Climbing Malibu’s Escondido Falls

Some people bring nothing but joy, bliss, and positivity to your life. For me, two of those people are my friends Justin and Samsara, who I met during my stay in a Dominican Republic tree house village. I was lucky enough to reconnect with both of them on a recent trip to LA, despite the fact that neither of them actually live in Los Angeles.

As one of our many adventures, and to offset all the food we gorged ourselves on over the weekend, we decided to go for a hike in the mountains of Malibu. Specifically, Justin took us all to Escondido Canyon Trail and Waterfalls.

This is also known as the “three waterfall hike” because you can hike to all three tiers of Escondido Falls. The Escondido Falls are the highest in the Santa Monica Mountains, and the tiers are 50 feet, 25 feet, and 150 feet, respectively.

The actual hiking portion was simple enough, and stretched 4.2 miles past Malibu mansions and through beautiful flora. I usually hike 10-12 miles every weekend so I thought this would be a leisurely afternoon. But I should have known that a day with Justin and Samsara would be filled with adventure.

The first part of the hike is easy. Just a general stroll through the wild flowers, across riparian canyon terrain, and over several creek crossings that required careful stepping over logs and rocks. But that just led us to the first waterfall. After that, things got interesting.

In order to get to the second and third waterfalls you had to switch to climbing mode over large rocks and muddy hills. This path isn’t very accessible if you have any mobility issues, but with the help of some ropes and large tree roots, you can make your way to the second and third falls. Things get pretty wet and slippery, so be sure to have proper climbing shoes (which I did not have) and prepare to get muddy.

But once you get to the main falls, the climb is totally worth it!

For the last few years Escondido Falls has been relatively dry due to the drought. But thanks to a wet winter and some rainy days leading up to the hike, the falls were flowing while we were there.

Samsara and I spent some time goofing around at the base of the falls, jumping off the rocks, and having fun on a rope swing as Justin took off exploring.

While we were engaged in frivolity, Justin had made his way to the top of the falls and beckoned for us to follow.

Please note that Samara is barefoot for this hike, because she is a badass.

Other than one session of indoor rock climbing a few years ago, this was my first attempt at climbing. It was also my first attempt at bouldering of any sort. The climb was one of the scariest and most dangerous things I have ever done. I do not recommend attempting to take the same route we did unless you are an experienced climber. There were several points along the way that I did not think I was going to make it (I even had to abandon my bag, as you can see above) and had I fallen, it would have been disastrous.

At the top of the most difficult part of the ascent was a small slot we had to climb through. The only way to get up its slick walls was to push your back up against one side and use your feet to climb up the other. Basically I applied the trick I learned watching cartoons as a kid to pull myself up.

Having my own personal cheering squad at the top definitely helped too.

But the view at the top made the climb and the fear completely worth it. We could see the waterfall, the canyon, and of course, the Pacific Ocean.

We all took time to enjoy the view and take our fair share of pictures. Part of me expected to end up in one of those “selfies taken right before disaster” click bait articles.

But instead, we had a lovely time relaxing and meditating at the precipice.

It rained on and off that day, just like it did during our trip to the Dominican rain forrest. That combined with the company and the complete lack of cell service resulted in one of the best and most relaxing days I’ve had since returning from my planned #funemployment.

At one point while admiring the view we heard the sound of what sounded like a team of hikers coming up behind us. It was, however, a small rockslide crashing down the path we’d just climbed up.

I want to reiterate that you should not attempt to replicate my stupidity and that this climb is not meant for novices. My only saving grace was the flexibility gained from doing yoga 5 times a week for the last 4 months.

Of course we had to make our way to the very top of the falls for some photos. The water behind me is what was flowing over the top of the highest part of Escondido Falls.

It began to rain again right before we started our climb down. While the cool rain drops were refreshing, it also make the rocks extremely slippery and the dirt trail slick and muddy. I fell, more than once, and was utterly caked in mud. Fortunately, I only had some muddy clothes and a few scrapes and bruises to show for it.

Overall, we could not have picked a better way to spend our day. It was just the adventure I needed.

