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.

Taking a Spring Wildflower Hike

Taylor Hollow is a 163-acre nature preserve hidden away an hour outside of Nashville. The Nature Conservancy owns the property and they have done an excellent job protecting the land. Taylor Hallow is wonderfully secluded. In fact, you’ll have to drive for a good 15 minutes before you even come back into cell phone range. It is perfect.

I go hiking almost every weekend, but I have never gone on a wildflower hike. I didn’t know what I was missing out on.

They entire hike is lined with a crystal clear babbling brook which leads to a hidden cave. There is also a waterfall, but the water was too low for it to be running during our visit.

Taylor Hollow supports more than 380 plant species and is home to state endangered plants as the Blue-eyed Mary and the Ozark Least Trillium and several state threatened plants such as the Michigan Lily and the Butternut.

We picked the prefect weekend for a visit. Everything was in full bloom.

My crappy iPhone photos do not do the place justice, but it is just beautiful. It would be the prefect place for a spring picnic and an afternoon of seclusion.

Other than fluttering butterflies and busy bumblebees, there was not a lot of wildlife to be seen on the day we visited. However, I did make friends with a curious snail. (No snails were harmed in the taking of this photograph.)

Now that Spring is here, take advantage of the natural beauty that surrounds us and be sure to visit your nearest nature preserve or botanical garden.

Laughter Yoga: Post-Election Recovery

Well, this has been a hell of a week, hasn’t it? Regardless of your political beliefs, or expected or desired outcome, this election has been tumultuous. Like most of America, I needed a break. In order to inject some joy into my life I reached out to laughter yoga.

Laughter yoga surprisingly has no yoga in it. Instead, laughter yoga is a class that promotes prolonged voluntary laughter. Laughter yoga was developed by the Indian physician Madan Kataria and is based on the belief that voluntary laughter provides the same physiological and psychological benefits as spontaneous laughter.  Some studies have indicated that laughter yoga can reduce pain, stress, and blood sugar, and can help with short-term memory. I can’t speak to the validity of these studies, but I can say that it lifted my spirits.

Our class was filled with silly laughter. It was like improv combined with children’s playtime. We started with pretending to be squirrels, running around eating imaginary acorns and giggling wildly. I immediately realized I had no idea what I signed up for. The absurdity continued from there. We were tittering trees, cackling mad scientists, chuckling penguins, and snickering sandpipers running into the ocean waves. We also tossed around an imaginary ball, that would send the person who caught it into a fit of laughter. The goofiness of the class meant that I did not need to force my laughter. It was real and infectious laughter. Each activity is concluded with childlike clapping of your hands and shouting “Very good, very good, yay!”

When I first told friends I planned to go to the class, many said they were not up to it after a very stressful week. However, once I described how fun and uplifting it was (and how they didn’t actually have to do any yoga) many expressed a desire to try it out in the future.

I immersed myself in the class and therefore did not take any photos or videos of my experience. However, if you are interested, here is a sample of what the class was like:

My First Obstacle Course Race: The Insane Inflatable 5K

Two things you should not do: (1) Attempt to run a 5K when you literally cannot remember the the last time you ran, and (2) attempt to do so when it is 90 degrees outside. But if you are going to do it, it might as well involve a dozen or so awesome inflatable obstacles. Last weekend the Inflatable 5K visited by town and I took that opportunity to tackle my first obstacle course race.

Inflatable 5K Starting Line

The race started with a climb up inflatable steps and a slide down the other side. Game on.

Inflatable 5K Big Balls

All of the obstacles were a little bit different. The one pictured above (“Big Balls”) was full of, well, giant inflatable balls.  You had to push your way past the 5-foot orbs to make it through to the other side.

There were volunteers at every inflatable offering encouraging words. Considering how hot it was outside, I am really not sure who had it harder, the people running or the volunteers standing in the sun. Either way, I really appreciated having them there.

Inflatable 5K Slingshot Climb

The “Slingshot” was the first obstacle (of several) with a rope climb. This probably would have been a little less difficult had I not also been attempting to carry a GoPro.

Inflatable 5K Crash Course

It was only 9:30, but the blaring sun made some of the obstacles a bit scorchy on the skin. It was definitely motivation to get up quickly and keep moving.

Inflatable 5K Wrecking Balls

Some of the obstacles were surprisingly difficult, like the “Mad House.” There was something about running up and down a a moving surface that made each step simultaneously more fun and more challenging.

Inflatable 5K Mad House

When I signed up I intentionally chose a wave that had fewer people in it. However, in hindsight, I wish I’d picked a fuller wave.It was a lot more enjoyable when there were several people scrambling on an inflatable at once.

