Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Chantry Flats, & Sturtevant Falls--an Epic Hike

This is a long post, with lots and lots, and lots, of pictures.
I tried to figure out a way to split it up, but it ended up being 3 different posts and I am just too tired for that much thinking.  So here it all is.  An epic hike and an epic day in my life as a mom.
**If you just want info about the hike, scroll through the pictures and go to my info at the bottom of the post.
There are days when I am so proud to be the mom of my kids, proud of myself and the work that I am doing, and proud to be part of an amazing group of women who are investing themselves in their children in amazing ways.
This day was one of them.
We'd been trying to hike Chantry Flats for several weeks, but the weather kept stopping us.
None of us had ever done the hike, but research told us that rain slicked trails would not be a good match for our little hikers, so it was put off.
Finally despite some trepidation on all our parts, we went for it.
We wanted to hike to Sturtevant Falls--total trail mileage is 3.7 miles.  
That's a long hike for little legs.  (or 7 month pregnant legs)
But our kids were all pumped to see a real life waterfall--50 feet-- that's big for So Cal standards.
So we went for it.

Before we began, the kids warmed up with some calisthenics.  

Totally initiated and led by them.  I think they knew it was going to be a big hike.

The trail starts off on a paved road, under the protection of shady trees.  It's all down hill.
400 feet of down hill to be exact.  (check out my little hiker with her hiking stick--so cute!)

But remember, that is 400 feet you'll be climbing back up at the end of your almost 4 mile hike.
Believe me, all us mamas were thinking about that as we went down, down, down.

At the bottom of the hill, there is the first waterfall sighting.  The kids are elated.
There are lots of cries of, "Oh my goodness!"  "Wow!"  and a general air of feverish excitement.

We cross a bridge (the only real one) and learn a bit about the history of the cabins that dot the trail.

There are a lot of them, many still inhabited.  The present day residents pack in supplies with mules.
Just like they did 100 years ago.
It's pretty awesome.

At this time of year, the trail is a riot of wild flowers and butterflies.  I saw more varieties of butterflies than I have ever seen before.  It was incredibly beautiful.

This plant is one of my favorites.  Ceanothus, or California Lilac as it is also called, it blooms all spring in the hills of Southern California.  It covered the hillsides in Fallbrook, where I grew up, so it reminds me of home.  

Although the hills above the creek (river?  depends on where you're from, I guess. to me this is more than a creek!) are dry and covered with the more dessert vegetation common to Southern California, once you are down in the creek bottom, the landscape is lush and green.  
The creek changes constantly: calm and idyllic in one spot, tumbling and churning in another.

It was hard not to be a little bit (or a lot) proud of our brood as they hiked this trail.  We had 2 to 6 year olds hiking alongside people covered head to toe in full on hiking gear.
It is not a stroller friendly trail--even a rugged jog stroller couldn't make it.  So if your kid can't ride on your back, he is going to have to walk.  
And ours did.  
Yeah, I was really proud of them.

Here is one of the cabins that dot the trail.  This one looks like it is still someone's home.
It's perched right next to the creek and I can't help wondering if how it would be to live in such a place of amazing beauty.  
I also wonder how it would be to pack in groceries for my family of 5 on a mule.
I don't know if I could really do it.

Here is where we come to the first real crossing of the creek.
And here is where the creek felt like a lot more than "just" a creek.
If you come shortly after a heavy rain, I imagine this crossing would be very difficult, if not a bit dangerous.  It certainly would be with small children.  
As it was, we needed quite a bit of help to maneuver all our kids, and ourselves across.

Thankfully, a number of other hikers stepped up to the challenge.  
They stationed themselves along the slippery rocks and wiggly logs and handed our kids to one another.
Here's William getting some help across.

Besides the kids, there were also some moms who needed a little help: a 7 months pregnant lady with her center of gravity quite thrown off, a mom with a 7 week old baby strapped to her chest, and another mom with a 1 year old baby strapped to her back.
There were parts where our legs were shaking, and yes, we caused quite a back up, but we made it!
And it was actually pretty moving to see the way people stepped up to help us out.

After Fiddler's Crossing, the trail becomes more rough and narrow.
There is another section of the creek to cross (we got more help)

And then we came to this:

We were so close we could see the falls peeking through the trees.
But that section of the river seemed just too difficult to cross.  
I was incredibly disappointed.

But a couple of the moms decided we could do it and waded out.  
We worked together, no other help this time, carrying each other's kids, helping the moms with babies strapped to them, and carefully maneuvering through the deep and slippery parts, until we were all safe on the other side.
It was totally worth it!
I think all of us were awestruck by the power and beauty of the waterfall.  
The force of the water was so strong that it created a wind at the base of the falls.
The spray was cold.
It took our breath away for many different reasons.
And I think of the lesson my kids learned that day: to persevere. 
How real was this lesson that hard work and effort are worth it in the end?
I don't think they will ever forget it.

I love this picture so much.
Look at all those kids!  It's an army. (and this is only half of our group!)
Like I said, I am so proud to be part of this group.  I can't imagine a better way to school my kids than alongside these women who are willing to take part in such adventures. 
What a blessing.