The Escondido Canyon Trail and Waterfalls hike is free and the parking area is just off the majestic Pacific Coast Highway (which I hope to drive start to finish one day). If you visit on a Sunday, it is also just down the road from the fabulous Malibu Farmers Market where we got delicious fresh fruit and the best sprouted almonds I’ve ever had.

Going Over The Edge: Rappelling 269 Feet Down a Skyscraper

A few weeks ago my boss called me into his office to ask whether I would be interested in representing our firm at a fundraiser for Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Middle Tennessee. I of course was happy to take part, especially once I learned that it happened to be their annual Over The Edge event in which the participants rappel off of the Omni in downtown Nashville.

I have discussed over and over and over and over that I am afraid of heights. However, I have also discussed my quest to overcome that fear by seeking out situations that make me second guess myself. So far, so good. If flying lessons turned my dread of air travel into love, then eventually, one day, I’ll be able to jump and fall off of things without hesitation (hopefully during some sort of planned excursion).

Before I went over the edge, we got a brief training session on how not to fall to our deaths or get stuck on the side of a building. I appreciated the tips.

I’m joking. I felt safe the entire time. There were lots of ropes and harnesses and gears and double and triple layer safety measures.

Before I could start my rappel, I had to crawl over some scaffolding to get to the edge of the building. This was surprisingly nerve-wracking considering what I was about to do.

However, the worst part was the first steps going down the building. It was a little hard to get started because, well, I weigh as much as a wet chihuahua. You control the rate of your descent with your weight and guiding rope through the belay. So, my size made it difficult to get horizontal with the wall.

When I started my descent, I was hanging from the side of the building, but still had my feet at the top of the ledge. This felt very unsettling. However, I felt completely secure once lowered myself down a bit and got my feet flat on the side of the building.

I fed the rope though the belay and I walked myself down the building, taking time to waive at my supporters below and the hotel guests who gathered at the windows to watch.

It only took a few minutes for me to completely lower myself down the 26 stories, but every second was thrilling.

The event was exactly what I hoped it would be. I had a wonderful time and we helped raise money for a wonderful organization in the process.

Over The Edge helps non-profit organizations throughout the world raise money for important causes like Big Brothers and Big Sisters. If you are interested in a chance to rappel down a building without getting arrested, keep an eye out for Over The Edge when it comes to your city.

Absinthe: Sampling the Green Fairy

Absinthe rose to popularity in the late 19th/early 20th centuries and was fashionable among the literati of Paris. Some famous fans of the drink include Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Pablo Picasso, Vincent van Gogh, Oscar Wilde, and my hometown favorite, Edgar Allan Poe. Absinthe was outlawed in the United States in 1915, but since the ban was lifted in 2007, it has experienced a resurgence. While Absinthe has a reputation for being a hallucinogenic, that label is is merely a result of legend and exaggeration. Sorry.

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Despite my past travels to Europe, I had never had an authentic glass of absinthe. So, I thought that it would the perfect thing to help me unwind during a little après–ski. My friends Lilas and Chris joined me in a visit to The Absinthe Bar in Breckenridge, which boasts the largest selection of absinthe in the United States.

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The menu had 19 types of absinthe from France, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Austria, and the USA. I selected Pernod absinthe, a French absinthe often written about by Hemingway, which is from the original producer of commercial absinthe and has a high alcohol content and a heavy anise flavor profile. It is made using the same ingredients as in the early 1800s.

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There are a few processes through which absinthe can be made. One method, which my bartender used, is classic French absinthe ritual. The ritual involves placing a sugar cube on top of a perforated spoon, which rests on the rim of the specially designed absinthe glass. Ice water is then dripped on the sugar cube, which dissolves into the absinthe. This causes the green transparent liquor to “louche” into an opaque mint green cocktail.

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The result was a fun, cold liquorish-flavored cocktail. The Pernod was slightly bitter, but that was partially offset by the dissolved sugar. While liquorish isn’t my favorite thing in the world, I’d like to sample more because I find the history and process to make absinthe fascinating.

