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Fitness for the Easily Bored: Eaton Canyon Waterfalls

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I’m a sucker for natural scenery. I like a vast blue sky, a sparkling snow-capped mountain, a breezy sprawling plain. But around Hollywood where I live, I find that exercising in the outdoors often means kicking up dust and breathing in smog, only to take in the beautiful sights of dried out vegetation and dog poop.

So when my boyf told me that there’s a place in Pasadena that we could hike to a waterfall, I was all over it. No dusty Runyon Canyon, no starlets walking their Chihuahuas, and maybe even a little moisture in the air.

Nestled up in the hills, Eaton Canyon offers 1-mile, 2-mile, and 8-mile trails, according to their website. 1-mile felt just kind of embarrassing, like you couldn’t even really tell anyone about doing it, but the 8-mile is obviously a ridiculous distance to ask anyone to cover. So we settled on the 2-mile, figuring that would build in time for a leisurely lunch at the waterfall.

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Our first challenge was locating the hike in the first place. The entrance to the 2-mile trail was closed, we learned upon asking a friendly passing Pasadena pedestrian, due to mudslides. But he directed us to another entrance, one a bit further down the hill but easily accessible and, he said, on the way to the waterfall. Hidey-ho, neighbor!

The entrance he pointed us to was actually just a break in a gate, making a somewhat unceremonious beginning to our highly anticipated outdoor adventure, but it was lovely right off the bat. There’s a babbling brook that runs all the way down the trail, and the path winds through a deep valley.

It was a beautiful day – not too hot, not too cold, ham sandwiches stowed happily in backpack alongside camera, water bottle, and extra sweatshirt. The sun, which is sometimes one of my biggest beefs with outdoor exercise, was playing nice and holding back it’s most blistering rays.

The trail began with a pretty smooth path. I remembered the website saying that the hike includes a lot of “boulder-hopping,” which sounded like either a euphemism or a lie to me. You don’t really “hop” from “boulder” to “boulder.” You either leap for dear life with all your strength from boulder to boulder, or you hop delicately from like, lily pad to lily pad.

At first, this “boulder-hopping” applied to little rocks dotting the length of the brook that required you to step from one to the other, with the occasional small spring. If you missed, you landed your foot in 3-inch deep water. No big deal.

After walking for about 15 minutes, we came to a bridge. “This is the bridge I think we were supposed to start from,” said the boyf. Hot sweaty balls, does that mean we’re only just now starting the 2-mile hike?

“It feels like we’ve already gone a mile,” I whined. “That means we’re going to do four miles round trip.”

“Well, four miles isn’t that bad,” he countered. Fair enough, and we did have ham for sustenance. We walked on.

Right after the bridge, we stumbled upon a small, stupid fall of water. It was maybe seven feet high.

Is this it?? We both wondered, confused and disappointed. Surely not. The water was still flowing and if this was supposed to be the big exciting fall that some suckers walk eight miles for, well, I would eat my hat. We kept going.

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Around this time, the babbling brook started to babble a little harder. The pathway narrowed, and the air got cooler. A little further down, I realized what they had meant by boulder-hopping.

While I wouldn’t really have called any of the stone masses that we encountered “boulders,” they were certainly big rocks, and they did necessitate something akin to a hop. The trail on either side of the water ended every 50 feet or so, meaning that we had to zig-zag across the stream to make our way towards what we assumed was the real waterfall. As the trail got narrower and narrower, our hopes got higher and higher that around each corner would be the prize.

“OK, after this next turn we’re definitely going to hit the waterfall,” we’d say to each other, sure that we had gone the requisite mile.

Soon enough, my hopping turned into fuck-this-I’m-just-going-to-step-in-the-water. Judging by the other people we passed sporting pants that were wet up to mid-thigh, I wasn’t the only one who bailed on the idea of being a light-footed forest nymph. My shoes were filled with water and my pants were hiked up to my knees, but the scenery was only getting better. And I felt pretty hard-core, sacrificing my sneakers like that.

We were up to parts of the stream that required planning before crossing. More than once I had to double back and try a different way across. I suddenly knew what it was like for Frodo on the way to Mordor to dispose of the ring against all odds.

Finally, we turned a corner and lo and behold, falls! And…people! As it turns out we weren’t the only ones to discover this hidden gem. In fact, some folks had come far more prepared with their fishing rods. I was skeptical about what kind of fish they were catching in the little plunge pool, but hey, whatever floats your paper sailboat.

It was chilly around the base of the falls, but there were plenty of rocks to sit and eat, which was pretty much the main reason for doing the hike. There was a young couple next to us who were really savoring the moment by groping each other and doing little smack-y smack-y kisses, but other than that it was mostly families, and couples like us that learned about ten years ago that no one wants to listen to the gross noise that you make when you kiss your partner lightly on the lips.

The hike back seemed about ten times shorter than the hike there, probably in part because we weren’t anticipating the falls around every bend and also because we had figured out how to navigate the stream (I was kind of just walking through it by that point).

All in all it was a three-hour excursion, and well worth it. Perhaps I’ll even considering working up to that 8-mile…

Photos by Jessica/LAist

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