One of the things I tell the groups I work with on a regular basis is: "You can create an Adventure anytime, anywhere with anyone." This is a story proving that point in dramatic fashion.
So how could we create a Bear Grylls-worthy Adventure in the 'wilds' of LA? Good question. Los Angeles isn't exactly known as a wilderness mecca.
To begin with, my 'Adventure-meter' is pretty sensitive. And it takes more stimulation to peg the scale on my chart than for most people. On a trip to Los Angeles, we had the good fortune to spend some time with fellow-North Vancouverites, the Studer Familly. Dan Studer and I are experts at finding fun things to do. So, following a morning longboarding session to get warmed up with my friend Dan, we had some choices to make.
|Dan & I longboarding the Venice Boardwalk.|
|My friend Ernie Thrash bases a little beach acro with Dan's daughter Austin and I doing our superhero impressions above.|
|Jordan violates Santa Monica's 'no-spitting' law with flagrant enthusiasm.|
The day had turned rainy - and I'm talking about ark-building weather. The backyard at my friend's Jack & Jeri's place began to resemble a pond. The kids and wives wanted to spend some time shopping at the Beverly Center, which sounded like a form of shiny torture to Dan and I. A decision had to be made.
|A good five inches of standing water appeared in a very short time.|
On our way out to the highway, there was an amazing deluge blessing the LA County region. City infrastructure was being taxed to the max.
|The storm sewers were overflowing all over the Valley.|
We had jackets that were somewhat waterproof and a tiny bit of gear as this is a hike I'd done several times in the past. On any other day, we would have been overdressed and more than prepared. This day, however, was a little different.
|On previous trips, this crossing would have been barely a trickle. This was swift brown water. And it was only just getting started....|
|Some pretty significant wooden detritus was washing downstream as we made our way across the , erm, excited stream multiple times.|
|I've never seen this creek more than ankle-deep here. Quite the transformation - little did we know what our return trip would look like.|
|Any excuse for a precarious balancing shot on a crumbling and soaked cliff/slope. We had to seek high ground to keep moving towards the falls as the creek was radically swollen.|
Ultimately, good sense ruled the day and we gave in to Mother Nature's apparent objective: to stop us from reaching our goal. And we had gotten so close, literally just another 100 meters to go. The waterfall was just around the bend through the narrowed section of the gorge.
|The rain only intensified. The torrent in the background is where we'd normally climb a bit of a rock to access the final short section to the little waterfall. It was impassable on this day.|
Plus, it was getting very chilly and we had not a dry stitch of clothing between us.
|This photo is from this fine account by Seth Smigelski of the Santa Ynez Canyon hike in better weather: http://www.examiner.com/outdoor-recreation-in-los-angeles/hiking-to-santa-ynez-falls Notice the 'normal' state of the creed bed. This photo corresponds to the image above where you see Dan perched on a rock 30 feet above and a good bit back from the exact same place. When we were there, the photographer would have been swept away by the flooded stream had he stood in the place this photo was taken. The big rock in the middle of this photo is completely submerged in the intense flow in our photo.|
Our light was fading, so we turned around planning to escape back to the car a little bit before darkness totally set in.
Progress was steady at first. Although, the stream's intensity had amped up several notches, so our frequent crossings were made a little more judiciously, sometimes with us linking hands for extra steadiness. We had made it two thirds of the way back to the safety of our vehicle when the water alarmingly began rising even higher. We watched in awe as actual trees that had been uprooted shot past us in the flooded canyon.
The sheer magnitude of the debris and the size of the logs/trees/wood that was accelerating down the canyon convinced us that the normally insignificant creek was too dangerous to cross on foot. Our first choice was to bushwhack up the canyon without crossing through dense brush and over thickets of downed trees and shrubs. We soon ran into a dead end forcing us back into the flood. I was getting colder and colder.
We backtracked and found a fallen tree that spanned the creek. The tree was not substantial, but seemed like it could bear our weight and keep us a scant 12 inches above the brown rapids below. We managed several adrenaline inducing crossings as we looked for a way out of the steep canyon.
|This is me crossing a mad-flowing river in the dark on a fallen tree that just barely supported my weight. With the onset of darkness, this was our last shot before the real off-piste Adventure began.|
I was shivering violently at this point. Crap.
We assessed our options.
1. Retreat upstream to a little cave where we could cuddle up and hunker down in the dirt for a freezing night. Hope our families don't freak out. Pray that the rain subsides so we'd be able to get back across the creek and back to our car.