Snowmobiling to the Continental Divide

I have been a bit delinquent with my posting. The last few weeks have been filled with traveling and spending time back home in Virginia with my family, so I simply have not been able to find the time to write. I still have many adventures and stories to share about my time off from work!

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One of my favorite snowy excursions during my time in Breckenridge was snowmobiling through the Swan River Valley and up to the Georgia Pass, which crosses the Continental Divide. In Colorado, the divide separates the the watersheds that flow into the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.

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I booked a tour with Good Times Adventures, the same company that took me dog sledding. The season had just begun so we had brand new, two-week-old 2017 Ski-Doo Grand Touring 600 snowmobiles. They were sleek and sporty and, most importantly, came with heated handlebars and throttle.

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I booked the first tour of the day so I could see the sun rise through the trees as we climbed 2,000 feet to the summit. At first, driving the snowmobile took a little getting used to. Every time I hit a bump or block of ice I was worried that I was going to go careening into the line of trees. However, after just a few minutes on the trail I was able to relax and enjoy the wintery landscape.

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Our guide, Susie, took us though the winding snow-white paths which were dotted with pine trees and hills. Occasionally, we got to see a dog sled out for a morning run or some horses on their way for a visit with a vet.

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As we neared the peak, the trail steepened and the trees cleared.

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I was greeted with an awe-inspiring panoramic view of the Swan River Valley, Summit County and the White River National Forest.

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I was also greeted with the coldest air I have ever felt in my life. While my long underwear and snow suit kept me nice and toasty in the valley and on the trail, the icy wind at the top cut through it like a knife through butter. I was only able to get a few pictures at the top before the battery in my phone froze and died.

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Other than the view, the most striking part of being at 11,585 feet is the absolute silence. All I could hear was the wind and my labored breathing from the thinned air.

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Even though my phone battery died, my video goggles managed to capture the entire journey to and from the Continental Divide. I tried to trim the hour-long trip as much as I could, but the ride was just too beautiful to only make a 3-minute montage. Here are some of the extended highlights:

If you have a chance to visit the Rockies in winter, be sure to add snowmobiling to your itinerary. It is certainly worth the detour.

Snow Skiing in the Rockies

As part of my New Years trip to Breckenridge I decided to try my hand at skiing. It is something that I have wanted to do for a long time, but living in the South does not afford a lot of opportunities to hit the powder.

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I had never taken part in any winter sports prior to this trip (if you don’t count sledding down my front yard after snowstorms). I knew that if I was going to hit the slopes I would have to take a lesson. Me, on skis, without any training, would be a menace to everyone on the mountain.

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My friend Jill and I took a lesson for first timers in order to learn the basics. The first half of the day was designed to get us acquainted with the fundamentals.  We started by skiing in a circle on one ski, sidestepping up and down a hill, and then wedging down a hill. All of this, fortunately, was in a designated ski lesson area. This was wise, because while I was doing well with skiing, I was not doing so hot with stopping.

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Somehow after lunch, and with a few extra tips from my instructor, I managed to get a better hold on slowing myself and eventually stopping. When we returned from our break, five of the eight members in our class decided not to return. Apparently, they determined skiing was not for them. That was sad for them, but awesome for the three of us who remained. We basically got a semi-private lesson for the rest of the day. In the afternoon our awesome instructor took us up the QuickSilver SuperChair life to Ten Mile Station.

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I felt like I had a better handle on the skis in the afternoon than in the morning. We practiced our turns going down the slope so I was able to build up a little speed and confidence. I really liked being able to break away from the group and have a little space to practice. I managed to finish my day with no major incidents or broken bones.

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The next day I met up with my friends Lilas and Chris, who just happened to be in Breckenridge at the same time. Luckily, I mentioned my visit in a previous post which Lilas read while sitting in the Denver airport.

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I was excited to ski with them, not only because they are amazing people, but because they are substantially more accomplished skiers than I.

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We started on the same runs I tried the day before, but took a few different routes down—a few of which were much more complicated than what I did the day before and included icy wooded paths and sharp hills. We also took the A-Chair higher up Peak 9 where I learned that all green trails were not created equal. I actually spent a good part of my day on my back with a lovely view of the sky.