We didn't have a lot of time to spend at the falls--after all, there was still a long hike back.
We ate our lunch, took a few pictures, saw a baby rattlesnake sunning on a rock and got the heck out of there.  (were the kids ever stoked on our first rattlesnake sighting!)

I am just posting this picture because I love it and because I want to remember Lil on this hike forever.
She did the whole thing herself.  
Not even 3 years old and she hiked almost 4 miles.  That girl has some serious determination.
I love her.

I tried to get a picture of all of us because, truthfully, I was so proud of all my kids and the way they did this hike, but they weren't into it.  Like I said, it was cold by that waterfall.

Heading back across the creek this time wasn't nearly as scary.

It was just as slippery and deep, but we had experience on our side this time.
(yes, I know, I'm huge.)

And yes, we got pretty wet.

The kids found a salamander.  They named her Sally.  She was loved upon and petted and then set free.

Even though it is not a loop trail, the return trip is still beautiful.
Since you are not looking at the water quite so much, you notice other things.  Like wildflowers growing out of the rocks and steep hills covered in green moss.

It was nearly 2 on our way back and there was a lot less traffic on the trail.
It was peaceful.

The kids were amazing hikers the whole way.  Even up that loooooong steep hill at the very end--they did it.  I helped them along with a stash of jelly beans and lots of encouraging words.
But it was hard.
I was beginning to wonder if the baby would just fall before I made it to the top.

This was the only time I heard Lilly complain.  She asked me to carry her, and when I told her I couldn't, she said, "but I'm just a little girl."
She's just a little girl, but she made it to the top.
We all did.
And it felt so very good.

I know, 3. 7 miles isn't really that big of a deal.
But to 2 year olds, 4 year olds, even 6 year olds, it is a long way.
There were river crossings for mommies with babies in them or on them.
And by the end of the hike, I felt like I had earned some serious mommy badges.
What incredible memories I am making with my kids.
Yes, I know I am very, very lucky.

The kids were all really proud of themselves.
I heard this a lot: "that was the most amazing hike EVER!"
I can't wait to go back.
But I think I'll wait until this baby is born.
Because I don't feel like having the baby in one of those cabins.

If you decide to hike Chantry Flats, here are some helpful links with directions and information:

Helpful Hints about this trail:
I recommend this be done during the week.  
If you go on the weekend, expect lots and lots of people--maybe go at sunrise.
You need an adventure pass to park ($5) and you can get them ahead of time at places like Big 5 or the liquor store at the bottom of the hill.
There is a very strong possibility you will get wet on this hike.  Either bring extra shoes or wear ones that you can walk in wet.
We encountered lots of dogs on the trail.  They are supposed to be leashed but lots weren't.  Keep this in mind if your kids are nervous about dogs.
I think this is a perfect hike for late fall, winter (unless there has been recent heavy rains) and spring.
If you go in the summer, the hike in and out will be very hot.  Take lots and lots of water.
Obviously kids can do it, but if your kids are not used to hiking, it will wear them out.
This trail is not stroller friendly.

There are lots of other trails besides the ones to the falls.  I am looking forward to going back and exploring those.
I do so love a good adventure.

If you made it to the end of this looooong post, you are as determined as my Lil.
Congratulations, you did it!

Happy trails.
Love from,


Anonymous said...

Oh, Greta!! I loved this post! Look at you, 7 months pregnant doing this hike with your three fabulous kiddos!! The pictures are gorgeous and the story of the hikers helping you across made my heart squeeze a little bit.

katie said...

1. Amazing that you did this 7 months pregnant.
2. No, you are not huge.
3. You look adorable.
4 I want to do this hike.
5. The rattlesnake freaked me out-will wait to winter.

Terrie said...

Very neat. It amazes me that Lilly can do that at her age. What an amazing group of women too. Pretty awesome.

Pam... said...

You go girl!

Karen Bayne said...

How wonderful for you all. Greta you look great!

Tammy Callis said...

So impressed by you mammas. Gorgeous pictures!

hannah singer said...

wow! what a fun trip! i love that cute frog photo;)
(your blog is beautiful!)

B.Deck said...

I ran across your blog while trying to decide where to take my grandchildren hiking this week. We actually did the Sturtevant Falls hike in April 2008 (I had done it several times previously by myself). Anyway, my granddaughter was a little over 4 at the time, and my grandson was 20 months----so I can truly relate to your experience with the creek crossings, the fire road, etc. We even saw a salamander by the creek, too! Our "little guy" had to be carried a good deal of the way, but the 4-yr-old made it on her own. That fire road is a killer, though!!! Nevertheless, it was a hike they have been begging to do again----maybe we will do that one tomorrow. Your pics are fantastic! You have every reason to be proud of the kids and yourself. Thanks for sharing.
B. Deck

Jenny said...

I was deciding if i should take my ten week old baby there this weekend. After I saw a mom with her seven week old im convince:-) Thanks for writing this really help with my decision for this weekend:-)