This sounded like a distastefully passive option. Plus our families would worry up an even bigger storm. No.
2. Attempt the dangerous crossing of the torrential flood and hope we don't get taken out by a telephone pole sized log flying by at 15mph. Repeat several more times before getting back to our car. How deep the water was at this stage could not be determined - thigh high? Chest high? Who knows? The normally dry creek was about 12 meters across.
Dan being an experienced whitewater kayaker thought it was at best 'very dangerous'. Though I like risk, this kind of thing had too high a price to pay to consider playing out this option. Some fast moving water can be fun - as was our trip out. Some can be deadly. This looked like it might possibly be the latter. We didn't want to roll the dice. So, once again, no.
3. Find an alternative way out of the canyon by scaling the precipitous, eroding walls up to higher ground. Perhaps we'd be able to see some sign of civilization, or at least light, by gaining altitude.
This more active and empowering option appealed to both Dan and I. Let the Adventure continue. Yes.
We began on the North side of the canyon and started up a very steep embankment. The dirt was somewhat soft and friable with bands of semi-loose shale across portions. I found a fairly hard horizontal band of rock to cross to a more climbable section that lead to the top of the ridge above. Having had a good bit of rock climbing experience helped in this situation. Falling would have absolutely spoiled the day. It was an intense few moments getting across to a place where I could grab roots and brush to help me up to the top of the edge.
Dan chose a route slightly higher. He had injured his shoulder a few days earlier in an out-of-control-descent on his longboard skateboard in Death Valley on the way down to LA. Thus it was with some degree of alarm that I made out his figure hanging on with one arm to a protruding root after his feet slid out on the crumbling dirt cliff side. I'm glad he is strong and tenacious. Lucky he had one good arm to arrest his fall. We both made it to the ridge and reconnected.
Sadly, from the ridge, there was no sign of civilization and we were surrounded by brush that most sane hikers would consider 'impenetrable'. I had a rough idea of the direction we ought to be heading, but no direct evidence to back me up. But, better to forge forward than once more find ourselves stopped as the last vestiges of light disappeared.
Now about those impenetrable bushes. Turns out, you can belly crawl underneath them and avoid most of the thicket and thorns. So we had that going for us. 10 minutes of commando crawling lead us to a space with a little more open vegetation. This also gave us a glimpse of a set of condominiums several deep gorges beyond where we were. If we could make our way over to them, we'd at least be back to a place where we'd be able to get back to the car. There were several daunting complications, though.
The gorge ahead of us plummeted downwards a disheartening distance. Nevertheless, we carried on, plowing through California's finest thickets, trees and underbrush. We literally crawled a good distance. We were absolutely drenched, freezing and covered with a liberal amount of dirt and debris.
And in a few short minutes we strode across the last section of hillside to a private condominium community - with huge smiles pasted onto our mugs. We'd escaped.
Not only that. There was a convenient hose close by that we used to wash the worst of the dirt off of ourselves. The noise of our relieved laughter brought out a neighbor from a nearby garage. "Where did you come from?" he asked.
"From over there." We pointed to the savage terrain we had just traversed.
"But there is nothing over there?" he stammered still confused by how we had appeared at the end of his drive.
"True. We were stuck in a bit of a flash flood and had to bushwhack our way out to escape." We turned to depart before the guy called the authorities on the trespassing neanderthals who had just emerged from the wilderness.
After a little walk back to the car we quickly changed and made our way back to rejoin our families. Cell coverage once more kicked in and we called to explain our lateness.
Without much exaggeration, I would call this a life and death encounter with the wild side of the outdoors - and we'd experienced this smack dab in the middle of Los Angeles. While this type of thing could have ended badly, some common sense, a positive attitude and a willingness to explore some dirty options saw us through.
It was like our own personal version of Man vs. Wild - the Los Angeles Edition.
If you can create an outdoor Adventure steps away from LA, you are doing something right in my book. Keep life interesting.
|The rain was so heavy that worms were forced to seek the surface to avoid drowning. They literally covered the trail in many sections.|
FINAL NOTE: There was good reason the conditions worsened as they did. This was a very unusual event statistically. Later, we were to learn that the rainfall broke records with a third of the usual annual total falling that day. Here is a story including some stats on the sodden LA Marathon that happened the same day: LA Record Rainfall Event