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But overall I had an absolute blast, falls and all. At the end of the day I decided to take one more pass down the mountain. Mainly because the easiest way to get to the ski shop was to ride the lift back up and ski down. Somehow I managed to make it the entire way without incident and I actually had my GoPro recording.

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Here is my video of my first time skiing all the way down alone without falling. Yes, I am going slower than almost everybody, but I am pretty sure everyone else had been skiing a lot longer than one day.

I can’t wait to go skiing again. I will definitely take another lesson (or two) next time to give me a refresher and help me develop my skills. Unfortunately, unless the resorts get a lot closer to home, it may have to wait until next season.

Dog Sledding Through The Rocky Mountains

When I was first planning my winter vacation I wanted something to complement my escape to the Dominican rainforest. When I could not find another tropical retreat that fit my days off, I decided to go the complete opposite direction and head to a winter wonderland. As part of the trip, I wanted to cross off a few things from my winter To-Do List. Item #1 on that list was dog sledding!

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I went to Good Times Adventures in Breckenridge, Colorado. Good Times has 160 purebred Siberian huskies, and is the largest Siberian husky kennel in the United States. The dogs consume 2000 pounds of dog food a week and have a protein snack after every run. Sounds like me on vacation.

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The dogs are well cared for and do 2-3 runs (10-15 miles) a day. But the dogs love to run! This is actually a light workout for a Siberian husky, as they are capable of running for over 100 miles a day or 20 hours straight! In fact, while waiting for the next run, the teams have to be tied to a tree so they don’t take off. They want to run all day!

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Good Times Adventures uses all female and all males teams “to keep trouble in the same place,” but racers often mix males and females. Our guide said that the females are much faster and goof off less.

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The dogs start training at 6 months and are a part of a team until they are about 7-8 years old. After retirement, the pups become part of their adoption program.

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We had an all male team with Fez and Django (the lead dogs), Olaf and Drake (the swing dogs), Chief and Trix (the team dogs), and Cyprus and Ninja (the wheel dogs).

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The dogs in the front are the super smart lead dogs who guide the pack. However, if they make a mistake or get into a fight they will get “demoted” and moved further back in the lineup. Our guide said that the dogs can tell when they get demoted and promoted.

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The dogs in the back wheel position, according to our guide, are the “meatheads” and workers of the bunch. They are not the brightest lightbulbs. (But who needs to be smart when they are that handsome?)

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Each tour accommodated six people. The dog sled was led by our guide pulling a sleigh via snowmobile. Four people rode in the sleigh and the other two rode the dogsled, one as the rider and the other as the musher. We all got to take turns in each position.

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The actual ride was spectacular! It was a blast to zoom though the snowy woods behind a team of dogs.

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We took some of the hills pretty slowly, but once we got going we had to hold on tight!

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I really don’t know what I loved more, the scenery or the ride itself.

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While the dogs do almost all of the work, the sled does come with a safety brake. We also help control the sled by leaning into the turns.

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However, some of the turns were a little too rambunctious and we almost took a little spill (pictured above). But fortunately we were able to stay on the sled.

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Both before and after the run I got to pet the dogs. They were sweet and soft, but definitely just waiting to have a chance to do some more running!

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Below is a compilation point of view video of our runs. I did not have a helmet to attach my GoPro to, so I rented some awesome goggles that recorded it for me. As a disclaimer, my friend forgot I was recording so there is some language that is not suitable for children.

Here is a compilation video from the guide sled. You can’t hear her swearing in this one.

If you want to add a little adventure to your winter travels and cuddling on some adorable doggage is a priority, then go check out Good Times Adventures. However, book early. I called weeks in advance and they were already almost fully booked during my visit.

Sleeping in a Tree House in the Dominican Rainforest

My last post chronicled my time in the Dominican Republic and my visit to Dominican Tree House Villages. DTHV is, just as it sounds, a community of tree houses in the Samaná province of the Dominican Republic. Think Swiss Family Robinson, but with electricity. There are no walls, no wifi, and no TV. It is only you and nature. And it is magnificent.

