Switzer Falls is probably one of the most heavily trafficked trails/sites in the Angeles National Forest. Containing a few moderate waterfalls, and considered to be an easy trail, it is frequented by people of all shapes and sizes. And yet, it was here that I learned a valuable lesson about knowing my limits.
On Memorial Day weekend we planned a trip up to LA to stay with friend, get a suit in downtown LA for a wedding we were attending the following weekend, and explore a site or two out in the mountains. I normally work on Mondays, and the business that I work at is generally open on all holidays so I don’t get many three day weekends. By chance I was able to get this Monday off, so we were able to extend our trip and stay the whole three days. We packed up our bags and were ready to go on Friday night when Jeremy was off work, and we set off. We made it about 60 miles outside of the city when Jeremy was struck with a sudden panic attack. We pulled off the freeway and sat for a while, talking it over to see if we should continue on or head home and start again in the morning. Eventually we decided on the latter option, and I hopped into the driver’s seat to get us home. Then I noticed that I was beginning to feel nauseated, which only got worse as time went on. We finally made it back home and Jeremy went straight to bed, while I went straight to the bathroom where I spent the majority of the night. Somehow I seemed to have contracted the flu, which unfortunately meant I spent hours throwing up until I was finally able to get to sleep around 4 AM.
So, our alarm goes off in the morning and Jeremy is feeling much calmer, having slept so hard that he had absolutely no clue about the state in which I had passed my own night. I’m still weak and feeling as though my stomach will rebel at any moment, so I suggest that he goes up by himself. He is not too keen on making the drive alone since he was still feeling anxious, and didn’t want to leave me alone at home. Unfortunately because we waited until the last minute to get his suit, and had somewhere specific that we needed to go, staying home was just not an option. So I made a nest of pillows and blankets in the passenger seat, and we made the drive as I cradled a box of saltines and an electrolyte beverage, while also trying to get some extra sleep in.
The drive was easy breezy since most of the holiday traffic was heading into San Diego and the northbound side was pretty empty. We got to our friend’s house where I proceeded to sleep for the majority of the day while they went to find Jeremy’s suit. I was disappointed in having wasted one of my valuable holiday weekend days, but I could barely stand without feeling as though I would pass out. We made plans with our friend and another to reconvene in the morning to head out into the Angeles National Forest for a short, easy hike. When I awoke the next day I felt a million times better, and was even able to gobble down a good breakfast at Penny’s Burgers (our favorite spot when we lived in Highland Park, I absolutely love them). I had been drinking plenty of water, and was feeling up to a short day hike. If I had been logical I would have known how untrue this really was. Like, 30 hours ago I was throwing up and crying on the floor. Why would I think that a day exerting myself in the sun was a good idea? Jeremy had been to Switzer Falls before, which I had not, and he insisted that it was super simple and that I should be fine. I don’t think that he took into account that it had been ten years, and he may not remember it exactly as it really is.
I am still glad that I went, because the Angeles National Forest is simply beautiful. I only went out there a handful of times during the years in which I lived in LA, and I definitely regret that fact. I should have spent much more time in this area, it has so much to offer and provides a great escape from the city. We parked on the main highway and walked down the driveway towards the entrance to the trail since it was clear by the number of cars we were seeing that the place would be pretty packed.
We were rewarded with a lovely view along the way down.
We walked the trail for some time, occasionally coming across parts of the creek that we had to cross over.
The trail heads up a canyon wall and is rather steep, where you pass over the waterfalls and come back down on the other side.
Once you reach the bottom again you follow the creek back towards the falls.
It was just before we reached the bottom that I really started losing all of my steam. The hike up had taken its toll on my weakened body, and at this point I knew it may be an issue getting out easily. Nevertheless, I continued on as we headed back towards the falls. Once we finally got back there it was packed with people, naturally, so we climbed up the side to the top part of the creek, just above where the crowd was swimming.
At this point we were able to rest, so I sat with my feet in the cold water to ease my overheated body. We ate some snacks and drank plenty of water, while enjoying our solitude since very few people climbed through while we were sitting there.