Inflatable 5K Finish

The finish line had the biggest slide of the day. It towered over the starting line next to it. I slid to victory, anxious to collect my first medal and sit down to a delicious carb-filled breakfast.

Inflatable 5k Finish Line

Walking in to the event I overheard a woman exiting say that it was the hardest 5k she’d ever done. At the time, I thought to myself that it couldn’t be that bad and it was just a bunch of bouncy houses. It turns out she was right. The 5k was surprisingly exhausting. I keep telling myself it was the heat and not the excessive amount of time I spend sitting at my desk each week. Either way, I am looking forward to the next one.

Attending a Rugby Match

I love sports. All sports. Seriously, I will watch anything with a ball, stick, or fast engine. (Trust me, I have a fish named Peyton Manning). However, I go a little stir crazy January-August when I can’t get my weekly dose of college football. Fortunately, the summer weather brings outdoor sporting events like the Bingham Cup.

The match I attended was between the Ottawa Wolves and the Madison Minotaurs. Having no allegiance to either team, I used a very scientific approach when choosing who to cheer for: I picked the team from my favorite city. Sorry Madison, but Ottawa is like Canadian Disney World to me.

Rugby Line-Out

This was the first time I ever attended a rugby match, and while I picked up some of the rules as I watched, I am still pretty confused by the sport. There are quite a few differences from American football (though honestly, I would not object to incorporating some rugby rules).

First, when a ball has gone into touch (out of bounds), the play is often restarted by a “line-out” (see above). The ball is thrown is thrown back in to members of both teams. The player receiving the ball is hoisted into the air by two of his teammates. The lifted player in the line-out will attempt either to catch the ball or to knock it back to another player on the team. It looks pretty impressive.

Rugby Scrum

The only thing about rugby I was familiar with was the scrum. Mainly because I watch too much Friends. A scrum is a method of restarting play that involves players packing closely together with their heads down and attempting to gain possession of the ball. It looks like a lot of chaos and I was really unable to determine how it worked because I could not see the ball through the mass of men.

Rugby Conversion

Otherwise, there are a lot of similarities between the sports. The ball is advanced through forward movement and plays are ended when a ball goes out of bounds/into touch or if a player is tackled and forward movement is halted. However, in rugby, it is common for the player in possession to “off-load” the ball, passing out of the tackle (before forward progress is halted) in order to keep the play alive.

In rugby, a “try” is the equivalent to a touchdown. Despite the names, a try requires the ball to be “touched down” to the ground in the goal area, where, ironically, a touchdown does not. An American football touchdown scores 6 points and a rugby league try is worth 4 points. Both sports also have after-goal kicks for extra points. In rugby, it is known as a conversion and worth 2 points.

Rugby Tackle

As is no surprise, rugby is a tough sport. I was really surprised to see that the players did not wear any pads. As a result, I was unsurprised to see several players get injured. For example, one player had a laceration to his forehead and he was simply bandaged up and sent back in.

At another point late in the game the referee noticed that one player had blood on his leg. The ref ask “is that open, or someone else’s blood”? The player determined that it was his own, to which the ref responded, “then rub some dirt in it, there’s no blood on my pitch.” The player then picked up some dirt, rubbed it in his wound, and resumed play. If that isn’t badass, I truly don’t know what is.

Rugby Kickoff

Rugby season and finals last through August 6, so if you are in search of a football summer supplement, look no further. In case you were wondering, the Wolves beat Madison in sudden death overtime 17 to 12. Go Wolves!

Now, for your enjoyment, the episode of Friends in which Ross attempts to play rugby and fails miserably. It seems like an accurate portrayal.

Hooray for Hollywood: Hiking to the Hollywood Sign

I go to Los Angles for work every few months, but I rarely get to see any of it.  This trip, I got to sneak off for the afternoon with my brother and sister-in-law (who live there) for some touristy fun. I don’t like the typical tourist activities and wanted to do something a little off the beaten path, so to speak. When I found out that you can (legally) hike up to the Hollywood Sign I knew I had to do it.

View of Hollwood Sign

The Hollywood Sign originally read “Hollywoodland” and was erected in 1923 to advertise a new housing development in the Hollywood hills. It was only intended to last a year and a half, but has become one of the most recognizable images in the world.

There are several paths up to the sign, but I decided on Hollyridge Trail because the end of your hike actually takes you behind the sign! It is a 3.5 mile round-trip mike that ascends about 750 feet to the top of Mt. Lee. However, if you are visiting on a weekend or holiday you cannot park anywhere near the trailhead. The trail begins at the end of Beachwood Dr., which is residential parking only. (Plug 3400 N. Beachwood Drive into your GPS to get there). We ended up parking 1.3 miles from the trail, making our journey to the top and back over 6 miles. The extra walking was worth it. Beachwood is a beautiful street with unique homes and fragrant fauna. The shaded walk smelled of honeysuckle and lemon trees. Be sure to hit up Beachwood Cafe at the beginning of your hike for a snack and the worlds greatest basil mint lemonade.

