Fall Creek Trail

In hiking you just never know.  On paper this seemed like a pretty straight forward and easy hike to a trail camp and then a large waterfall.  In reality I found this hike to be uniquely difficult, ending the day feeling like I’d just had my rear end kicked.  The good thing is that I have already learned from the experience and implemented a few changes for my next hike.  My evolution continues.

1     2     3   I parked in the lot of the Hidden Springs Picnic Area, right of of the Angeles Forest Highway.  If you’re traveling as I did, from the Angeles Crest Highway, take a left at Angeles Forest Highway and drive about 6 1/2 miles until you pass through the tunnel.  The picnic area is on the left side.  The trail doesn’t begin at the picnic area but rather a few hundred feet up the road.  It’s a bit dangerous as cars wiz past and there isn’t much room along the side of the road.  The trail is not marked but look back as you walk up the road.  You will see a sign indicating that the picnic area sits 500 feet ahead.  The trail begins just after this sign.

4     5   At first I went straight and up into the hills, but soon the trail made a sharp left turn and leveled out.  The trail is hard to follow in the beginning but I was sure it would become more established and clear if I just went a bit further.  Sadly, it never really does.

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Looking down into the Narrows, as is marked on my map.

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9   Photo 1 – Standing tall above the trail are Strawberry Peak (left) and Josephine Peak (right).  Photos 2 and 3 – Close-ups on the little nub that is Josephine Peak.

10     11     13   The station fire blazed through here in 2009.  I believe the trail was closed for awhile and I get the impression it wasn’t that popular in the first place.  This meant for tough hiking as the overgrown trail disappears often.  Fortunately these rusty, steel braces which hold the trail together occasionally pop up along the way.  I knew and was relieved to know I was on the right path when I would see one.  The trail sits about 2/3 of the way up the mountain, running above a gorge below.  It clings to the side and travels in and out of numerous contours.  Because it was always hard to identify exactly where the trail was, if there were two trail-like paths heading from one point, I would always take the one that broke toward the inside. This seemed to work most of the time.  As shown in photo 2, The soil is soft and sandy and really took a toll on my legs.

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Yellow flowers dotted the hillsides.  Very pretty.

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When the contour of the trail is at it’s deepest and closest to the mountain, this is the area where all the water drains.  That means that area is going to be full of debris and might be difficult to pass.  Sometimes it was easy, other times I had to scramble up or down or bushwhack through thick brush.

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Photo 4 – looking up at the top of the mountain I was hiking on.  It would have been so much easier if the trail ran along the top of the ridge.

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27       28   Sometimes it seemed the trail wanted to head out onto a ridge by the trail, but I stuck close to the mountain and the trail would almost always appear eventually.  Photo 6 – Here’s a good example of how overgrown the trail is.  Sometimes I ran into a solid piece of vegetation.  I would plow through and see the trail on the other side.  Foolishly, I didn’t put on my snake gaiters until I was at my turned around point.  My legs got shredded, like someone gave a pre-schooler a red pen and told them to go scribble on them.  I was stabbed and scratched and, my favorite, stabbed and scratched in spots where I had already been stabbed or scratched.

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The road running below, I believe that’s Tujunga Canyon Road, which intersects with Angeles Forest Highway about three miles before Hidden Springs picnic area.  The trail can be accessed from the opposite direction from this road as well.

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The trail – and I thought this day was going to be as easy as a stroll in the park.

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37       38   Often I would lose the trail and find myself hiking above or below it.  It wasn’t a matter of getting lost.  I knew I was heading in the correct direction and was near the correct elevation, but then things would get rough enough to make me question if I was still on the correct path.  The official trail is rough enough as it is.  Losing it means the going is going to be twice as tough.  Sometimes I would spot the trail below and wonder how to get down to it. A couple of times I had to slide down the side about 20 to 25 feet to get back to it.  A couple of times I had to scramble straight up, which was quite taxing because of the soft dirt – take one step up and lose half a step sliding down.  And the rocks on the trail could not be trusted.  They often crumble or shift under foot.

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Eons of rushing water has really carved out a deep and narrow gorge.

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Below the paved road, I spotted the fire road which comes in from the other direction.  The trail I was on was supposed to end at a junction between two fire roads.  I became quite discouraged when I noticed what appeared to be a trail intersecting with the fire road below.  Was I even on the right trail anymore?

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The trail continued to get sketchier and sketchier.  I decided to turn around here.  A day later I was able to closely compare the map from my GPS map with my paper map.  I know now I was very close to my planned turnaround point.  However, I have absolutely no regrets about turning back here.  I could feel exhaustion creeping into my body.

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I lost the trail for a good stretch on the way back.  I figured I would just follow my bootprints back, but the soil was so soft that my boots didn’t always make a clear impression.  I followed what I thought were my tracks up above the real trail, later realizing I was following a game trail.  The going was slow and hard.  I found myself doing things like jumping across a small gap and latching onto a shrub to keep from sliding down the sandy hill.  Finally I was able to find the trail again.  With a couple of miles to go cramps grabbed hold of me, knotting up my inner thighs, the fronts of my calves and the tops of my feet – all areas difficult to stretch out.  I hiked when I could and rested when I needed.  On the trail it’s rare for me to have the thought that I might be in real trouble.  Today was one of those rare occasions.  What a relief it was to see the road below and the beginning of the trail.  I’ll be back here, but next time I’ll come in from the other direction along the fire road.  I have a few goals in mind for that future hike.  I will make it to Fall Creek Camp, the the base of the Fall Creek Falls, and finally I will try to ascertain exactly how close I was before I turned back.

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