Perhaps the highlight of this break was being graced with the company of a thirsty little bee, who decided to come set down next to me for its drink.
The creek continued on back towards the larger waterfall, so after we felt sufficiently rested we began making our way back there.
Finally we made it to the end and had a chance to not only admire the lovely waterfall, but enjoy some time in the shade.
We made the trek back to where the trail headed up the way we came down, but the creek continued on and the others wanted to check it out. At this point I was reaching the end of my rope, but instead of expressing this I went along with it even though I could barely put one foot in front of the other. We didn’t make it very far before I finally had to vocalize my need to quit for the day. I was beginning to get dizzy and had to use one of our emergency electrolyte tablets and sit in the shade for a while. They explored a bit more while I sat and waited and enjoyed my time among the trees.
It came time to begin the climb back up, and we knew we were going to be in for a rough one. Our friends were both doing okay, but as I said I had already reached my limit and Jeremy was soon to follow. His own body was not in the best state after two days of intense anxiety attacks, and a day spent hiking in the heat finally took its toll. We dipped some material into the creek and draped it over our neck and shoulders, allowing it to cool us down as we began our ascent. We both had to make frequent stops to rest and drink water, which I can only imagine was quite annoying for those with us. They of course were polite and understood that we were both struggling, but I still felt like a burden. As I watched many people, including small children, pass us with ease, I had to keep telling myself that I wasn’t weak and that it was just the illness I was recovering from. I felt ashamed as they stared when they passed me, and was mentally scolding myself for even joining in on the outing to begin with. I really didn’t know what I was in for, and just trusted the word of someone who hadn’t been there in a decade.
It look us a long time to make it back up, and there were points when we definitely wanted nothing more than to sit down and not get back up. Luckily it was such a heavily trafficked trail, because if something had happened and we didn’t make it back up there were plenty of people around. Situations like this have arisen for people who were not in such an ideal position, and the consequences can be, and have been, much worse for them. My takeaway from the experience is to respect my body and pay attention. Your body will tell you when you’re done, and mine had told me hours ago. Sometimes it is hard to admit your limits, and the idea of disappointing the others that I was with kept me going much longer than I should have. My body was already in a state where I should have been doing nothing but resting, yet a fear of missing out and/or looking weak made me sacrifice my well-being and tag along.
More and more I am beginning to understand that activities like hiking don’t just challenge you physically, but mentally as well. Just as my body is slowly becoming stronger which each adventure, so is my mind. I’ve hit so many mental roadblocks that I have had to get through, and come to realizations about myself that I had been avoiding. This is what I mean when I say that I have been using this as a form of therapy. I have been learning so much about myself and what I am capable of, as well as what has been hindering my growth. I am still trying to find the balance between just giving up and not pushing myself, and pushing myself too far out of fear of giving up. This has always been something I have dealt with, having the nagging voices in my head telling me I’m not good enough, strong enough, or smart enough. I either listen and give up right away, or push myself to a breaking point and then feel as though those thoughts were right all along. The proper course of action, obviously, it to get to know your limits and understand once you’ve reached them. You can push yourself further and further each time, but don’t push yourself too far to where you give up and don’t try again.
So now I come away from this experience with a new perspective, finally having a bit more understanding in regards to what I can and cannot do. I can absolutely push myself further, as I did when I was struggling climbing Garnet Peak, and feel the sense of accomplishment at the end. I can NOT go on a day hike in the hot sun while recovering from the flu, after having spent two days with no real food or water intake. Sometimes it takes an absurd and extreme situation to make us sit up and take notice. It may have been a rough experience, but in retrospect I can appreciate the lessons learned and the beautiful day that I was able to spend with loved ones. Of course I could have had someone just tell me what a bad idea it was, but sometimes you have to make the mistakes and learn the lessons the hard way. It is generally those lessons that stick with me, rather than the ones I avoid out of fear. Of course I hope that others can learn from my mistakes as well, but perhaps you’re like me and you’re going to have to make them yourselves.
Whichever action you take, be safe out there!