I'm hunting for a mysterious waterfall.
The last time I went waterfall hunting, I
mountain-biked along Black Star Canyon Road
for several miles. Then I hiked through poison
oak, scrambled over boulders and sloshed
through a stream.
I'm looking up at Canyon Falls, the top
some 40 feet above. As dumb as I am, I was
smart enough to skip testing the slippery
orange rope left by inconsiderate and inexperienced
BY DAVID WHITING, ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
Was it worth it?
Black Star's waterfall cascaded down
50 feet, freefalling into a split in the
rocks. Water flowed out of a cave while the
main falls splashed into a glistening pool.
This time, I'm in Trabuco Canyon and
searching for a waterfall some claim is even
better than Black Star and certainly far
more spectacular than Trabuco Canyon's
popular Holy Jim Falls.
Consider that Holy Jim Falls is about 18
feet high. The falls I'm looking for
is more than double that.
But before the day is over, my "must
explore" gene kicks in.
And that leads to trouble.
FINDING THE TRAILHEAD
After years of visiting Holy Jim Falls with
friends and family, I had trouble believing
there was another falls in Trabuco Canyon
that was bigger and higher.
Surely, people would be flocking to it.
But the directions were always vague. My
best information was that Canyon Falls was
about half-way up Trabuco Creek Road, just
off a widening in the road.
I drive the bumpy dirt road a fair amount.
I've never noticed a break in the mountains
that would allow a stream to turn into a
Of course, I'm pretty focused on driving,
always reminded of the time I tore off the
plastic protection plate under my Subaru.
I hate driving Trabuco Creek Road.
In recent months, I've run and biked
the road. Since the county took over the
first 2.4 miles and transformed a mess into
a relatively smooth gravel road, the trip
didn't seem so bad.
So Saturday afternoon, I climb into my Subaru
and head off, determined to find the falls.
Jiggling along Trabuco Creek Road, my Subaru
is happy – until the border with the
Cleveland National Forest. From then on,
it's first gear.
I look for the road widening, but there are
several. Fortunately, none are near a split
in the mountains, a split that would indicate
a canyon and a stream for a waterfall.
After 3.4 miles – and much slo-mo navigation
over rocks, dips and rises – I spot
a break in the mountains followed by a huge
widening in the road.
I walk about 40 yards down the road looking
for a well-worn trail on the other side of
Spotting it, I slide down the short steep
embankment, hop across the stream and head
into my unknown.
PROMISE OF EXPLORATION
The trail is so worn, it's practically
groomed. I hike on soft dirt, criss-cross
the stream a few times, duck under a few
branches and come across two hikers, Erica
Hernandez, 19, of Mission Viejo, and Armando
Garcia, 20, of Trabuco Canyon.
How much farther to the falls?
Garcia says about 10 minutes. I've only
been hiking about 10 minutes. This is going
to be easy.
But then Garcia mentions something about
ropes on the right side of the canyon, ropes
that lead high above the big falls I'm
My explorer gene wakes up and whispers, "Hey,
After passing sparkling pools and water flowing
over a series of boulders, I spot the falls
through the trees.
The waterfall is magnificent, spilling some
40 feet over rock and landing in a pool surrounded
The sun is still high enough to hit the very
top of the falls. Droplets sparkle like rough-cut
But some inconsiderate climber has left an
orange climbing rope that mars the otherwise
I'm not stupid enough to try to climb
a sheer rock wall on a slippery wet rope
anchored to – what? I have no idea.
But my sometimes stupid explorer gene says
in a Homer Simpson voice, "Let's
try the near-vertical scramble on the right.
There are ropes there, too!"
ROPES FOR DOPES
I gingerly place my trail running shoes on
pretty solid rock bumps and cling to outcroppings
I spent a day last week brushing up my rock
climbing skills in Joshua Tree. There, I
was climbing 5.4 routes. Compared to that,
this is relatively easy.
But, as with most areas of the Santa Ana
Mountains, this rock is crazy loose. And
the higher I go, the more severe the consequences.
Still, I pass on using the series or ropes
that someone's strung.
Soon, the canyon floor disappears. At times,
I consider gripping a rope since they look
solid. But I have no idea how long each one
has been there, how much rain and sun has
weakened them, and what they are anchored
Also, each rope begs the question: Would
anyone leave perfectly good ropes, ropes
that cost serious money, in the wilderness?
But they might leave old ropes.
So, up I climb to see how the ropes are anchored.
The most secure are attached to outcroppings
of bushes with limbs about 1.5 inches thick.
Bushes as anchors? I try to avoid betting
my 175-pound life on bushes.
Finally, I come across what I expected to
find. A rope frayed from rubbing on an obstacle,
in this case another branch.
Sure, the ropes are inviting. They seem to
offer security. But I suspect that at some
point they will offer something very different,
something wrapped in a body bag.
I descend and come across a guy shooting
Marcelo Reginato, a 36-year-old Rancho Santa
Margarita resident and photography hobbyist,
tells me he'll Photoshop out the orange
rope that defaces the waterfall.
Hiking out, I come across a father and son.
They ask how much farther.
I offer about five minutes. Then I turn and
offer one more thing.
"Stay off the ropes."
Should I have cut down the ropes? Perhaps,
although lacking tools and time that wasn't
Also, I don't know much about the ropes.
If you know anything, please contact me.
Next Tuesday: I received many reader responses
(thank you!) about by Earth Day trash column.
I'll share some next week.
David Whiting's column also appears News
One Wednesdays, Fridays, Sundays; firstname.lastname@example.org.
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