Thursday, June 16, 2011

Hike 2011.040 -- Switzers Falls

Hiked Thursday, June 16. STILL getting over my cold, but tired of not getting out and hiking. Figured on something short and not too steep, and settled on Switzers' Falls.

This is in an area that's been under Station Fire Recovery Area Closure Order since my hiking adventure began, so it's a place I had not yet hiked. I'm pretty sure I never made it here in the years prior to my 100 hikes, either.

The trailhead is off the Angeles Crest Highway. To get here, take the 210 Freeway, exit at CA-2 (Angeles Crest Highway), and head north. 3/10ths of a mile after the Clear Creek Junction (where the Angeles Forest Highway comes in from Palmdale), the Swtizers' campground is off on the left. You'll need an Adventure Pass to park.

Today, as I drove up, the cloud deck had me shrouded until the last mile or so of my drive. The car thermo-meter said it was in the low-50s. The pavement was clean and dark.

I didn't break out of the clouds until very near Clear Creek Junction. After passing the Junction, I had my eyes peeled for Switzers. An unsigned (as of June 2011) parking area eventually appeared on the right.

The lot was striped for about 17 spots, and there's a chemical toilet at this point. A closed gate blocked a steep and narrow but paved road that would have led the way down to Switzers. Had it been open, I could have knocked off about 1/2 mile each way. Instead, my hike would begin with a steep descent, and end with a steep climb.

To the south, I could see the burned conifers in the foreground, and unburned conifers and deciduous trees closer to the water. Clouds tried to make it over a distant ridge, but were mostly unsuccessful.

When I reached the bottom lot, I saw a sign pointing the way to Switzers Falls. It was across a pedestrian bridge, then downstream.

From the bottom parking lot and for the next 1/2 mile or so, there were numerous picnic tables, trash cans, and chemical toilets. I doubt many would want to lug a picnic down the road, but when the lower lot is open, this would definitely be a nice (though, on a weekend, very crowded) place to eat lunch.

This area of the hike was pleasantly shaded. It looked a lot like other canyons in the San Gabriel, with plenty of alder near the water and a smaller number of sycamore and conifers mixed in. The water gurgled and helped make this section feel cool and comfortable.

After about one mile and five stream crossings, the Gabrielino Trail split away from the water and headed up. After about five minutes, I had a nice, elevated view to look up and down the Arroyo Seco. A chain link fence kept me from getting too close to the edge. I suspect that's more for the safety of people who might be down in the Arroyo rather than for hikers up on the trail. You get a few peeks at Switzers Falls, but the view is mostly blocked by vegetation. The sound of rushing water makes it up fine, though.

A signed junction pointed to the closed section of the Gabrielino trail. Instead, my route was to head left, down the Bear Canyon trail. The descent was again rather steep.

When I again reached the water level, a couple of signs indicated that the waterfall was upstream, while the Bear Creek trail was downstream. I headed back upstream, towards the waterfalls.

As I neared a set of cascades that were a prelude to the actual falls, I passed the remains of a small car. It had a rusted in-line six cylinder engine facing up, a small frame, and at least a few wheels visible. Curious how it wound up here.

Shortly after the car remains, I reached the cascades. It was only a long five minutes since reaching the water level.

Initially, the cascades seemed to block the trail, as the canyon walls moved in tighter around the river.

However, a clearly-defined trail made it up the right side (as seen when facing upstream) of the cascades. It climbed and weaved among a couple of old tree trunks, which provided plenty of hand and foot holds, and also helped hold the soil up.

Although good care should be taken if proceeding past the cascades, I was able to pick a route where I thought the odds of falling was low, and the worst-case scenario if I did fall was minimal. A few minutes of careful steps had me above the first cascade. Getting by the second was even easier.

From the top, it's a shorter five minutes of walking before I reached the end of the line.

Again, I could hear the waterfall before I could see it. In fact, the falls itself flows at greater than a ninety degree angle to the general flow of the river, so it's partially shielded by the cliffs that surround it. The water falls into a deep alcove, probably 25-30 feet in the final drop (there are cascades above these falls, but you can't see them from down below). Opposite the falls, water seeps and drips, keeping a hanging garden of grasses and ferns well-watered, at least as of June.

To get a better view of the falls, I could either try to edge precariously up along the left wall, or just take off my boots and socks and walk into the pool. There was a sandbar created by the turbulence, which gave me a path that was no more than 18 inches or so in depth. From there, I snapped some pictures of the falls, face-on. then I continued past, and got a few reverse angle shots. The reverse angle shot is at the top of this post.

