel Ridge to circumvent the quarry operation in the mouth of the canyon before dropping a 1,100 feet back to the historic Fish Canyon Trail. When Vulcan Materials opened the new access trail through the quarry in June 2014, the first two segments of the old access trail over the ridge were closed. But the third section is still intact and begs to be used. Read my Van Tassel Ridge Hike Description at Dan's Hiking Pages.

When I hiked the trail in July, one month after the grand opening of the new access trail, I was pleased that the trail was still passible, although rough and brushy. Fast forward to Friday, March 13: I did a plants hike to Fish Canyon Falls with Michael Charters. When we passed the junction to Van Tassel Ridge Trail, I was saddened that the trail looked virtually ignored. When I woke up on Sunday morning I spontaneously decided revisit the trail. I knew that temps were forecast for the 90s, but I figured I’d be up and down before the major heat.

After a short drive from my house in Azusa, I arrive at the trailhead and count about 21 cars in the parking lot. It’s 71 degrees. The sunshine is somewhat hazy.

8:25 - Begin Hike. This is my sixth time on the new access trail since it opened on June 21. Almost immediately I encounter a giant blazing star in bloom on the berm. It was not blooming Friday. I wonder if this is one of the plants that was included in the hydroseed mix when they built the trail.

8:41 - Cross the bridge into the national forest and in five minutes arrive at the junction to Van Tassel Ridge Trail. It’s barely noticeable as a trail. I begin my climb. I’m wearing long pants because I know it’s going to be brushy. Good choice. Most of the plants on the trail are the soft weedy grasses. Some parts of the trail look pretty good and others are cloaked in vegetation and virtually invisible but easily passible.

Much of the trail is in good shape.

Wadding through this is not as bad as it looks.
The surrounds are lush and jungle-like compared to the dead and parched foliage in July. Plants in bloom are many of what we saw on Friday: Blue dicks, hollyleaf cherry, miner’s lettuce, chickweed, wild cucumber, common eucrypta, turkey pea, sticky monkeyflower, mustard, wishbone bush, California thistle, pipestems, elderberry. There is also black sage and California everlasting, which I didn’t recall seeing in bloom on Friday. (See plant gallery below .) Poison oak is abundant and I must vigilantly dodge it.

The trail is steep and I’m working up a good sweat. I’m thankful that light clouds are helping keep the temps down. Nasty bugs are tormenting me but I’m too lazy to dig to the bottom of my pack to get repellent from my emergency kit. I put a sprig of sagebrush on my hat and that seems to help. As the trail zig-zags up the mountain, it occasionally intersects the ascending/descending ridge and offers expanding views of the massive quarry. I’m a little surprised when another hiker shows up. I told him I had honestly thought I’d be the only one on the trail. He vanished up the trail. Mature chaparral blankets the rugged canyon around me. I can see a portion of Fish Canyon Trail far below.

9:40 - Reach the flat clearing and benchmark. After a seven-minute break I continue. Some sections of the trail are crazy steep. I have a good view across the canyon to Fish Ridge where Vulcan is restoring the mountainside. They are sculpturing the sheer rock to conform with the natural topography and carving 12-inch micro benches which will support soil and revegetation.   I reach a fork in the trail that I don’t remember. A right heads up to the ridge (the way on which I will return). Left continues straight contouring to a lower section of the ridge. I stay to the left and in another minute arrive at the ridgeline.

10:24 - Van Tassel Ridge (2080’). A chain-link fence separates the national forest and Vulcan Materials. A temporary fence section spans the bulldozer-size gap that was here in July. Views toward Duarte, Azusa, and the San Gabriel Valley are muted with haze. The green vegetation and wildflowers are a big contrast to the parched conditions in July. In the distant east, the ridgeline from Mount Baldy to Ontario Peak defines the horizon. There is very little snow up there. To the west, Van Tassel Canyon is blanketed in thick, dark green vegetation.

After lingering a few minutes, I head north up the firebreak. I didn’t have time to explore the ridge in July. The last time I hiked beyond this point up the ridge was August 2004. At that time it was pretty brushy and I went only a short distant to highpoint 2364. Today I’m going to take advantage of the firebreak and get a feel for how passible the ridge is. The firebreak was probably recut for the Madre Fire which began on September 2013 in Azusa at the mouth of San Gabriel Canyon. A steep, 3-minute scamper delivers me to a hip where the ascent mellows out. This is where the other trail from the earlier fork arrives. The panorama south is striking.

I continue up the ridge. The ascent is mild. It’s getting warm but hazy clouds help keep the temps down. Tall lupine is growing like crazy with its showy purple flowering stalks. Mustard, wild morning glory, cliff aster, and a few other flowers announce the soon-arriving springtime. I’m really enjoying the rugged mountains and thick chaparral.

11:05 - Highpoint 2364. What splendid scenery! It’s peaceful here. I’m treated to a sweeping vista from west to south to east. Just beyond the foothills to the south, human habitation sprawls to the hazy horizon. To my immediate north, an imposing prominence along this ridgeline rises 250 feet to a pinnacle. That monster climb screams at me to stop. This is as far as go today. I linger here for 10 minutes then decide to stroll the 150 yards to the base of the monster climb, just for perspective before turning back.