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Because I arrived at night, I could not appreciate the beauty of DTHV until my first morning there. However, that did not mean my other senses could not enjoy my accommodations. The sounds and smells of the rainforest teased me for what morning had in store.

Dominican Tree House Villiage

Photo Courtesy of Dominican Tree House Village

After a long day of travel, I wanted a shower before unwinding in bed. Because I reserved a VIP room for my first two nights (it was booked for the rest of my stay) I had my own private outdoor shower. It was pitch black outside, but I was determined to take advantage of it. It is a little odd to shower in the dark. It is even odder to shower in the dark, outside, in the jungle.

Dominican Tree House Village

Photo Courtesy of Dominican Tree House Village

While I felt exposed, for lack of a better word, I was actually well hidden from view, especially in the dark of night. While I was shampooing my hair (which responds to humidity about as well as Monica Geller’s), I looked up and saw the familiar sight of Orion’s belt above me in the night’s sky. I don’t think the stars have ever looked more bright and clear than they did at that moment. Even if I did absolutely nothing else on this trip, that view made it all worth it. But, enough about that, back to the tree house.

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The absence of the sounds I was accustomed to was noticeable. There were no cars, no sirens, no trains, no busy city streets. Each night I drifted off to sleep listening to the sounds of crickets, tree frogs, and tropical birds in a symphonic cacophony of nature.

Dominican Tree House Village

Photo Courtesy of Dominican Tree House Village

Instead of walls, there are giant vibrant red curtains on all of the tree houses. These are more for blocking out light and providing privacy than from shielding you from the elements. But the climate is so perfect that there really isn’t anything to be shielded from. To safeguard you from the insects, each bed comes with a mosquito net. However, I only saw a few bugs on one night of my stay and was never bitten by anything during my time there.

Dominican Tree House Village

Photo Courtesy of Dominican Tree House Village

Both of my rooms were well above the tree line and far away from the other tree houses, so I never closed my curtains and instead opted to be awoken by the rising sun and have an uninterrupted view of the gorgeous sunsets. I should note that this view came with a price: 100 steps up to my VIP room and then 70 steps up to my second “treetop view” room. There were times I contemplated whether the walk to my tree house might actually kill me.

Dominican Tree House Village

Photo Courtesy of Dominican Tree House Village

Throughout the day and night, heavy, but short, rainstorms pass through the area. You know, because it is the rainforest. The storms provided a soothing sonic backdrop that Sharper Image wishes it could capture for its white noise machines. The rain never lasted long and we usually dried off pretty quickly. I brought my umbrella and rain jacket but never bothered to use them, opting instead to enjoy the refreshing showers.

Dominican Tree House Village

One of the lovely things about DTHV is that it is nestled in Samaná, an area in the northeastern part of the country relatively untouched by tourism or commercialism. There are only a handful of hotels and few tourists. Therefore, you really get to experience the culture and people of the Dominican Republic, unlike in resort towns like Punta Cana.

Dominican Tree House Village

When it comes down to it, I am doing a rather poor job of capturing the uniqueness and beauty of both Samaná and the DTHV. To say my experience there was anything other than life changing would be a serious understatement. While I have gone glamping before, I can honestly say my time at DTHV was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I now hope to have at least one vacation a year where I can completely disconnect and immerse myself in nature. Perhaps Giraffe Manor in Kenya will be next.

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I actually feel that, in my short time there, it has already affected my personality and preferences. Upon my return from the rainforest, the hustle and bustle of the airport (especially after I returned to the United States) was sensory overload. I could not handle all of the sights and sounds around me. I have also found that I do not like having the TV on anymore (though that may fade once all of my favorite shows return later this month). Although, I really hope these changes are not temporary and I can maintain my new low-technology life.

When it comes down to it, if you are looking for an escape, and resort life isn’t for you, I truly suggest slipping away into some relaxation and tree house living at the Dominican Tree House Village.

 

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