Scouting Tangerine Falls

By Robert Bernstein

I had not been up to Tangerine Falls since before the 2017 Thomas Fire and 2018 Mud Flow. Tangerine Falls is off of the West Fork Cold Spring Trail in Montecito. We decided to scout it out this week. Here are my photos and videos in several galleries.

Even though it is coming up on three years, and I have been in this general area during that time, I still can’t get over how the area has changed. This is how it looks on the Cold Spring Trail as we approached the crossing to the West Fork Trail. It is so much wider than it used to be.

As we traversed this wide crossing, we encountered a father playing with his son. And we paused as I made this video of a beautiful little waterfall:

The trails were lined with bright flowers

But the ring net in this view out toward the Channel is a reminder that danger is still very much present. Far more loose material remains than came down already in 2018.

Here my wife shows off some of this loose material!

Thanks to Montecito Trails Foundation and many volunteers for restoring trails in difficult spots like this:

We soon came to the fork for Tangerine Falls and a warning sign advised that “Travel is Hazardous and Not Recommended”. Even the heroic Montecito Trails Foundation has not yet been able to restore the primitive trails that used to exist.

But that was not discouraging people from scouting it out. In fact, I don’t think I have ever seen so many people heading up there. And this was on a weekday in the middle of the day.

I looked up that canyon and remembered that my surgeon said I should not do any rock scrambling that involved pulling myself up. I still have several more weeks of healing before that might be possible. So I suggested my wife go ahead with another couple that we met and I would scout a side trail.

The side trail was very steep and slippery, heading up the left side of the canyon relative to the direction toward Tangerine Falls. But I hoped it would eventually curve over and drop down further up the canyon near the Falls.

But that is not how it turned out. Not at all. It just kept going ever higher, straight up. It was so steep and slippery that I could not imagine trying to go back down. And then I came to a total dead end:

I decided to climb this rock, putting most of the force on my legs and just using my hands for balance. I just hope I didn’t damage any of my surgeon’s skilled work.

For the next half hour I pushed my way through thick brush, climbing ever higher. No trail. No clear view of where I was. But eventually I was rewarded with this view:

Still no trail, but at least I knew where I was. I could see the main West Fork Cold Spring Trail in the distance. I suspected if I kept climbing higher I would eventually meet the trail that goes to the top of Tangerine Falls. Assuming that this trail still exists after the fire and mud flow. I really was not sure, given all of the changes in the area.

But I was indeed very lucky! My altimeter showed I had climbed 400 feet vertically through the brush. I did in fact reach the trail to the top of the Falls!

I decided to keep going uphill. I even had a crazy idea that I could shout down into the canyon to people. That was indeed a crazy idea. The distance was enormous. And they were surrounded by sounds of water and plenty of other things to hold their attention.

I climbed another 300 feet vertically and I got to see something that was not possible to see before the fire: A clear view of Tangerine Falls from above:

I made this little video of what I saw:


I hurried back down the trail until I got to the Tangerine Falls canyon again. Just in time for my wife to come back down the canyon with the couple she was with when I left her:

She said it was not easy, but it was passable. The only part my wife did not do was the final bit to climb right to the foot of the Falls. That was always difficult and dangerous. But now I am eager to get back there in three weeks or so when I am able to do rock climbing again. The other couple did go all the way up there.

We then coasted back down the West Fork Trail to the stream crossing. The other couple opted to stay in the stream bed the whole way. They were so agile, they moved about as fast as we did on the trail! At the crossing we stopped for a snack:

As we sat there, we took in a variety of wildlife that seemed to be doing OK. Here was a dragonfly:

There were plenty of blue belly fence lizards, as usual. But I was very pleased to see some tree frogs. I had not seen these since the fire and mud flow.

I believe that this is Pseudacris cadaverina, often called the California tree frog, but reclassified as the California chorus frog.

And that this is Pseudacris regilla, often called the Pacific tree frog, but reclassified as the Pacific chorus frog.

We also admired these delicate flowers:

As I say, I am eager to get back up the Tangerine Falls canyon when I am able to do so!


Written by sbrobert

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