Thursday, January 13, 2011

Hike 2011.003 -- Rubio Canyon

Hiked Thursday, January 13. Ironically, this was exactly one year after my first trip into Rubio Canyon. That's when I took the trailhead shot, above.

After going a week without hiking, and not knowing if I'll be able to get much hiking in next week, I wanted to take advantage of the nice weather we were having this week to get outdoors. I was initially thinking of heading back above Glendora. But I had to pick up my new glasses at my optometrist, which is up near Huntington and Garfield. The put me closer to Altadena, so that became my target. Besides, with the recent rains, I thought the falls might be running, again.

Rubio Canyon is well-hidden. If you don't know there's a trailhead there, you'd never find it. It's at the corner of Rubio Vista Drive and Pleasant Ridge Drive in Altadena. You probably want to google map to get all the turns in there. Dan Simpson's hiking page also has detailed directions, as well as pictures of some of the other falls in the canyon that I did not hike to.

When you get to where Pleasant Ridge (running east) curves southward and changes into Rubio Vista, you want to head for the single-story house that's on the outside of this curve. The house number is 1342. Just left of this house is the small public right-of-way that grants you access to Rubio Canyon.

It's been a number of months since my last trip here. In the interim, I notice that a number of slides have occurred. Most have been somewhat cleared, and someone is obviously cutting back on the vegetation regularly. That makes the first 1/2 mile or so of the trail very easy to follow.

After a little over 1/2 mile of relatively easy walking, you come to the stone and concrete foundation supports for what used to be a pavilion where passengers heading up to Echo Mountain and Mt. Lowe would board their trains.

The more distinct trail at this support winds sharply up and to your left. If you follow that, you'll follow the remnants of the rail bed all the way on up to Echo Mountain. It's very steep, and it makes little sense to take this route if you're interested in Echo Mountain, since there's a much easier route to there that starts at the north end of Lake Avenue.

To explore Rubio Canyon, navigate your way past the supports. You should see a brief but steep section of trail making its way down to the stream bed. If it's winter or spring, you should also see and hear water rushing down below.

Making your way down there may take a few seconds of scrambling. At least for me, it is not a walk-down. But it can probably be navigated by most people with double digit ages and average dexterity and balance

The rest of the easy part of the trail runs along the stream, repeatedly crossing it and sometimes going between two prongs of the streams. Unless the water is high, this section should also be passable while still staying dry. But you still should take some care. This area is often severely overgrown with vegetation, making the going tricky.

As it turned out, it seems someone (or many someones) has or have been aggressively cutting back the growth, so getting upstream was much easier today than in past trips here.

There's about 1/4 mile of this stream bed trail to follow. In several points, you'll use the PVC or old steel pipes to help make your way around the various obstacles in your path.

Your easy reward is a pair of small waterfalls, each 10-15 feet in height. Vegetation probably partially blocks your view of both.

As you enjoy your view of these waterfalls, you may notice a trail that makes its way to the right of these waterfalls, heading up a steep drainage. If you follow this trail about 150 yards up, a rather well-defined trail cuts sharply back to your left. That trail leads you to the top of the lower falls (Moss Grotto Falls) and to near the base of the second falls (Ribbon Rock Falls). I think there's also a short diversion from the ravine that would take you above Ribbon Rock.

But I'm not much for those earlier detours because you wind up pushing an awful lot of rock and gravel down when you make the short traverses. I didn't make that detour today, either.

Instead of turning on the first left, I used to continue up another 150 yards or so to where I ran into a large boulder that semi-blocked further passage up. However, in the months since my last trip up here, rock and mudslides, and running water, have all worked together to carve an easy route around this rock. The problem, I later discovered, is that there's still no easy way to get out of this ravine if you keep going up.

Instead, you should probably continue until you run into a large tree, which is growing smack in the middle of the ravine. Not sure what kind of tree it is, except that it's deciduous, and but it's not an oak, eucalyptus, sycamore, or willow. I've got a picture of the leaves from a similar tree further down, so if someone wants to identify it for me, I'd welcome the information.

Immediately after passing the tree, work your way back to the left, and a rather well-defined trail will again start off, sharply to your left, partially doubling back on itself. After about thirty yards of clarity, the trace is obscured by a rock or mud slide. (There's also a path that starts cutting up to the left before the tree).

As you start your double back, above and to the north of the ravine bottom where you were, your trail suddenly vanishes. Where the trail used to weave between deer grass and yucca, you now need to walk over loose gravel and dirt. It's not the sort of surface I like to cross because you can't help but push lots of dirt and rocks down the hill. I figure a few thousand crossings like this and the passage will become all but impossible to follow. But, at the moment, it's all you've got.

Because I didn't want to make this crossing, I initially continued up the ravine. And I went WAY up, hoping for a clear trail that would take me back to the overlook. After several hundred yards of this, I eventually neared the top of the ravine. Still no obvious and easy way, but I made one. Cut to the left, pushed under trees and brush, and eventually got a view to the north, and figured out the falls were still not going to be visible from where I went.

That's where I saw the tick on my shirt, and probably where I got the tick that bit me.

Seeing nothing promising in the way of a trail, I made my way back the way I came. While resting on a rock, eating a Cliff Bar and drinking my Gatorade, catching my breath and letting my legs rest up for this little tricky bit of scrambling, I became aware of an annoying (not quite painful) feeling coming from my right thigh. And that's where I discovered I had a tick embedded. Yuck.

Continued on down to where the trail headed off to the Thalehala overlook, made my way the 100 yards or so to the overlook, took lots of pictures, then headed back to my car.

Thalehaha Falls is the tall one, which has a well-eroded chute it falls down. My guess is it's 80 feet or so in height. It's unfortunate there's nothing near the falls to give some better perspective on its height. All I could do was try to cast a shadow, so if you look along the shadow line, just below the yucca that's right of the falls, you can see a little bump in the shadow. The skinny bump is my shadow. Because of the distance between the ridge on which I stood and the wall on which that shadow is cast, it's a very fuzzy shadow. That may or may not put the height in perspective.

Just below Thalehaha Falls is another waterfall, Roaring Rift Falls. That one's shorter than Thalehaha, but probably still a good 30 or 40 feet.

From the overlook to Thalehaha Falls, the trail continues from there to the east. You'd stick just south of the ridge line, and follow the trail to the ridge. I didn't go that way today, either. However, the one time I did, I discovered the trail was multiple and indistinct. There was no one way that people followed from there on up the canyon

It eventually leads you down a ravine, where you need the assistance of ropes tied to trees to make a very sloppy decent into the canyon above Thalehaha. From there, there was more sloppy water crossings, then a sloppy ascent out of one pit and into another, where yet another waterfall awaited you.

However, my one experience continuing forward did not make me feel like the reward was worth the effort. That's just me, though.

I'm not sure if I actually covered three linear miles, but I'm sure I exerted myself at least as much as a three mile linear walk, so I'm counting this as a hike.


  1. Nice post, looks like you are getting to really know the area down there. By the way, I can't stand ticks. I used to live in a small town near the Maryland coast that had ticks everywhere. Everytime I went outside, I had to do a "tick check" one particular summer, becsuse I'd find them crawling on me when I went to sleep.

  2. M wife lived in Delaware for a few years. She bought a "tick spoon" to remove ticks from the cats her landlady had.

    My first call when I got back home was to her, asking, "Where's the tick spoon?" She doesn't have it any more, so I was reduce to using the flimsy tweazers on the back of my Swiss army knife.