ADVENTURE HIKES AND CANYONEERING© Christopher Earls Brennen
IN THE SAN GABRIELS
Hike B15. Fall Creek
- Hiking time: 5 hours
- Estimated hiking distance: 4.6 miles
- Elevation gains: 240 feet and 460 feet
- USGS Topo Maps: Condor Peak
- Difficulties: Four rappels down waterfalls, one 70ft high; some bushwhacking and wading
- Special equipment: Rappelling gear with 200ft rope, 50ft of webbing, 3 rappel rings, dry bags
- ACA Rating: 3B III
Fall Creek is a small tributary of Mill Creek that tumbles down the cliff wall of Big Tujunga Canyon a little distance downstream of the point where the Fall Creek fire road crosses the river. These waterfalls are readily viewed (and studied) from the fire road on the other side of the canyon and so, unlike most other hikes, you have a chance to plan your rappels in advance.
This is a relatively short adventure hike that rappels down the four waterfalls by which Fall Creek makes its dramatic entrance into the Big Tujunga. These rappels are quite demanding (the last and highest is about 70ft high) and should only be undertaken after some simpler experiences. They represent an exciting (and wet) challenge, ideal for a warm spring or summer day.
The trailhead for this hike is the dirt parking area (at 34o17.82'N 118o10.20'W and elevation 3090ft) by a locked gate on Big Tujunga Canyon Road, 0.5mi southwest of the junction with the Angeles Forest Highway.
This adventure begins in the same way as several others we have described. You proceed through the locked gate (34o17.82'N 118o10.20'W) and hike the 1.7mi down the dirt road (5N27) to the floor of Big Tujunga Canyon; this is reached in about 30min. Near the bottom you will be treated to an excellent view of the Fall Creek Falls on the opposite or northwest wall of the canyon. Fall Creek makes the final plunge into Big Tujunga in a spectacular series of four waterfalls respectively 25ft, 35ft, 20ft and 70ft high reading from the top down. This series of falls provides the core of the present adventure.
Fall Creek falls
To access the top of these falls, you cross Mill Creek (the name of the river in Big Tujunga) using the rudimentary concrete bridge (at 34o18.31'N 118o9.61'W and elevation 2380ft) and continue to follow the fire road as it climbs the opposite wall of the canyon. It then contours into a valley and, 0.6mi from the river and 1hr from the start, you reach the point where the road crosses Fall Creek (at 34o18.62'N 118o9.87'W and an elevation of 2620ft). From here you follow the streambed of Fall Creek, pushing through brush in several places, until you arrive at the top of the first waterfall 1hr 30min from the start. The view down the falls and into Big Tujunga is quite awesome and you should pause here and enjoy it before you start your descent.
The first waterfall drops vertically about 25ft into an attractive little grotto and pool. However, the easy descent and the only convenient anchor are off to the right where several lengths of webbing have been threaded through a crack in the rock. We chose to add our own loop of webbing in order to be safe and you may wish to do the same. The rappel is easy though there is an awkward yucca plant growing on a ledge about half way down. Though there is a pool at the bottom, we were able to descend to the ground at the edge of the water.
The second and third waterfalls follow immediately after the first. Fortunately two substantial trees are growing on the small plot of flat ground just below the first falls and these provide an excellent anchor for the second rappel. However, when you look down from this vantage point, it is clear that there is no reliable anchor between the second and third falls. Indeed, the large, waist-deep pool below the second waterfall discharges immediately over the third falls. Two alternatives are possible here. The best option is to continue the second rappel down the third falls. However, this requires a 160ft rope if you wish to do a double-strand rappel. A single-strand rappel can be completed with a 100ft rope but the rope recovery can be tricky due to the rocky lip of the second waterfall. And a rope hang-up here without a back-up rope means you are stranded above the last waterfall. The other option is to climb down the third waterfall on the left hand side; the climb is relatively simple but a little exposed and not recommended.
Below the third waterfall is pool with a small plot of land and a number of substantial trees, several of which are close enough to the fourth waterfall to provide excellent anchors. About 70ft high, this fourth waterfall (at 34o18.38'N 118o9.83'W) is the largest in this series. It is unusual for the San Gabriels in that there are a number of different routes for the descent. Either to the left or the right there is a small ridge and you can therefore set up for a dry rappel on either side. Alternatively, you may chose to rappel straight down through the notch in the ridge cut by the the stream, in which case you will certainly be treated to a shower on the way. The pool at the bottom is not very deep and it is only a few yards from the bottom of Big Tujunga Canyon and Mill Creek. You should reach this point (elevation 2360ft) about 4hrs from the start.
From the end of Fall Creek, it is a short 0.25mi hike upstream to the place where the Fall Creek fire road crosses Mill Creek (34o18.31'N 118o9.61'W). From there you hike back up the fire road to the trailhead which you should reach about 5hrs from the start.
Last updated 7/30/99.
Christopher E. Brennen