Here at the base I see that the firebreak extends to the top, but it’s crazy steep. I decide to climb a little to get a nice picture of the ridgeline I climbed. The expanding views are rewarding. I’m really huffing and puffing. And I’m in a lupine jungle. Before long I am about a fourth of the way up. I decide that since I’ve done a fourth, I can do a half. I keep climbing. It’s quite warm and there is not a lick of shade. I creep slowly up. I sit occasionally. I really need to get in better shape. I love the beauty of nature that surrounds me. But I loathe these nasty bugs.

I reach the halfway point and I figure I’ve done half, I can do another. Sheesh, am I really doing this? I keep climbing. The firebreak now cuts below the ridge crest and blocks the breeze that was refreshing me earlier. It gets steeper. I wonder about the footing coming down. There is a fresh set of footprints so I suspect the gentleman who passed me near the beginning of the hike has continued up the ridge since I never saw him return.

12:05 - Pinnacle (2720’+). Wow, I did it! That was really a workout. I am rewarded with breathtaking views. The problem is, there is still another pitch going to a higher point. I can’t stop here, can I? I drudge on and it takes me 9 minutes to achieve the next highpoint.

12:17 - Highpoint (2800’+). Ok, this is as far as I go, really. From here the recently cut firebreak descends gently along the ridge a couple hundred yards to a slight saddle, climbs briefly, than stops. An old firebreak continues up the ridge to highpoint 3136’. Part of me would really like to press on further, but I’m hot and tired and ready to be done. I’m eager to sit and eat and head back. Beyond 3126’, the topo map shows an old fire road that curves around to the west and connects with Van Tassel Fire Road and Mt. Bliss (3720’) (See my Mt. Bliss hike description). I have often pondered a loop hike to Mt. Bliss which would include this route up Van Tassel Ridge. With this reasonably clear firebreak, the route seems very doable [later I got a FB post from hiker Crystal stating that she recently climbed this ridge all the way to Van T Fire Road]. I sit on the berm and have some lunch. Directly below me to the east is Fern Canyon, a tributary to Fish Canyon. When hiking to the falls over the years, I’ve pondered exploring Fern Canyon but figured it would be choked with thick brush. From this vantage point, it looks completely impassible for humans.

12:52 - Begin back. I retrace my steps. Down I go. I pass highpoint 2670’ and the steep section is faster going down than up, but careful steps are required. I slip several times but don’t go down. The wispy clouds help keep temps manageable. It also helps the lighting for photos. It takes me a half hour to negotiate descending the steep section. It’s easy going now. I find some shade under a laurel sumac and take a 15-minute break. I dig my bug repellent out. I reach the hip above the forest boundary at 1:57 and take the path that was the right fork that I skipped earlier. I hit the trail junction in about a minute. My descent is slow as I take time for plant work and photography. The shade and jungle-like vegetation is welcoming.

As I negotiate the lower switchbacks nearing Fish Canyon Trail, I am startled by an alarming rattling sound in the brush just a few feet above the trail in front of me. It’s a sound that gets the adrenal pumping. It’s a sound that says in no uncertain terms that a venomous pit viper is unhappy with me being there. And he has the ability to inflict great bodily harm upon me. I instantly retreat about six feet. The big rattlesnake continues to rattle as it quickly slithers across the trail. I am able to snap one pic before he disappears down the slope through the thick brush. I hurry past the spot and almost immediately arrive at a switchback, so I have to use a section of trail where the rattlesnake was heading. Thankfully I didn’t encounter him again. Over the years I have occasionally encountered rattlesnakes. In fact, I want to see one once in a while just to remind me that they live here and pose a threat. I have to say, this was probably one of my scariest encounters. Normally, I see the snake first as it’s laying in the trail soaking up the warmth. Well, I guess it is good to be scared once in a while.

3:39 - Arrive at Fish Canyon Trail. My pace is relaxed as I walk back to the bridge and through the quarry. I’m still thinking about that snake.

3:59 - Finish hike. It’s 93 degrees. There are 19 other cars in the parking lot. (All of them are in the white, black, and silver pallet. We’ve become such an aesthetically boring nation.)

Epilog - What a rewarding adventure. I love the beauty of springtime with its vibrant vegetation and graceful flowers. The heat today was more summerlike than end of winter. I hope we get more rain so that the beauty of springtime doesn’t flee too quickly. And climbing that ridge was a serendipitous adventure indeed. From what I’m hearing, it’s unlikely that the Forest Service will maintain Van Tassel Ridge Trail in its inventory. So it’s up to the hiking community to keep the trail clear with foot traffic. icon

Giant blazing star
(Mentzelia laevicaulis)

Wishbone bush
(Mirabilis laevis)

Miner’s lettuce (Claytonia parfoliata)

Chickweed (Stellaria media)

Common eucrypta
(Eucrypta chrysanthemifolia)

California everlasting
(Pseudognaphalium californicum)

Sticky (bush) monkeyflower
(Mimulus aurantiacus)

(Clematis lasiantha)

Wild morning glory
(Calystegia macrostegia)

Tufted poppy (collarless Calif. poppy)
(Eschscholzia caespitosa)
High on Van Tassel Ridge

See Van Tassel Ridge Hike Description at Dan's Hiking Pages

See Fish Canyon Falls Hike Description at Dan's Hiking Pages (including a link list for my other blog posts for Fish Canyon)

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Plants See Fish Canyon Trial Plant Guide (April 2011) (PDF)

Plants See Plants and Wildflowers in the San Gabriel Mountains at Dan's Hiking Pages

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