Tangerine Falls Impossible Loop
By Robert Bernstein
Tangerine Falls was never an easy hike. It is at the end of an unnamed trail off of the West Fork Cold Spring Trail in Montecito. But the 2018 mudflow destroyed what little there had been off the trail. I had tried a couple of times since then to get to Tangerine Falls, but did not quite make it.
But that changed recently when I invited my hiking and unicycling partners Danielle and Nancy to come with me. They are super-strong and agile hikers and I was sure they would be able to find a way where I had run into trouble. Indeed they did and here are my photos!
Danielle also invited her son Charles along. As you have seen before, Charles is very skilled at finding and gently handling wildlife. His mission was to find at least one newt for us, which he did admirably! Here is a short video Danielle made of it swimming.
Here Nancy held the newt as Danielle looked on.
Charles made sure she wet her hands first in the pool so that its delicate skin would not be injured.
A bit further along I stepped right past a baby rattlesnake without even seeing it. Danielle was right behind me and spotted it tightly coiled up with its head looking straight up at us:
The route to Tangerine Falls now is one challenge like this after another:
In a few cases there was a way around the challenge. But in most cases it was necessary to climb up the rocks. In one case I got stuck and felt that I was going to fall. Danielle rushed over and gave me a boost and rescued me!
Nancy brought her neighbor friend Dave along who had no way of knowing what he was getting into. For Nancy there is no such thing as a challenging hike. It is all easy for her! Dave is a retired fighter pilot and he gracefully took it all in stride!
At one point I was determined to find a way around one of the challenges. Nancy and Charles went on ahead while I proceeded to get the rest of us lost for a bit! We had to backtrack and go back up the stream bed just as Nancy and Charles had done.
We could see them way in the distance near the Falls posing for us!
We took turns photographing each other as we approached the Falls. Charles took this one of the rest of us:
The very last bit to get to the foot of the Falls had always been especially risky and challenging. The mud flow wiped out the previous route. Someone has placed a couple of ropes in that area which we used to advantage to go that final bit.
The Falls were completely dry. Even though water clearly was running underground to get to lower points in the canyon. Here Charles showed off his artistic rock creation in what normally would be a pool of water.We hung out there for quite a while. Except for Nancy who scouted up the rocks on the right side of the Falls. She got quite far up and came back, quite sure there was a way up. But I remember there had been quite a few rescues and injuries over the years going up that side. And when you get to the top, there is no way back, except to come back the same way. That is when most people get in trouble and fall.
Many years ago I used to lead a Sierra Club hike up the left side of the Falls. I had to stop doing that for a number of reasons. But it became especially difficult after the Tea Fire destroyed all of the trees that provided hand and footholds on the nearly vertical climb. That area became nothing but loose dirt.
Interestingly enough, the 2018 mudflow has made it easier now. It deposited huge piles of rocks which form new hand and footholds on the lower section. I suggested to our adventuresome group that we turn this challenging hike into an Impossible Loop!
It is hard to capture just how impossibly steep this is! But here is one photo that gives some indication.
You can see how the others are climbing almost straight up below me!
The top is way high up, far above the top of the Falls. We were so relieved and excited to have made it that we took turns posing in crazy places!
Coming down was relatively easy, compared with the challenges to get up. There is a fairly good trail from this overlook above the Falls all the way back to near the West Fork Cold Spring Trail.
We did encounter another baby rattlesnake that was coiled in the identical pose as the previous one down in the canyon.
There were quite a few wildflowers along this trail. I believe this is called Bush Sunflower or Encelia californica with a bee on it.
Further on was a tunnel through these flowering plants!
Here some Hummingbird Sage was mixed in.
And I believe this flower is called Pearly Everlasting which is like a bouquet of dried flowers with a delightful, delicate fragrance.
I do not necessarily recommend this hike for most people. It is challenging in many ways. It is easy to get stuck or to fall. If you do go, you should definitely have at least one companion.
There is no substitute for preparation. Do not ever take the attitude that you can just whip out your phone and call for help. Be prepared in advance and be self-sufficient.
Bring plenty of water and some energy-dense food like nuts. Start out early so you don't get stuck near sunset without a light. Bring a light if you can. Always carry a lightweight nylon windbreaker jacket in case it gets cold or you have to spend the night out in the wilderness. And don't forget to drink the water that you bring! It is very easy to get dehydrated without realizing it.
It is good to take on a challenge. But never take risks beyond your safety limit. We are fortunate to live in such a special place and we want to enjoy these adventures responsibly.