Hike To Ortega Falls

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06-May-2017 : It was 2:00 pm and we had just had our lunch. I was just back from grocery and the day was progressing slowly and me watching some documentary on Netflix and getting ready for a siesta! Then I heard G -> Are we going to spend this weekend at home only? Are we not going out some where? Enough of your afternoon siesta’s … You would have got the idea. So I was like yeah, lets go somewhere then, but where we want to go now, in the afternoon. See its raining. What a nice time for a quick nap! But G was not impressed and finally I had to get on the iPad and start looking for places to go.

I was earlier thinking of going to some beach, but outside it was raining and cold and so beach was not a good idea. G and Ar were looking for some trek near by and I was like if we have to go lets go to some distance. Rain made us think about waterfall and so we decided to head for one of the nice ones around. Now there are not many of them around Orange County to choose from and we were thinking of going to Holly Jim falls which is in Rancho Santa Margarita. I did some research on it and came to know that the last 4 miles to it is a dirt road and not good for cars with low clearance. So that was dropped and while looking for more options came across Ortega falls, which is not as close, but not too far.  Looking at pictures and some information it looked a good waterfall with some hike to it. So Ortega falls it was going to be! We quickly packed the snacks (no surprises!) and left.

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Outside it was quite cold, I was still thinking of home :). But we were on our way. We had the tank filled up at Costco and were off. It is around 29 miles from out home, close to 40 mins drive. The direction you take is Pacific Park -> Antonio Pkwy -> CA-74 E. In around 20 mins we were on CA-74 E. Its a small highway of 2 lanes and it was fun driving on it as it reminded me of some drives back home in India! The road is really nice and it paces through hills and then you start climbing the ghat, which is beautiful. The weather made the ride even more pleasing.

As you get closer to the top, the surrounding starts getting greener and greener and you start passing through clouds. It kind of reminded me of Mahabaleshwar. The highest point is around 2200 ft. Somehow we missed the exit for the falls as we kept going. You need to be careful to pull up at right place as there is no U turn and there is no way to go back. As we also wanted to visit the lake Elsinore which is on the other side of hills, we continued. As we started the descent, we could see the lake to our left. Its very big and quite scenic. We were downhill in 10 mins and pulled up close to the lake. We would have liked to go to lake park and spend some time, but it was already 4:00 pm and we still wanted to take a shot at the waterfall. So after spending some time on lake shore, we headed back on CA-74W and started the ascent.

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This time we set the direction on Google maps and not my GPS, which kind of confused us earlier. On the way the traffic was also less, so I was enjoying the drive. We pulled up at a vista point having nice views of the lake for a quick stopover. Then we headed straight to the entry point of falls. We could see some cars parked there and pulled over. In front of us was the valley and in the opposite side nice big hills. G went to the mound and spotted the waterfall hidden in the thick of bushes. So we took out stuff and started the hike.

The whole surrounding was green and covered with shrubs. There were few trees as well. There were many trails and we picked one which we thought was the shortest. We could see the waterfall on our far right and so we figured out we first would have to descend the valley to the floor and then climb back up to reach the falls. The weather was good so we were enjoying the trek, under sun it would be tiring as there are only few trees for cover. We were making OK progress, but the shrubs which crisscross you on the trails was a major irritant. Some of the shrubs had either thorns or were having leaves which can cause itching. So we had to be careful. As always Ar was leading the trek at many times and she was having fun. We were trying to teach her some basics of hiking and she kind of got it I think, but was reluctant to use her hands to hold rocks or trees and instead was using us as the stick 😉

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We reached the base on 15- 20 mins. On the way there were few cross trails and there was some argument between I and G on which one to take. At one point we were glad to have taken the one suggested by G, the other one would have taken us far off! But looking at so many trails, I was bit worried about our way back as they would be causing us confusion. I was trying to remember the paths, with some landmarks, but they would still cause us some worrying moments as we shall see. As we neared the base we could clearly hear the falls and flowing water. Finally we could see the stream and took a break there. Now we just had to follow it upstream to reach the falls. Here the stones are big, like boulders and also very smooth and slippery. We had to be careful crossing those, especially with Ar. Finally we reached the falls. It was small, but nice and I always enjoy the sound these make, which gives you peace. We could see some people who were further uphill from us, but it would have been bit tricky scaling the rock patch to it with Ar and so we decided to the stop there only.

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But I wanted to check whats up there and also see if there is any other way for us all to reach the top, I continued for some distance. I realized in sometime that the main waterfall is where we had taken the break and at top its just stream flowing through the stones. Also the stones there were more smooth and slippery and so didn’t make the case for them to get here and so I scaled down. The waterfall is small but pristine and the sound it makes as it falls and flows over the stones is amazing. It is surrounded by thick forest. We just spent some moments here just listening. Ar was excited to drop the small paper boat she had got from home, though she was sad it did not cover much distance. We had some snacks there, soaked in the nature for a while and then decided to head back. It was already 5:30 pm and though the Sun sets late now, due to cloud cover it was already quite dark and we wanted to be back through the maze of pathways at the parking lot before dark.

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We made good progress initially and Ar was looking more confident in the hike. We then hit one intersection and there was a confusion on which trail to take. There were at least 3-4 trails there and per my suggestion and the one against G’s we selected the middle road. We might have passed few meters and got stuck in thick bushes, which made us second guess my choice. Not a good thing to do!

So we turned back and took the trail which G had suggested earlier which was heading left. After sometime we reached another intersection where we took the one going up hill as we knew we had to keep going upwards. Luckily as this trail is located close to highway, we could see and hear the sounds of the vehicles so I knew we were on wrong path as the vehicles were appearing closer to our right and farther in the direction we were heading. But G was persistent and so she continued scaling the rocks, but finally I was able to convince her to head back. It was getting dark and I was worried, if we cant figure this out quickly we would be in real mess. So after backtracking, we took the same direction I had suggested earlier, just we used the parallel trail.

As we kept moving and the bushed really made it difficult as well as irritating, we started hearing the noise of the vehicles clearer, we knew we were in right direction, only not sure at which point we would exit. Finally we could see cars and we were out of the bushes and what was pleasantly surprising that we had exited at the same spot from where we had entered. Now that’s some sixth sense! Ar was bit tired in the last leg, but we had made it in time. We rested a bit and headed back to our home. On the way back nothing interesting happened, traffic was low though. We were back at our home by 6:45 pm. We had had a nice small unplanned trip and G was happy!

PS: Though the waterfall and surroundings was great at the falls itself there was some trash as well as graffiti on rocks which was sad 😦

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