Saturday, May 7, 2016

Fish Canyon Falls Hike - May 7, 2016

Dan Simpson at Fish Canyon Falls, Angeles National Forest, May 7, 2016
The day after a rain in the spring is the absolute best time to visit Fish Canyon Falls. I was looking at Saturday as my only sure widow to hike Fish Canyon in May, so I was elated when water began to pour from the sky on Friday. The forecast is for scattered showers on Saturday, so I’m taking my chances. It’s been an amazing ride hiking Fish Canyon every month for a year to experience the changes through the seasons. With spring upon me, I couldn’t stop at 12 months, so today’s hike is month 15. And I’m happy that my buddy Tom is able join me.

I arrive at the trailhead at about 7:25. It’s cloudy and 55 degrees. The sun struggles to peek through the clouds to the east. There are only about 11 cars in the lot, which is sparse for a weekend in spring. I chat with a couple guys who are waiting for their hiking group scheduled to meet at 8. Tom pulls up and we’re ready to go.

7:45 - Begin hike. I enjoy the 10-minute walk through the quarry as a time to catch up with my hiking buddy before engaging nature. The quarry walls tower above us. There are fresh deer tracks in the wet sand. I’m eager to see what’s in bloom today and I so set out from the start to photograph a sample of every species in bloom. The ubiquitous mustard is the first flower to greet us, then tree tobacco, laurel sumac, yellow thistle weed thing, California buckwheat, and deer weed (the first I’ve seen in bloom this season).

We pass the big rock into the riparian section. Last mouth the brittlebush was quite showy with its daisy-like yellow flowers; now it’s near the end of its bloom. Today, bush monkeyflower, Canterbury bells, and golden yarrow dominate this section, accented by mule fat. The yellow flowers of golden currant, which I first saw blooming on February 20, have now transformed into translucent gold berries. The number of creamy-white flower clusters of Mexican elderberry has thinned out since last month. The lovely yellow flowers of Spanish broom greet us as we near the bridge. We are loving the robust aroma and the freshness that rain brings.

We cross the bridge into the Angeles National Forest at 8:14 and begin our walk on the historic trail. More flowers greet us: a weedy yellow thing, narrow-leaf bedstraw, western thistle, common sunflower, elegant clarkia, Indian milkweed, mystery mustard, phacelia, and prickly pear cactus, which is really blooming well.

Van Tassel Ridge Trail, Fish Canyon, Angeles National Forest, May 7, 2016
At the junction to Van Tassel Ridge, the interpretive sign talks about the “new” trail built in 1997 over the ridge to bypass the quarry. Today, the only section of that trail still usable is from here to the ridge...a challenging but rewarding climb of 1.1 miles with 1,100 feet gain (be sure to wear long pants and shirt, and maybe trekking poles, gloves and a pair of clippers would be good. And watch out for rattlesnakes). See my Van Tassel Ridge trail guide. See my hike from one year ago for narrative of my last adventure: Van Tassel Ridge Hike - March 15, 2015.

Common sunflower (Helianthus annuus) is the dominate flower today with its cheery countenance. We saunter along and enjoy good conversation and the amazing springtime beauty after the rain. Tom is engaged in recalling the names of various plants. More plants in bloom include white sage, chamise, western wallflower, phacelia, and blue dicks (sparse compared to last month). Resurrection plant (aka spikemoss) is alive and thriving. Poison oaks sports its shiny leaves. The tree of heaven jungle has returned from its winter hiatus. At the old cabin site, oleander, jade, cape ivy, and periwinkle (Vinca), are reminders that early cabin dwellers preferred alien plants over native habit.

As we climb down the steps leaving the jungle, I look up to see if the pipestems (Clematis lasiantha) are in bloom yet. They’re least no longer above me! The large pine tree that hosted the pipestems vine has fallen. Perhaps nature’s cycle of life. Or perhaps it is destruction from invasive plants that man introduced such as the tree of heaven and/or the nearby cape ivy. But this pine in not native here either, so maybe the whole drama is just a battle of the weeds. We’ll see if the native pipestems hold their ground.

At 8:40 we step into a patch of sun peeking through the clouds. The streamside setting in wonderful. Other hikers are coming and going. As we pass Old Cheezer’s Mine, a group of more than 25 pass us heading to the falls. I’ve never understood the appeal of mass hiking. The figs are growing well. A humming bird evades being photographed. I’m pleased to see an abundance of matilija poppy in bloom. More flowers include California everlasting, western thistle, common yarrow, phacelia, golden stars, and heartleaf penstemon (the first I’ve seen these latter two in bloom this season). I’m delighted to find a tiny purple flower I don’t recall encountering before. Later I found it to be peninsular onion (Allium peninsulare var. peninsulare). I’m bummed that my nice iPhone6 often leaves me with out-of-focus flower pics. Thankfully, Michael Charter has a nice picture of peninsular onion on his Flowering Plants of Fish Canyon gallery. Attempts to photograph common eucrypta and fairy lantern also produced blurry pics. Tom and I stop to admire the colors and variety of moss and lichen. Toyon is starting to bloom and lemonade berry is hosting new fruit.