Holly Ridge Trail Smokey the Bear

The trails are either dirt or paved road. There isn’t a lot of hiking involved, but it is almost all steep hills. However, the dirt paths are also horse paths so they smell a bit . . . manurey.

Horseback Riding Hollyridge Trail

A few minutes into the Hollywood Trail hike the path splits and intersects with Mulholland Trail. This is, of course, completely unmarked. We walked right past the turn off and continued straight for several minutes. So, if you visit, be sure to take a sharp left when you come upon the junction. (We should have followed these directions).

Hollyrdige Trail View

But the detour wasn’t all bad. The views were incredible and the foliage was extra green from recent rains.

Holly Ridge Trail view of Los Angeles

Every once in a while the city of Los Angles would peak out from behind the hills and remind us that it was there. The trail was serene compared to the bustling city below.

Trail Behind Hollywood Sign

As you reach the peak of Mt. Lee the legendary sign comes into view. The 45-foot-tall letters tower over the city below.

View Behind Hollywood Sign

Although it was a bit overcast (for LA) you could still see for miles. Downtown LA is off to the left and the Pacific Ocean is off to the right. (You can click on the images to enlarge them). At a peak of 1700 feet, the view of Los Angeles was incredible. However, it was also incredibly windy and cold.

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After we finished our picture taking we headed back down the hill to loop around to see what we were told was “the best view of the sign in the city.” The same trail that takes you to the peak also swings back down around in front of the sign. It was, of course, yet another incredible view.

Posing in front of Hollywood Sign

The whole trip took us about 3 hours, and it was well worth the time. I would happily do it again just to get another chance to see the view. It was a great way to do something touristy without dealing with the crowds and traffic. Above all else, it was perfect for some quality family time.

PS: Shout out to my buddy Brad for inspiring the hike, even if he is pissed at me for not telling him I was in LA.

Ropes Course

It has been a while since I did anything athletic on my To Do List. Generally, athletic activities are my favorite type of New Thing because they have a good mix of adventure, excitement, and hilarious embarrassment. Recently, the Soar Adventure Tower opened near Nashville so I figured it would be a good opportunity to try a ropes course for the first time.

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The tower has 4 levels with several individual platforms. Each platform connects you to 3 different elements, for a total of over 110 climbing adventures. The elements range from rock walls to monkey bars to swinging planks you have to cross.

My friend Amy, who has accompanied me on at least 6 prior adventures (the most of which recent being zorbing), drove in from Knoxville to spend the weekend with me. Almost every adventure we’ve had together has required some sort of liability waiver. Amy is good at basically everything, and took to the ropes course much more naturally than I did. (See her exuding awesomeness below).

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We started when they opened at 10:00, partly because it was supposed to be close to 100 degrees that day (yes, in September) and partly because we had a full day of football watching planned afterwards. This is a fairly typical girls weekend for us.

One of the first obstacles I attacked was a surfboard. You could either push off the platform and awesomely “surf” to the other side, or, you could do as I did, and awkwardly pull yourself to the other side with a rope.

Amy took to things pretty naturally. Despite a back injury, she handled the rock wall like a pro. (Amy actually joined me on my very first rock climbing adventure).

Soar Adventure Tower has a special “fallstop” belay system that keeps you locked in and ensures that the climber is never detached from the safety line. You are attached to the safety line by two carabiners and, once attached, the interconnected carabiners can only be opened one at a time. To unhook and go from element to element you had to push a carabiner into a “Tweezle,” which allowed you to detach the other carabiner and move it to a different line. Being short, I had to get creative about this process and hang on to the polls like a monkey to reach the wires.

I didn’t really get the hang of things until we reached the top level, 45 feet above the ground. But once I warmed up I really enjoyed it.

While some of the elements looked simple, they required strength and stretching that left me sore for days. It definitely fell into the category of “it’s harder than it looks.”

In fact, some elements I definitely would have fallen off of if I was not harnessed in.

My favorite element was a cargo net on the top of the tower.

There was one element I could not complete. It involved disks that you stood on and you jumped from one pole to the next. Despite some helpful instructions from the staff, I just could not maneuver my way across. However, spinning back and forth on the poll was both fun and hilarious.

Now that I know what to expect I’d really love to go back and attempt it again. However, next time I will come equipped with a bottle of water attached to me to stay hydrated. Even just a short time there wiped us out and we couldn’t make it down fast enough to get rehydrated. However, fall is coming and the weather will (hopefully) cool down eventually.

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