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.

Indoor Rock Climbing

For week 6 of my 52 Things adventure, I went indoor rock climbing at the Climbing Center at River Sports. The first Monday of each month is “Women’s Night” (it’s cheaper and there are snacks), so I figured I’d jump on the opportunity to scale some walls. I dragged my good friend Amy along with me.

Upon arrival, we were given a climbing harness and shoes. The harness consists of a waist belt, leg loops, and a belay loop. It looks extremely flattering on you while you are climbing. Not really. The belay is the only thing keeping you from plummeting to your death; it is the rope system that attaches and secures you to the belayer (your climbing partner). The climber is attached to the belay with a carabiner and rope, which is secured with a figure-eight loop, and the belayer is attached with a belay device. The belay device locks the rope in place and prevents the climber from falling a great distance. Hopefully.

Rocks

We received a quick tutorial from Rick at the climbing center to make sure we wouldn’t kill one another, because, as he explained, we are “precious.” He taught us how to properly secure ourselves and how to run though a pre-climb safety checklist. During the tutorial he told me that I was to do a “test fall” to make sure I was properly secured. Being a lawyer and quite literal, I immediately dropped to the floor. This, of course, was not what he meant. I was supposed to climb to a certain place on the wall and then fall. Apparently, I was the first person to ever do that during the instructions. At least it was worth a good (and well deserved) laugh at my expense.

I should mention at this point that I have a fear of heights. [Insert short joke here.] Unfortunately, I often forget about this fear. I don’t forget that I am afraid of spiders, bears, and the like . . . but somehow I always forget that I am quite terrified of tall places. (For example, my favorite thing to do when I visit a new city is to go to the highest spot–usually the top of a church–to take pictures. I always think this is a wonderful idea until I reach the summit. It isn’t the looking down that bothers me, it is the looking up and realizing just how high I am that gives me vertigo. When I visited Florence and climbed the 463 steps to the top of Il Duomo, I was convinced that there was going to be an earthquake and the top of the 600-year-old structure was going to come crashing to the ground. . . . Nobody said fears had to be reasonable.)

When I started my first climb I was all giggles, just like with each of my other New Things. However, once I realized what I was doing and that I needed to concentrate, I got serious and focused. My short stature did get in the way of my climbing at times, as I progressed towards the top reaching some of the holds proved a little difficult. On the other hand, the upshot to being tiny is that you have really small hands and feet, which made using the smaller holds to pull myself up easier. Occasionally, I managed to reach for a loose rock. Grabbing it for support only to have it spin out from under my grip was a little disconcerting. I would then have to figure out an alternate path up the wall. In all, I did 4 climbs with (what seemed like) varying degrees of difficulty. It might have just been me, but it always seemed that the last two feet were the most difficult to climb . . . nevertheless my stubbornness and determination won out in the end.

Climbing

When I wasn’t climbing, I was the belayer. This meant I was responsible for making sure my friend didn’t die (she is clearly very trusting). When it was her turn to do a practice fall I was not prepared. I was yanked off of the ground and thrown into the rock wall. It was unexpected and disorienting. Apparently we had a weight imbalance. (I should note that my friend is quite lovely and slender, it’s just that most everyone on the planet is taller than me and therefore weighs more than me). From that moment forward I was anchored to the ground. No harm was done other than a wonky elbow for me on the next climb and perhaps terrifying my friend momentarily.

I had a wonderful time climbing and hope to try it with a real rock wall once the weather warms up. The whole process was a lot easier than I expected, and if I can do it, anyone can.

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