It wouldn't be a real spring break for me if I didn't get in at least one hike and goodness gracious, great balls of fire, it was a tough one! Prior to Friday I would've said that with the exception of Three Sisters, I pretty much have hiked most of the major/popular hikes in the San Diego area. I actually had a chance to hike Three Sisters awhile ago when a couple of my friends and boyfriend went, but I was home sick with the flu (insert sad trombone here).
This time, with a full rested body and the help of an unexpected day off for my boyfriend, we drove about an hour and a half east to conquer this hike. Without a doubt, this was one of the most difficult and unconventional hikes I have ever done. It's not like your usual hike for several reasons. For one, you actually start at the top and have to work your way down only to work your way back up to see the set of falls in their entirety. The falls are actually only about 2 miles from the trail head and going down is definitely the easiest part.
Early on, we hit a steep section of loose, sandy dirt that there was no avoiding. Since my boyfriend had already done this hike before I trusted him when he suggested sitting on my butt and taking the steep decline like a giant sand slide. It was super fun until I glided over a big rock. That part, turns out, not so fun. Additionally, realizing that you just slid down a slope of loose sand and thinking about climbing back up said slope of loose sand, also not so fun. It is pivotal to keep your eyes on the prize to get through this hike.
After getting through that part we continued to trek downward. Finally we were greeted by the infamous rocks and ropes that I had read about in previous reviews of this hike. After making it past the steepest slope of loose dirt known to man, this rock area was a joke. I didn't even use the rope, I simply maneuvered my way down the rocks paying close attention to where I was placing and anchoring my feet. Almost there!
After we reached the bottom, there was a nice section of relatively flat and shaded terrain that provided a nice break before we had to figure out our way through boulders and water to reach the falls. This part of the hike was semi-marked but we lost sight of the trail often and just followed the stream of water upward. There's probably a more efficient way to get to the top then the route we took, but I think the route we took was the best route because it was "our" route and no one else can replicate it. :)
Finally we reached the bottom waterfall, and then climbed past more rocks to get to the second waterfall. We relaxed here for a bit celebrating our efforts with carrots, bell peppers, smoked almonds, and water. Yum! After seeing a bunch of people coming down from the rocks directly in front of us, I was eager to get to the top and see the final fall. My boyfriend didn't feel like climbing up any more rocks so I went to see the waterfall at the top solo. This was probably one of the scariest parts of the hike as there was little room for any missteps. I was really high up and again, with a lack of a clearly marked trail, it was just a game of trial and error to find the best areas for footing and advancing to the top - totally worth it. The final waterfall was stunning, but what was even more beautiful was looking back at everything I had already hiked and recognizing the level of endurance it took to get there. Huzzah!
Obviously, going back was incredibly challenging. Getting up that section of loose sand was one of the least enjoyable parts of the hike. It took a tremendous amount of discipline (and a handful of breaks to catch our breath) to make it. I rarely use my upper body so being forced to grab on to rocks for dear life while I sunk my feet in dirt with gravity beating down on me was no easy feat! We made it back to the car in one piece and although during the hike I kept telling my boyfriend, "I am never doing this hike again!" who am I kidding, I would totally do this hike again.
Tips and miscellaneous:
- Trail length: About 4 miles
- Duration of hike: 4 hours with ample time to admire the falls.
- Difficulty: No Padawans allowed, Jedi masters only. All jokes aside, this really is a challenging hike both physically and mentally.
- Season: Technically November through June but I say spring is the way to go. When my boyfriend went in the winter there was no water. I can't imagine doing all that hard work and not seeing any water!
- Elevation gain: 1000 ft.
- Type: Out and back.
- What to wear: Pants make sliding down the dirt slope way easier and safer so I definitely recommend them over shorts. People have mentioned bringing gloves if you have them, I went bare handed and they were filthy and a bit roughed up from all the rock climbing so gloves are not a bad idea. Lastly, shoes with good traction would also be a big plus. I'm still too poor (hey, beginning teacher's salary people!) to buy real hiking shoes so I went in my running shoes and I was fine, just be cautious of where you place your feet.
- What to bring: Lots of water, energizing snacks like nuts and fruit/vegetables, good company, and your camera.