I also shot some pictures of the dripping walls behind me, and some video. If I ever succeed in getting the video loaded, it'll be at the end of this posting.

Then I made my way back to outside the alcove and let the sun and wind dry my feet. After no more than ten minutes, I laced up the boots and was on my way.

On the return segment, I moved somewhat faster. I still had to slow down on the crossings, but with waterproof boots, stepping across and keeping my socks dry was pretty easy.

I also took a short detour to look down the falls from the top. Can't get much of an angle from the top, though. Also, the perspective from up here tends to flatten things. You don't get a real sense for how large the pool of water down there is, nor for how much further below the lip of the falls you're looking.

I seem to recall this trail is supposed to be about four miles. Since I had to start and stop from the Angeles Crest Highway instead of the parking lot, and also made the short detour to the top of the falls, I figured I covered about five miles. Pretty short, but enough, considering my condition.

(Edit--July 5-- When I drove past this area a few days ago, on my way to San Gabriel Peak, the parking area at the top of the road for Switzers was coned off. Cars were parked along the road east and west of Switzers. Also, you could park in the large lot where the Clear Creek ranger station used to be and take a .5 mile trail from there to the road leading to Switzers.)

Hiking-wise, I'm falling behind if I am to complete a second year with 100 hikes. My persistent cold (and the fact that I got two this year, both of which lasted over a week) were a setback. To stay on track, I'd need to complete 10 more hikes in the next two weeks. That's not going to happen, but hopefully I can get a few more in, and try to make the rest up over the course of the year.

With any luck, I'll be able to start July somewhat closer to 50 hikes than I am today, and with at least some part-time employment lined up. With some real luck, maybe something full-time will finally pan out, although that might require relocating. I'm not thrilled by the prospect of having to move, but things have been so sour for me locally that I almost feel like I need to. Yeah, that job in southern Utah would have been nice. . . .


  1. Hi, Skyhiker. Thanks for the TR, and best of luck on the job search. I must admit, though, that if you left Southern California, your readers and I would lose out on a great local hiking resource!

  2. Skyhiker, I'm kind of in awe how unscathed Switzer Falls looks. Last time I was there was before the Station Fire, and when I drove past it when they reopened Angeles Crest after the fire, I thought the area was toast. Thanks for the TR, it made my morning!!

  3. Thanks John and JJ (on an earlier post) for your kind comments.

    Mark--It's really amazing what two years can do for a landscape. There are plenty of tree skeletons (obviously) still around, and the whole time I was out there was a work crew with chain saws taking out the dead trees near the entrance, but the grasses and shrubs have had two good years to recover, so that's softened the landscape a great deal.

    As for down in the canyon, I'm not sure if it's the higher moisture content of the vegetation there, or if there was was special effort by fire fighters to protect the canyon, but, when you're down there, it's easy to forget there was a devastating fire so recently. So, yeah, good news for that area.

  4. Oddly enough, I never heard of this place until about 2 weeks ago. An acquaintance of mine told me about this neat, quick hike. **I appreciate this post and will make it a point this summer to venture out here.

    Yo, glad you're feeling better, but now I'm sick. Tired, feverish, etc; but tomorrow I'm hiking out to Willet Hot Springs with my son and a few other dudes. We'll be camping overnight (20+ miles round trip). The good news is, little elevation gain. Talk to you soon...

  5. Yeah, I never heard of this place until last year, and by then, it was in the closure area. Finally opened up the area and the Angeles Crest Highway, so I could do it.

    Finally saw Millard Canyon falls, too, although only from a distance (from the Sunset Ridge trail). That's another one I didn't hear of until last year, and the trail to the base of the falls is still in the closure area.

    I may be out of the hiking business for a while, again. Heading out of town for another job interview on Monday, and not back until W night. Not sure if I'll have time to hike before I leave.

    In the meantime, take it easy and don't over do it!

  6. The falls look fabulous! I too only heard about this trail after the Station Fire closure, and have been curious what the area looks like now. We'll definitely hit this one with our kids this summer. Thanks for posting!

  7. You're welcome! Enjoy your visit.

    Kids wouldn't have any problem getting to the base of the first falls. Getting around that first falls would take some dexterity, however. If they're scared of heights, you might need to pass on the second falls.