We meet several guys who tell us that they witnessed a huge rock fall from the wall next to the falls. One hiker said it fell about 50 feet and was the size of a VW bug. It sounded like thunder and created a huge splash drenching the surrounding rocks. They say it turned the water murky brown. Unfortunately we found no one who got it on video. We are eager to see what happened.

Past the spiral stair steps I'm eager to see if the Humboldt lily is in bloom. It's not...I'm sad. We take the side jaunt to Darlin’ Donna Falls and it is flowing nicely. Back on the main trial we meet Richard and Cathy Deem. I first met Rich during a Vulcan Fish Canyon access day on April 25, 2009. I've met lots of people on this trail over the years. Tom and I continue on our way.

10:27 - Main creek crossing. It’s flowing modestly, bolstered by yesterday’s rain. The air is heavy with moister as it threatens to rain more. We’re loving the beauty of the rugged canyon, the freshness of spring after a nice rain, cool temps, and good conversation. Another large group passes us. Canyon dudleya is blooming. A couple ladies carefully negotiate the notorious slopped rock. No matter how many times I’ve been here (today is my 49th), I always feel a certain excitement as I approach the iconic 80-foot waterfall.

10:48 - Fish Canyon Falls. What a splendid setting. With yesterday's rain, the falls are flowing a little better than when I was here on April 16. There are a couple dozen people here. An inconsiderate dog owner lets his pet run free and splash innocent bystanders with its wet fur.

I had expected to see the rock that was reported to be the size of VW bug dominating the pool, but there is nothing. Perhaps it busted up. The water is murky brown with plant debris floating. We’ll have to wait until the pool is empty in the summer to see what new rocks are below the waterline. The surrounding rocks are mostly dry now. And we can’t really tell for sure where the rock fell from.

We sit and snack, chat, and soak in the beauty of this special place. Hikers come and go. The clouds provide great lighting for photographing the falls.

We leave the falls at 11:56 and meander down the well-beaten path. I love the springtime beauty of this canyon. Hiking it monthly since February 2015 and experiencing the later summer months—with stifling heat, dead weeds, parched vegetation, dry creek and falls—has given me a renewed appreciation for how truly wonderful the spring is in Fish Canyon.

Happy hikers are coming and going. It’s always nice to see such diversity of people enjoying the canyon. We stop and photograph flowers that we missed earlier: California chicory, Indian pink, honeysuckle, and dodder (yes, the witches hair has tiny white blossoms). The morning glory is now showing its glory. Fish Canyon in May the day after a rain is as good as it gets. I love the vibrant vegetation, colorful flowers, rich aroma, and the soothing sound of flowing water.

We cross the bridge at 1:16 onto Vulcan’s access trail and continue to enjoy natural bouquets of wildflowers. Our conversation winds down as we stroll through the massive quarry to our waiting cars.

1:34 - End hike. The lot is pretty full with about 41 cars (including mine and Tom’s). It’s a pleasant 69 degrees under cloudy skies and we didn’t have to don raingear. My Fitbit recorded 13,820 steps for the hike.

Epilog - What a delightful hike! I never tire of this amazing canyon, and springtime after a rain is as good as it gets. I love the abundant wildflowers, the lush vegetation, and the amazing aromas. After years of hiking here, many individual plants and trees have become old friends. What a joy to anticipant rounding a bend to greet a friend like Indian milkweed, sacapellote, and Dudleya densiflora...faithfully growing in the same place year after year. And it’s always a treat to discover new plants I’ve never met before. And having a good buddy to share the experience with is a gift. I am so thankful for this natural treasure in my backyard. icon

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

Plants See Plants in Fish Canyon at Dan's Hiking Pages
(including links to various plant resources)

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

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  1. Hey Hikers,
    Most of the Stoners from Cerritos, CA. used to hike up there back in the late ’70s & early ’80s to party. This was before the Factory came along & messed up the beggining of the Canyon. Back then we used to call it Marijuana Falls because there were stories that it used to grow wild at the top of the Falls many years ago. One night we even took a Keg up to where we used to call, "Painted Rocks", a spot about 1/3 of the way up where in the stream bed, Graffiti is painted on rocks by Hippies. During those years of hiking up there a few people had fallen & there were more than 1 or 2 deaths. One by a person from our school, Cerritos High. You have to crawl on a very narrow ledge to get to the second upper falls. I did it only once. We have seen Trantilas, Rabbits, Quail, Ground Squirrels, & many Rattle Snakes on our hikes , so watch your dogs carefully. Alot of Cub & Boys Scouts have hiked there. Some poeple that I have seen personally used to bring Guns up with them to horse around with, back in the day. It’s a Great Hike & I plan to start going back with my Family.


  2. I Appreciated your generous detail description of

    Fish Canyon Falls I never tried before.
    I will try next week after I finished timber climbing
    in Mt.Baldy
    Thank you again.
    God bless you.


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